Making Up Adulthood

AdulthoodI am 13.

At least, that’s what it feels like in my chest. I perceive myself to be this scrawny, pubescent teenager with big glasses and bad hair. Everyone else in the room is an adult. I’m the only one faking. I’m the imposter. I’m pretending to be an adult, dressed up in my parent’s clothes and trying to fill shoes that are far too big for me.

But I’m over the age of 18. I have a job and an apartment. I am married with two kids. The bills get paid (mostly) and I file taxes. These are adult things that I am doing along with laundry, cleaning, cooking, grocery shopping, going to the doctor, and everything else that makes up life. I have a family, kids I am raising. There are all of these adult things in my life.

So why do I feel like such a child?

Please tell me I’m not alone with this. I mean, it would make sense if I was, and it would give me something else to talk about with my therapist. But I have a feeling that I’m not the only one who feels like they are faking this adulthood thing.

We all have imposter syndrome at some point in our lives, and some of us carry that into adulthood with us. We look around at what our neighbors have, a house, a career, a family, and assume that they have this adult thing down while we are just making it up as we go along.

Truth is, we are all making it up as we go along.

There is no one thing that we have to achieve to prove we are adults. No rite of passage or vision quests we partake in. We just wake up one day and are 18, legally an adult. But we have no idea what that means.

It’s ok that no one knows what adulthood really means. It’s ok that we are all improving it. We each get to define adulthood for ourselves, giving it our own flavor and spark. For some people, it can mean looking like their parents, with a house, a mortgage, a career, and a family. For others, it can mean tattoos, piercings, and making their own way. There is no right or wrong way to be an adult.

That being said, we do have to admit that in order to live in America there are things that you need to do. Bills have to be paid. Student loans paid back. Groceries bought. And unless you have the never-ending closet of holding, you need to do laundry at some point. But none of these things make you an adult. They are things we do as adults. In fact, everything you do you are doing as an adult.

Back to this imposter syndrome some of us live with. The only reason I feel so vulnerable, so lacking, so much like a 13-year-old is because I insist on comparing the things I do as an adult to the thing other people do as adults. I compare my life with that of my neighbors, and in that comparison, I will always come up lacking because I am not them.

I’ll level with you: one place I feel so inferior as an adult is in the area of having a job. I’m in my 30’s, and I have no real career. I do hourly work at a call center. I don’t have a 401k or health insurance through my work. I don’t have a future with the company. In fact, my center is closing this summer so I’m going to be out of a job. Now, I don’t have a college degree or anything, so the work I will probably transition to is going to be more of the same. I hate that I feel so stuck in my job prospects. I look at professors, lawyers, accountants, and other people who get an office and not a cubical and decide that they are more adult than I am because they have a far different life than I do.

That comparison only serves to diminish how great my life is. I have the family I have always wanted. I may not have a college degree, but I am perusing writing as a means of taking care of my family because it is something I love. I also have tons of experience from working all the jobs I have. I am a good, well-rounded adult, I just happen to be a different adult than they are.

You are a different adult than anyone else is because you are unique. Your story is yours alone. Each human is a complex being, full of fears, doubt, joy, and dreams. No one else can be the complex being that you are, and you will just be miserable trying to be the complexity of someone else. No one else can do adulthood the way you can, and that is a good thing.

So make adulthood what you will. There are no real rules to adulting. You get to make it up as you go along, just like everyone else. Make it good like only you can.

  • Sarah Simmons

    I grinned through most of this because I am also 13 inside, spent 7 years working in a call center, and could so relate to this! Good reminder!

    • Thanks for reading. Glad I’m not the only one feeling this way. 🙂

  • I spend so much of my life feeling this way. Wondering how it is that I have kids, that I have a job. Wondering why I keep failing, particularly when comparing myself to others who seem to adult so much better than me. It’s kind of nice to know I’m not the only one that feels this way, though shitty that we feel this way.

    • Ya, it does suck to feel this way. But it is good to know that we are not alone.

  • I loved this read, Aaron, because this is a tangible thought I’ve had most days over the last 25 ish years. As we were dropped off at the airport for our honeymoon, I thought for sure my parents should clearly go with me, because, well, only adults take co-ed trips, right? And when the doctors signed the release for us to take our daughter home with us after she was born, I thought certainly one of them or the nurses would accompany us and show us the ropes. Then, when our daughter was old enough to ask me, as a young mother, a question, I looked at her and said, “Kid, I don’t know. I’m totally winging this, but I assure you I love you and we’ll figure it out…but mommy will make some mistakes because I’ve never been a mom before and this is your first time being a kid…” It has been a huge theme for me since my mom died almost 2 yrs ago. I had always had her to guide me and suddenly I was like, “I don’t feel grown up enough to be an adult, and I’m in my 40’s…when do we ever feel like an adult?” I know this comment is long, but I have to share one more thought and it has to do with empathy. See, I don’t believe any single one of us 7 billion souls ever attains some specific feeling of adultness, as far as it relating to the world’s terms and definition, nor do I think we should. Instead, the more we practice empathy, remembering what 13 felt like, what 20 felt like, what 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, felt like, we stay connected to the people in our lives in a way that age doesn’t matter, but wisdom and life experience know no boundaries of days on a calendar. Thanks for this post! And the site looks awesome!

    • Thanks for reading and for the comment. I think you’re right that staying connected to the people we love and valuing life experience will do much to help us build lives that really matter, whether we feel like an “adult” or not.

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