When Do You Know When You’re an Adult?
Can a grownup have growing pains?
In the ’80s, Ferris Bueller told us, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Mr. Bueller had a valid point here: one that’s become startling more relevant as I’ve gotten older. Life can be really hard, and go by really quickly, particularly during the transition into adulthood.
Full disclosure: when I use the term “adulthood,” I don’t actually know what it means. Not a clue. So I’ve always steered clear from linking adultness to a specific age or milestone, and instead presumed it was that fateful moment when you realize that you’ve more or less become a functional member of society.
For me, my adult awakening happened while I was getting my tires rotated. All of a sudden, as I sat amid the stench of rubber and strange mechanical sounds, I froze.
What the hell was I doing at a tire store on a Saturday morning?
This wasn’t normal, no–this was something my parents would do. But my parents weren’t there. It was just me, unshowered in yoga pants, voluntarily having my tires rotated, on the weekend. Suddenly this felt eerily responsible, yet completely comfortable.
It was at this precise moment that I realized, despite still feeling like a 14-year-old most of the time, I was somehow a living, breathing adult. Somehow. But where had the time gone? Hadn’t I just moved into my freshman dorm?
Yet the more I thought about it, the more it made sense. I had all the typical adult traits checked off my list. Married? Check. House? Check. Fully balanced tires? Check. Yep, I was rocking adulthood with the best of ‘em.
But here’s where it gets tricky. If I was really on the grown-up train, why did I still feel like my life wasn’t figured out? Why did some things feel so uncertain? It scared me to think that maybe my life was less than what it should be, or that I was missing out on things that I needed to be doing, seeing or feeling.
I began spending a LOT of time obsessing about this. I started to wonder if I was doing enough planning ahead while still living in the moment. I worried that I was devoting too much – or not enough – time to different areas of life. (This then became an intense internal debate over how could I travel the world while still contributing to my 401k.)
I was in a funk about this for a while as I overanalyzed my life, my passions, my bucket list and more. I admittedly drove myself a little nuts.
And then, as fast as this mental storm had arrived, it gradually began to fade. And lo and behold, although nothing had really changed, I was just fine.
And that realization was more powerful than my tire store epiphany. Acknowledging that everything was going to be ok was more enlightening than anything I’d spent weeks pondering.
In retrospect, the entire time I spent wondering if I was “grown-up” enough was probably the very essence of being an adult. I was just having a grown up version of growing pains. Contemplating serious things and evaluating my path didn’t mean I wasn’t a suitable adult, it just meant that I’ve still got some work to do. Exciting work.
I may be 28, but I’m still growing up, and I think that’s ok. As long as I remember to embrace the fact that my life is a work in progress. With any luck, this progress will continue for another 40 to 50 years, give or take.
Jessica Taylor is a communications professional in Phoenix, Ariz. Read more of her writing on her blog.