When we were kids, we thought we knew what being an adult would look like. We would watch our parents, caregivers, teachers, neighbors, and other tall versions of us, and think “hmmm, I would wear that tie some day!” or “hmmmm, I would actually not have dad to wake me up for school!!! Panic!!” We’d think how cool it would be to be able to buy our own candy (and as much of it as our heart desires!). We’d imagine what it would be like to drive to work, to get paychecks, to tell our own kids to hurry up and finish their juice on Monday mornings.
First Tastes of Adulting
Then, many of us got a first taste of it in college, when we may or may not have ignored the alarm. Or when we had our first job, especially if we got an actual paystub to go with our paycheck and painfully watched as FICA and IRS got our money. Maybe it was the first time we had the flu while living alone, and had to order chicken soup from the deli across the street, because our mom usually made it and we don’t even know how to feed ourselves chicken soup (soul or no soul involved…).
Trial and Error
What about the time our employee got sick and we had to cover his work for a week, while still trying to accomplish our own on time? Or when our kid misbehaved in school, and we had to leave class to go to his? Or when a wrist joint hurt for the first time after an especially straining gym session? And of course, the best of the best — when we realized we just “can’t drink the way we used to anymore.” The way we learned to handle these new realities was, like anything else important in life, by trial and error. We got angry and busy, or gave up for a moment, or over-worked ourselves, or manically shuffled between five roles. We started noticing what doesn’t work for us, what is especially difficult to do, where we shine and show up, where it could be best to just reach out for help, etc.
Accept that there is likely not a right way to adult
As we learn these things through bumping into other adults, procrastinating on some responsibilities and getting to know our strong suits and our growing edges, it could be a good idea to take a breath. Yeah, like the one you saw your parents or teachers or neighbors take.
Just sit for a moment with the possibility that there may not be a right way to adult.
There are, of course, some things, that we should all probably do to take care of ourselves. For example, secure a form of (hopefully, loved) income to pay our rent, mortgage, and bills on time; take care of our physical and mental health through exercise and growth-promoting activities; nourish our relationships; and respond to emails on time.
Other things about adulting, however, prove to be more on the vague side. As with the other essentials of life, like being in romantic relationships, being a parent, being a boss, or being ill—it doesn’t come with an all-in-one handbook. For better and worse, we do live in a time and place, where there are many personal development books and nourishing workshops available for us, and where we have access to mental health services in order to sort some of these things out. At the same time, these avenues do not hold one specific answer. Nor should they. The answers (or more realistically, the questions) that these forms of knowledge and experience provide are on us to explore and discover how they fit us, rather than just hold one answer for a predictable and clear life. In other words, there are many ways in which adulting would look very different for different people. Our cultural backgrounds, our own rhythms of life and breath, and our personal values would dictate much of what adulting would constitute for us. And here we have an opportunity to figure out what type of relationship with adulthood we’d like and can have at this moment of our lives.
The scariest thing about adulting is also the most magnificent thing about it
The great things about being an adult are, first of all, that you can both buy Halloween candy for the kids (and yourself, of course) AND both dress up!
Additionally, you can choose your own extra-curricular activities, instead of being on a schedule that your parents, school system, or other adults in your past have put you on. That schedule was probably wonderful for your mental and physical development, and if you had one of those, it’s likely that you had adults in your life that cared deeply for you and knew something about reaching one’s potential themselves.
Now, it’s time to do that for yourself. Have you always been curious about acting but instead, had piano and violin lessons? Now could be a time to play a different instrument, and sign up for an improv class! Or have you always wanted to sail but your family couldn’t afford “that lifestyle?” Now could be a good time to use some of your hard-earned money to rent a boat for a day!
Other things that are great about being an adult are being able to choose your own play-dates and your own ways to spend a holiday.
In other words, it seems that the same things that make adulting confusing and terrifying are the same things that make it delightful and magical. That is—freedom of choice.
Freedom of choice — use it or lose it
There are, of course, some things in which many of us don’t have as much freedom as in others. For example, again, most of us need to or have needed to find a way to financially support ourselves, and it hasn’t always felt like freedom or choice. Other times, we had to postpone certain merry activities in favor of a deadline at school or at work, which likely in the moment, also didn’t feel too exhilarating.
Simultaneously, however, there are many opportunities in adult-land to exercise freedom of choice, and more importantly, to practice asking ourselves, “What the hell do I want?” “What is the best thing that I could do in this situation?” “How do I not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do?”
Questions about our childhood’s adults to find the ones inside us
While you’re on a roll, some other important questions are, “What have I learned from my caregivers that I would like to keep, that help me with making choices that are true to myself?” “What have I learned that is in my way of feeling at home with what I have?”
You can consider the ways in which your current way of adulting relates to all these questions. You may realize that your father’s incredible organizational skills have become yours when you do your taxes and pay your bills and keep your appointments, while your mother’s anxiety around new horizons has been in your way of taking risks with your love life. Alternatively, it’s possible that your grandmother’s meticulous frugality has fostered in you a thoughtful attitude towards employment endeavors, but has been in your way of being spontaneous with your passion for travel and sun.
These and other questions may not lead to the answer of “Am I adulting right?” simply because there likely isn’t one, but they may lead you to examine ways in which you personally would like to do this and come in contact with feelings of excitement, terror, faith in self, anxiety, abundance or scarcity, anger and love that adulthood would bring up for you.
And I do still think that the best thing about it is that we can buy our own candy.
The WILA blog is brought to you by the heart and expert wordsmithing of our Blog Countess, Eva Patrick, PsyD. “My passion for blogging is tied to my appetite for practicing psychotherapy – they both allow me to surrender to the uncertainty of life, and to find my way out through words, stories and the discovery of new ideas for doing, being and telling these stories in the world.”