The Art of Embracing Actual Adulthood
A begrudging appreciation of life’s difficult things.
When I was 21, I flunked out of college. In my defense, school was difficult for the first time in my life and I wanted no part of it.
The complete freedom I enjoyed on campus transitioned — almost immediately — into a lack of discipline. I stayed up late, slept late, gained weight, partied with my friends, and skipped more classes than I attended. A good formula for fun, but not a good formula for academic success.
I switched my major to English, got back into college, got my degree, and began the job hunt. At my first official writing gig, I took more sick days than I was allotted, didn’t ask questions, and generally coasted my way through most days and most projects. Over my four years there, I wrote some good stories and gained valuable experience, but I can say with certainty that I didn’t give maximum effort.
Speaking of not giving maximum effort, we now go live to my love life. For the past 14 years, I dated and have been married to an incredible woman. She’s kind, beautiful, thoughtful, loyal, and the most trustworthy person in my life. And for 9 of those 14 years, I rewarded her with a reluctance to help around the house, a reluctance to work hard and attack our college debt, and a reluctance to give her the quality time and relationship attention she so clearly needed and deserved. I knew how lucky I was and how special she was, but I avoided most difficult tasks unless I was prodded.
Then, finally, I changed. When I was 31, after wasting my 20s due to laziness and apathy in all facets of my life, my first son was born.
He showed up in September 2014, and his little brother followed him in May 2017. And so, for the past five years, I’ve asked myself what kind of man I want my sons to see when they look at me. The answer is simple: someone who works hard, loves others, takes care of himself, and makes sacrifices for the good of the family and the community.
Getting there is not as simple. It requires a lasting relationship with what I’ve come to know as Actual Adulthood.
Let’s be clear here. Adulthood and Actual Adulthood are two different things. Adulthood is a number. As you age, the world around you decides that, yes, you are an adult now. Congratulations. But in a hilarious twist, you don’t feel or act any differently than you did before.
Actual Adulthood is when you finally learn to attack — and perhaps even appreciate — anything under the sun that causes pain in the short term and gain in the long term.
Skipping dessert and grabbing a handful of spinach like a big, fluffy bunny.
Not simply paying for, but using, the gym membership.
Putting the phone down and engaging with your partner, your kids, your world.
When I perform the mundane tasks at work that I’ve done countless times before, Actual Adulthood is there.
When an important project at work needs to get done and my colleagues are counting on me, but all I can do is sit and stare at a blinking cursor because I am fresh out of ideas, Actual Adulthood is there.
When I’m cleaning the kitchen — and I mean really cleaning it — knowing my work may not be noticed or appreciated the way I’d like it to be, Actual Adulthood is there.
When I’m having an excruciatingly difficult conversation with my wife about why on earth I’m in such a foul mood today, when I can’t just sweep it under the rug or hide from conflict, when my palms are sweaty and my words aren’t coming out right and my temper is short, Actual Adulthood is there.
When my stupid gym membership is still active, so that means I should go there and lift things and run in place for a while because it will work wonders on my body and my mood, and I know that, of course I know that, so naturally it’s the last thing I want to be doing because being human is one big punch line, and I just did 100 goblet squats a couple days ago and I do not want to do them again and you can’t make me, Actual Adulthood is there.
When I’m home with my boys after a long day, and I’m flying solo with them while my wife works, and I just don’t have the patience for the clangs and the bangs and batarangs, and all I want to do is put the TV on for them so I can get a few minutes of peace, just a few minutes, please, they can watch Tumble Leaf or True and the Rainbow Kingdom or whoops they just stumbled onto The Americans, Actual Adulthood is there.
It’s always there. And the thing is, the more you run from it, the more it will be there. Gaining power, gaining influence, gaining victory after victory over sorry, pitiful you. The only way to defeat it, unfortunately, is to turn it, face it, and work.
And so, you work on your relationship, on your parenting, on yourself, and on your work. It’s wonderfully satisfying, and you never want to do it.
That’s the key. If it’s difficult and you want to avoid it, that’s how you know you’re on the right track.
I have a problem with the phrase “Good Vibes Only.” When I tell people about it, they start with a chuckle and immediately transition to eyebrow-raised discomfort when they realize how serious I am. Good Vibes Only does not simply pair well with flowers and calligraphy. It’s now a philosophy.
The phrase encourages positive thinking and positive action, which I can certainly get behind. But left unchecked, the GVO mindset becomes something harmful: an excuse to run from life’s difficult tasks. I was burned throughout my 20s by my desire for comfort above all else, and my career, love life, and health suffered. Good Vibes Only, in other words, wrecked an entire decade of my life.
In the past, I ran from life’s difficult things because hard stuff is hard and easy stuff is easy. But then I learned something new. If I do the hard thing today, tomorrow is easy. If I do the easy thing today, tomorrow is hard.
In my love life, my dad life, my work life, and my workout life, I try to remember that. I fail a lot. I often forget to embrace Actual Adulthood, or I see it and run from it. Those days were and still are the worst. So instead, I welcome Actual Adulthood. I hate it. It is my friend.