Why we need to step back from adulting to being adults.


A few days ago I have come to realize that I have been mistaken to take for granted that I have become an adult. What happened is — the events of my day made me for the first time in my life conciously think about my personal definition of being an adult. Life-coaches, psychologists and teachers can’t urge us enough to conciously define our own meanings of critical, but general concepts in life such as success, achievement, good relationships, frienship, happiness, etc. because if we don’t sit down and conciously think about these things our sub-concience forms its own models and meanings for these words without us knowing, which in practical terms means we might be mistaken and misled with where we stand and where are heading to. Just like it turned out I have been mistaken with where I am in terms of being an adult. Having conciously thought about my own personal definition of being an adult I have realised that the meaning that my sub-concience has developed based on my life experience was “the freedom to take and execute own decisions”. Which in a way seems to make sense, I mean children do not take their own decisions, their parents do and children need to ask for their parents permission to take action too. So there seems to be some logic behind my personal definition of being an adult…if you look at it as “growing up from being a child” at least. Except what if the person is in prison, or even worse, in captivity or concentration camp. He does not have the freedom to take and execute decisions, does that mean he is not an adult? That did not seem to work at all.

Another thing I have realised about my definition of being an adult is that it is in fact a child’s definition. It is a child’s approach to assume that all there is to adulthood is the freedom to simply do what one wants. I got really upset and quite surprised that I managed to arrive at 30 and still really remain a junior in my attitude.

Having had a restless night trying to look for alternative angles, ideas and definitions, I started my morning at 5 am by interviewing my friends and acquiaintances for their personal definitions of what it means to be an adult (thanks to messengers and the current 9 hour time difference with most of my social circle, I could do it straight from my bed). I was relieved and disturbed to know that none of the people I asked this question have conciously thought about it either. Relieved, because it felt better to know it wasn’t just me and disturbed, because we are all 30+ and noone conciously thought about adulthood.

Here are some of the definitions that I have collected from my friends:

“Taking responsibility, understanding that actions will have consequences, respect for fellow human beings”.

“Acceptance of yourself and of life (meaning accepting reality without pride, not assuming to be too special). Taking full responsibility for your life. Realizing the fact that noone can it live it for you”.

“When you have some free time before having to leave for work (first of all even having that free time before heading to work) and you use this time to wash your sink”

“Being responsible for someone else. Only when a person is responsible for another life does he really understand the true meaning of responsibility and adulthood”.

“Being financially independent”.

“Being able to be own source of happiness and a complete human being, not trying to externalise satisfaction of emotional needs”

Then I turned to google search and here is what I found online:

Adulhood — when you stop growing and start shaving, you are in adulthood — a point where you reach maturity. Adulhood implies a maturity of sorts, whether it can be physical or psychological.

Adulthood — 1. one who has attained maturity or legal age. 2. A fully grown, mature organism, 3. Fully developed and mature.

It was interesting to notice that dictionaries tend to define the general concept of adulthood with a general concept of maturity. I very much preferred the personal definitions of my friends, which are tangible and meaningful. But I was not convinced. For me the idea of adulthood being all about responsibility, which is the red line that runs through all of my friends’ definitions, did not work. Not much to look forward to and be excited about if adulthood means responsibility as a point of final destination and no return. Does that mean that adulthood is simply the opposite of childhood? Is adulthood a lifetime of responsibility bound by “I should”?

According to my last online resort — google images that listed all the visual quotes on the subject— humanity seemed to be just as upset about adulthood, there was not a single positive quote and all of them went like:

Not cool. Why did I ever wander about this topic at all.

On the next day I went to a very small and intimate theatre gig which got delayed by an hour because some actors were running late. We were encouraged to drink sangrias and mingle while waiting. While I am absolutely terrible at mingling, I got lucky because an older man (50+) sat down next to me and started doing the small talk. Except instead of small talk he immediately jumped into philosophizing and sharing wisdoms. In less than an hour of “mingling time” we had together, he told me about the satire that he wrote on advertising, an educational app he developed to assist children in learning, about the 7 point awareness and benefits of peripheral vision, about the founders of advertising and propoganda, about etimology of words. I have been very surprised with such a guru-like communication style, but at one point he explained himself: “I have this really deep voice” — he said — ” and I do this thing called voice overs which I really hate, because I was given this voice to teach people and not to waste it on advertising buy-one-get-one free offers”. Since it was now clear he is practicing teaching and seemed to have all the answers I decided to ask him what is his personal definition of being an adult.

