I’ve been thinking a lot about what constitutes being given the title of “Adult”. As a 21-year old college student, I am in that awkward limbo between adolescence and adulthood. The past 3 years of college have been a steady process of bricklaying and intricate construction, supposedly leading up to that decisive moment when I bridge the gap into official adulthood. However, I have to question what it is that changes your title so definitively.
In a society that so strongly demands conflicting ideals, growing up becomes a tricky process of maintaining youthful freshness with the experience of a seasoned professional. First, I hear my professors refer to when students “grow up, leave school and get real jobs and families” as a true indicator of becoming an adult. Then I turn around and see a culture that reveres youth in athletics and beauty, in which I am being slammed with the message of “stay young for as long as possible.” It is a confusing journey and, frankly, I have no idea if I am doing everything (or anything) right.
I used to think I was classy and grown up because I would drink red wine and read the classics while everyone else was getting faded at the party down the street. Yes, I would party with my teammates and friends but I can’t recall a time when I wasn’t the responsible person who kept track of everyone else. My friends and I were the kids in class that were labeled as “intellectually mature” by the teachers and coaches in high school. But now, I feel that acting like a responsible person isn’t really a great indication of being an adult. There are plenty of adults out there who act like complete idiots yet still carry the title of “grown-up”. So really, what is it that makes you a full-fledged adult?
Maybe being an adult refers to being able to legally vote or drink? No… I’ve been voting for 3 years and legally drinking for several months and I don’t feel like a grown-up still. Is the official seal of adulthood given when you walk across the stage after graduating from college? What about when I have to walk across more stages after graduating from medical school and then doing my residency and all the other extensive education required for my desired profession? Do I have to get a “real job” and have a family before I can call myself fully grown? I have all these questions and it bothers me that there isn’t a clear cut answer.
After having all these conflicting questions frequently interrupting my thoughts, I’ve started to have a couple of realizations. Maturity is not necessarily a destination. It is a life-long process that accounts for all of your successes, failures, and subsequent life lessons that are taken away from those experiences. Adulthood isn’t about walking across a stage or cracking open a beer for the first time. It is an evolution of yourself from the womb to the casket. It is learning responsibility and becoming self-sufficient. It involves acquiring wisdom without losing sight of the new and relevant things. It is about discovering the difference between what you want and what you need to survive. For a lot of people, it includes realizing the needs of another person and putting them before yourself. And you know what? There are a lot of people out there who still haven’t figured out most of those things.
I am still learning, still evolving. I hope that I continue to do so in my education, my relationships, my sport, my profession, everything, until the day I die. Becoming stagnant in any one aspect results in a loss of knowledge and ability. It is comforting to know that there are so many others who are also continuing on their paths and maturing like I am. I don’t know when I will be comfortable with calling myself an adult. I do know that there will come a day when that metaphorical bridge I have been erecting for all these years will be complete. I can only hope that I’ll be ready to cross it when that day comes.