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What Does It Really Mean To Be An Adult?

I remember back in my eighth grade social studies class when we spent an entire week learning how to write a check. Where your name should go, where and how to write the amount, as if none of this was self explanatory. The last and only time I even touched a check was when my grandma sent me 50$ in the mail for my 12th birthday, and I had to sign my name and cash it.

Mr. Hicock never taught us how to do taxes, and I could have really used that being that mine are exceptionally difficult with self employment and foreign income. And, I don’t think I’ve matured any since that class, as I still giggle at the word “cock” in his name. My apologies.

When I was really young, I went through a period of heavy anxiety. I would stay up all night crying, I couldn’t go to school for over 2 weeks at times, and I would sit in our old claw foot bathtub thinking and obsessing over one thought: What will happen to me when I grow up? I fixated on it so hard, I was checking out books from the library that listed all the universities in the U.S. Apparently I felt I needed to get a head start at the age of 10. I was terrified of what job I would do, if I would get into college, how I would make money, and it spiraled out of control.

So, what does it really mean to be an “adult?”

As I’ve gotten older, and more independent, I frequently look at my parents with wide-eyed confusion, the people I relied on my entire adolescent life to help me survive, and realized they have it even less together that I do.

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines adult as: a person or animal that has grown to full size and strength. defines adulting as: An informal term to describe behavior that is seen as responsible and grown up. This behavior often involves meeting the mundane demands of independent and professional living, such as paying bills and running errands.

So, all those years we dreamed of being grown up so we could stay up late, eat ice cream for dinner, and become president, were a lie. Apparently, being an adult means going to bed early because you have to get up for work in the morning, eating healthy because “wellness” is a thing now, and I guess Donald Trump’s childhood dream came true. Freakin’ awesome.

As millennials we’ve coined the term “adulting” to mean growing up and performing basic life skills. We pat ourselves on our backs for eating organic vegetables, paying our electricity bills, and having babies. (God help my daughter, due in February, because it will be my responsibility to keep her alive.)

The fact that millennials are proud of themselves for doing laundry and cooking a meal from scratch is just one more thing older generations use as a complaint against us.

Joanna Williams wrote an article for, saying, “My 20-year-old son recently returned home from his first year away at university. Of course, he did not arrive empty-handed: he brought with him several bags stuffed full of dirty laundry. It’s clearly people like my son that the UK’s Department for Education has in mind when it announced plans this week for a new masterclass to prepare students for independent living.”

Not only that, but she also writes that we can blame the millennial adulting problem on helicopter parenting. Apparently, our snowflake generation has been so sheltered that we’re incapable of functioning in the real world.

One could argue that the generation before millennials has created so many problems that have been passed down to us, it would be crazy if we weren’t struggling, stressed out, and on the brink of a collective mental breakdown.

If you consider being an adult to mean learning life skills like, “cooking, budgeting, and time management,” then there is a school for that. Adulting School in Portland, Maine will teach you basic skills like sewing, but they also offer course curriculums in money, wellness, DIY, work, relationships, and lifestyle. For those of you not living in Maine, there is now an online workshop.

While older generations use this as just another reason to complain about millennials, we’ve grown up very differently from our parents. This generation has come of age in a post 9/11 world, when things started moving a million miles a second. And, if I could add one “in your face” comment, everyone I know over the age of 50 still types with 2 fingers.

When did it all become a competition between generations of who truly knows how to be an adult? None of us can ever give it a proper definition. Not only that, but we’re all living in the same world full of unstable economic situations, war, religious conflict, CNN, and Fox News.

Most of us, no matter our age are just trying to make it to Friday night margaritas and Saturday morning when we don’t have to wear real pants and we can eat shredded wheat straight from the box while watching 90’s Nickelodeon cartoons.

With the prevalence of perfection that sweeps the internet, it is any wonder millennials just want to feel proud of simple tasks like doing laundry? Knowing one will never truly enjoy a kale smoothie, or have the abs and closet of “influencers,” is it so bad to feel proud of simple things? Sure, it sounds shallow, and comparing yourself to someone on Instagram should be the very definition of “first world problems,” but it’s just the reality of what we’re struggling to find our way through right now.

We live in a very different time from a hundred years ago, and inevitably the meaning of being an adult has changed. Owning a house, or having a savings account is not something many are privileged to have, so it only makes sense that we look to simple things like doing laundry to give us a feeling of pride. The rest of one’s life may feel unstable and terrifying at times, but at least you have clean underwear!

The problem with the world we currently live in is that we still cling on to old definitions of what it really means to be an adult, when none of us, no matter the generation, really fits into that mold.

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1 Comment

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    Meagan Niiranen

    October 18, 2019 at 2:57 am

    I’m such an old millennial that, depending on which institution is defining the years, I may actually be an “X-ennial” or even a late-year Gen-Xer. While I grew up with a PC in the house from the age of four (and that first PC had a VGA monitor, and most of you probably don’t even know what that is… lol), we did not have internet access until I was 14, and it was dial-up for YEARS (into my early 20’s, I think). I say this just to put into context how vastly different my life experiences are from those of my about-to-be-18-in-December “Gen-Z” son, who has never known a day without internet access. He is plotting to move out almost immediately after he turns 18 and move 1100 miles away from me, and I’m trying to get my head around the notion that my baby will soon be “adulting”. Have I taught him everything he needs to know to make it on his own? No, because it’s not possible… so many things can only be learned by experience. But he can do his own laundry, cook simple meals, and manage his own bank account (which I’m currently also on, but only because he’s still a minor so I technically have to be). I’ve been trying all night to sort out in my head the things I want to tell him before he leaves and maybe even compose some sort of letter to him, but I just keep breaking down in tears, and then I decided to go read Bad Yogi articles and yours was the first I stumbled upon. So here’s my two cents… really, the main things that anyone trying to “adult” needs to know are these two things:

    1: No one, absolutely NO ONE, knows how to “adult” or has any idea what the hell they’re doing. We are all improvising madly and making it up as we go. Anyone who tells you different is lying.
    2: When faced with figuring out a new thing, don’t be too proud to ask for help doing the thing from someone who has already done that thing. Yeah, you might feel stupid asking the question, but you’re going to feel even stupider if you mess something up and then have to ask someone (or worse, PAY someone) to help you fix it.

    Sorry for unloading on your post, but you hit home for me tonight. 🙂 Oh, and I’m sure your baby will do just fine. If MY child can survive to adulthood, yours will be golden… lol.

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