How to Adult: Growing Up

As someone who has worked with and managed twenty- and thirty-somethings for the last several years, I have experienced on a daily basis what the spectrum of this emerging, majority of society is like. In some ways, it’s probably not all that different from what characterized budding adults in the 60s or more recent decades.

Rolling Stones and Michael Jackson have given way to Justin Bieber and Kendrick Lamar, of course. But still, some people jump into a serious full-time job at 18; others go to college, and school after that schooling. Some are looking to get in long-term relationships–perhaps even marriage–right away, and focus on starting a family; others are eager to venture out on their own and explore.

Some find it easy to live independently and self-sufficiently; others trip and fall flat on their face trying to figure out the ins and outs of everyday life. How do you do laundry, again?

There are a number of things that will probably remain learning experiences and rites of passage as long as there are people on earth. At bottom, we’re not that different from each other.

But as the world rapidly changes around them, so-called Millennials are experiencing profound new transitions and even the erosion of some longstanding stepping stones toward growing up. A college degree now is essentially equivalent to a high school diploma for Baby Boomers, so if an 18-year-old decides not to go to college, that can potentially close a lot of doors. Even so, college degrees are now so ubiquitous that much of the job market consists of opportunities that pay less or are less dignified than what Millennials are bringing to the table. Overqualification is not good for the psyche or the bank account.

As a result, instead of clear-cut independence from 18 or so through the rest of their lives, huge chunks of society are leaning on family for support–especially parents–well into or throughout adulthood. A Pew study in 2014 found that over a third of women and more than 40% percent of men 18-34 were living with their parents. Sharing a home with parents and being an adult are no longer as mutually exclusive as they had long been.

So, many Millennials are dependents, to some degree, for much longer. And, arguably, they’ve been limited–by society or their own choice–to learn what it means to become independent and more fully grown up.

If Dad’s really good at cooking dinner, and the ‘rents are paying for groceries, why think about what it takes to make a meal plan for the week or worry about paying for the ingredients?

If you’re still covered by your parents health insurance, why worry about finding your own doctors when you can just ask Mom to make an appointment for you with the same person you’ve been seeing since you were born? And when their insurance stops covering you, you can just stop making medical visits altogether. You’re young and invincible, right? Some over-the-counter stuff should handle it if anything bad happens.

As a 30-year-old, I have watched time and again–people a little younger than me or a little older than me–make boneheaded decisions about how they take care of themselves or how they operate in the world. I’m sure others have watched me and thought the same. My wife handles most of the finances because my laissez-faire approach wasn’t working too well when I was in charge. Still figuring out how money works.

For young adults who are astonishingly savvy when it comes to other things like culture, it seems like the only explanation is that we’ve got too many people that are not growing into flourishing adults because the training wheels keep getting put back on. Society is letting Millennials down, so we allow the security blanket of childhood to be wrapped around them again–all the while deflating their motivation and expectation for full development.

Before anyone who’s older than a Millennial gets judgmental or thinks this doesn’t apply to them, ask yourself if there’s anything in your life you’ve still got the training wheels on for?

Are there difficult conversations you need to have with your spouse, your child, a co-worker, or someone else, but you avoid it? Do you skip regular medical visits because you might find out something with your body or your lifestyle that’s cause for concern? Do you have indulgent coping mechanisms–alcohol, binge-watching TV, secret obsessions–that probably aren’t good for you but sedate you from your daily stress? Do you have anything you’ve always wanted to do that would bring more fulfillment to your life, but you’re too afraid to try?

Growing up is ongoing at any age. Not just bodily–physical aging is inevitable–but of deepening who you are as a person. Growing up is a continuous process of trying to become a better version of yourself.

We can choose not to do it if we want to.

There are plenty of middle-aged guys who put sports jerseys on and go to the bar in nearly the same routine they were going through in their early twenties. There are plenty of Millennials who pack up and head back to their parents’ house as soon as things get a bit hard. Maybe it just feels too comfortable to think about doing anything else. Maybe it’s a sort of Peter Pan defiance.

And we’ve probably all experienced moments when we wanted to become a better version of ourselves, but the people and things around us wouldn’t allow for it.

A family member treats you the same way they did 10 years ago, even though you’ve become infinitely more mature, intelligent, and experienced than you were then.

You have over $100,000 in student debt with an entry level job, so you have no choice but to ask for the grace to stay with family or friends for now.

You get stereotyped, harassed, ignored, or rejected, based on your resume or your gender or your ethnicity or your hobbies or a million other things…

Those are deeply rooted obstacles in society and human nature that need a lot of attention and improvement, and probably will for a long time. They’re ingrained and institutionalized.

But things like laundry, cooking, being able to carry a meaningful conversation with anyone, and balancing a budget, and waking up on time, and making smart decisions for your health, and being kind, and learning how to appreciate and respect difference, and putting other people’s needs before your own, and much more, are all within your control. There are a lot of things that you can and should decide to take on, wrestle with, and gain wisdom about. They will make you into a better version of yourself.

We all need to keep growing up–whether you’re a 22-year-old Millennial or a golden 90-year-old.

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