Adulthood, Success, and a Nuclear Reactor: Thoughts from my First Year at College

When I started college, all I wanted was to become an adult. Once you are an adult, I thought, you become responsible, smart, and successful. I perceived adulthood as the key to figuring my life out. Now that I think about it, I don’t know why I idealized it so much. For one, I didn’t even know what it meant to be an adult. Sure, I could point at someone and say “they’re an adult” but defining what being an adult meant wasn’t something I considered. It has taken eighteen years, but I’ve finally realized that being adult is not the end goal — it does not define the capabilities of a person.

After speaking with others about what being an adult means, I’ve realized that there is no agreed-upon definition for the word adult. Unlike terms such as teens (ages 13–17), the word adult has no age, event, or characteristic that designates the period. In fact, I did some research on when people think a person becomes an adult. The responses I got ranged from age seventeen to thirty! Clearly, there is disagreement on when a person becomes an adult. Nobody understands what it means to be an adult, so why does it matter if you are one or not?

Also, I learned that you do not need to be an adult to succeed; take me, for instance. When I was fifteen, I joined a group that performed research on a nuclear reactor (yes, a real nuclear reactor). Every Friday, we’d operate a nuclear reactor, improve reactor efficiency, and even work to advance radiation treatment of cancer cells. The people I met in that group were clearly successful, and they still weren’t even eighteen! Some of the kids in that group went onto MIT, participated in an international science fair, and even traveled to Russia for radiation research. My situation wasn’t abnormal: there are many success stories of young people. Hell, a seventeen-year-old won the Nobel Peace Prize and Serena Williams won her first Grand Slam at age eighteen.

Source: Time Magazine

So if nobody understands what it means to be an adult, and success is not exclusive to the time, then why does becoming an adult matter? It seems that society associates age with success, but that devalues the achievements of young people. Making a blanket statement like “all adults are successful “or “you must be an adult to succeed “is easy, but considering whether adulthood matters is much more difficult. Challenging the importance of becoming older is an uncomfortable topic, but a necessary one.

Everyone turns into an adult sooner or later, and that’s okay. It’s also okay to stay a child for a while. Adulthood does not make a person better or worse, just different. I focused too much on being older, more responsible and successful while turning a blind eye to what I had already done in life. I always wanted to grow up, but know I know better. Nowadays, I’m in no rush to become an adult — it’ll happen eventually.


Lacapria, Kim. “When Are You Really An Adult? 30, Not 21, Survey Says.” Inquisitr. N.p., 31 July 2012. Web. 23 Nov. 2016.

“When Will I Feel like an Adult?” Quora. N.p., 2015. Web. 25 Nov. 2016.