“It is interesting you have asked” — he answered without a hint of surprise to such a question — “this happens to be what the current screenplay I am writing is about. I have researched this topic quite well”.

And from what followed from a complete stranger I have come across the first positive interpretation of adulthood (and I searched the world wide web) that helpted my conciously shape my own new definition.

He told me 2 legends.

The first legend defines an adult as someone who simply has his feet firmly on the ground. An adult is a human who knows how to take care of himself. Not very profound, quite obvious and most importantly — not a big deal, right? Except adulthood is definitely a pre 21st century concept and taking care of oneself used to mean a very different set of skills from today. It used to mean knowing how to hunt, how to build your shelter, how to protect your terriroty and life, how to make your clothes. Surviving pre 21 century was a full time job and knowing how to survive and take care of yourself is what adulthood meant. I am sure we all remember that our parents had classes like craftsmenship in their school days — that was preparing for adulthood in that traditional sense of the word. However, these days our survival skills consist mainly of blind typing and touch screen typing and the earlier implied full timeness of being an adult has been made redundant by development of technology and replaced with occasional “adulting” — in the present progressive tense, which indicates continuing action that however has an end. Urban dictionary defines adulting as doing grown up things and holding responsibilities. The website quickanddirtytips.com names “adulting” word of the year 2014 which shows how new, but also relevant this word is specifically for this generation. We now refer to activities that imply taking care of ourselves as temporary “adulting” because this is the time we take out of our entertainment, which has really become the main activity in our lives since we can afford to outsource so much survival tasks to technology. Unlike our parents’ generation who lived in a “being and adult with occasional entertainment” formula, we are now living in a “being entertained with occasional adulting” formula. We seem to no longer have a reason to become adults, which is the problem I had with my friend’s definitions of adulthood being related only to responsibility. Enforcing responsibility on yourself, when there is no pressing survival need, just for the sake of responsibility? It doesn’t make any sense. No wonder the internet is full of frustration about adulthood.

So there is no pressing reason to be an adult in the modern days. Entertainment with occasional adulting is the new black. Except as it turns out instead of a pressing reason there turns out to be a “bigger picture reason”.

The legend defines an adult as someone who stands firmly on the ground, meaning accepts the permanent responsibility to take care of oneself. But it continues from there. When one learns to firmly stand on the ground, he can then afford to have his head in the clouds and on his shoulder sits the eternal child who knows how to create. The legend puts adulthood in a perspective where it is not the opposite of chilhood, but rather a tipping point in the evolution from a helpless child to an empowered child.

The second legend the man told me reinforces on the first. It describes the life of a human as having 3 main phases. In phase one we are a “camel”, we follow the lead and orders and go where we are told to go and carry the burdens we are told to carry. In phase two the human must transform into a “lion” and the goal of the lion is to kill a dragon. Every scale on the dragon’s skin has the words “I should” written on it. When the “lion” kills the dragon (and the human finds own way to live the life) is when the third phase takes place and the human is reborn into the eternal child who knows how to create.

As I have learned being an adult is not a lifetime of responsibility bound by “I should”. It is the exact opposite — overcoming the “I should” and at the same time being able to stand so firmly on the ground in the material world that our true divine nature, our soul, our eternal child can safely come out to play. My quest for a new understanding and definition of adulthood was mystically short with answers having come from a stranger. “Seek and ye shall find”.

I am now convinced. My newly found definition of adulthood encourages me to depart from the so tempting “entertainment with occasional adulting” formula with the one-step-forward-two-steps-back “adulting” approach and embrace the permanent responsibility of being an adult. Now that I know stepping into adulthood and accepting responsibility is not the final destination, but rather a starting point, I am oh so ready to finally grow up.