The Problem with #Adulting

“Sewed on a button with floss because A. I don’t have real sewing thread and B. I don’t ever floss.”

“It’s been a good run, houseplant. I kept you alive for a record three months before you died a scorched and thirsty death. RIP.”

“I can’t adult anymore. If you want me, I’ll be in my blanket fort, coloring.”

Some examples of #adulting.

Welcome to the world of #adulting—“to do grown up things and hold responsibilities such as a 9-5 job, a mortgage/rent, a car payment, or anything else that makes one think of grown ups.” It’s a trend that the larger non-Millennial world is starting to take notice of, not always in a good way. I’ve heard or read all of the following explanations:

  • Even if they’re competent, smart, and successful, young people feel they can’t brag about their real achievements on social media, so instead they talk about getting excited about buying a toaster or finally having a dinner that didn’t come out of a box.
  • High schools don’t teach basic skills like balancing a budget, cooking, or sewing, so what used to be common sense isn’t anymore.
  • Thrust into a difficult economy, surrounded by broken relationships, and facing an uncertain political climate, millennials feel a Neverland-longing for childhood. The world seems bleaker than ever, so in a way, #adulting mourns lost innocence.
  • It seems hypocritical for the generation that gave young people participation ribbons in elementary school to suddenly wonder why they seek out validation on social media and call them overly sensitive or lazy. Why not mentor them instead?
  • Millennials are reaching traditional landmarks (getting married, owning a home, etc.) later than any previous generation. When they talk about saving up to buy a lawnmower instead of the latest video game console, it’s a joking way of processing a transition that many of their friends might not even be going through yet.

There’s a nugget of sociological truth in each of these explanations, but I’m mostly with the people who say #adulting is a specific kind of humor that happens to be popular right now. Combine that with a wave of not-so-distant nostalgia (the Pokémon resurgence and live-action remakes of basically every Disney golden age classic ever, for example) and you get 20-somethings joking about accidentally turning their laundry pink or finally reading a book not classified as YA.

(Sidenote: I think the reason this is less funny to other generations is because they worry if we’ll be able to raise families, fulfill our commitments, be an informed voter, admit we’re wrong, work hard, and all of those less interesting #adulting tasks. Which is fair, but I’d ask those people to remember that social media isn’t set up to show what people are actually like. For that, you’ll have to get to know individual millennials in real life.)

So, summary: I think #adulting is mostly just for laughs, and I enjoy the silly posts from friends as we improvise our way to maturity.

That said, if you want to find out what someone is afraid of—we’re talking deeper, abstract fears, not heights or spiders or running out of toilet paper—there are several places to check for clues. One is: what does that person joke about?

If the answer is “cats taking over the world” or “Princess Bride quotes,” then that obviously doesn’t help. But when I see friends posting cartoons on Valentine’s Day about being single, amassing large numbers of cats, and/or dying alone, I wonder if they worry if they’re actually worth loving. When people constantly poke fun at some aspect of their own personality or character, I start to think they want to change but feel like they can’t.

And when I see a generation posting humorous triumphs and failures as memorial to their maturity (or lack of it), I  hear some things that aren’t being said out loud.

“Good, other people are “liking” this. I’m not alone. I’ll be okay. Won’t I? If we’re all making this up as we go along, should that be comforting or concerning?”

“Maybe if I’m clever enough, people will think I’m content with my life. Maybe they’ll even be a little jealous, wishing they were as carefree as me. They don’t have to know I’m lonely and frustrated and terrified.”

“I have broadcasted my little struggles to the world because I don’t care what anyone thinks about me! Empowerment! [Insert slightly off-key version of “Let it Go”] This will make me feel better, right?”

“What if I’m just a fake? When my grandparents were my age they were already in a long-term career/married/raising a family/fighting a war/balancing their tight budget. I have no idea how to do this adulthood thing, and that must reflect on my worth as a person.”

“I know I won’t have a life like my parents did. What if these are the only achievements I ever have to share? Isn’t there more to life than this?” [Spiral into existential crisis.]

I’m not saying this applies to everyone all the time. If you are a millennial and my friend, I am not psychoanalyzing you via your Facebook feed. I did my taxes this year while wearing Cookie Monster slippers, for goodness’ sake.

Also, I love Calvin and Hobbes more than I can adequately express.

The point is not to stop posting humorous photos of Crockpot fails, or to stop enjoying simple, child-like joys like splashing in puddles or wearing Batman socks inside your business casual boots.

But if you are sometimes scared of the grown-up world, here are a few tips you probably won’t find in Adulting School:

  • Slow down. Be quiet for a while, and by that I especially mean taking a break from technology, even if it’s just for a day. Don’t fill your life with so much noise that you can’t rest or be alone with your thoughts. (The scarier that sounds, the more you probably need to do it.)
  • Read the book of Proverbs in the Bible. They’re basically tweet-length #adulting instructions originally written thousands of years ago.
  • Be honest with yourself, especially when that means admitting what you’re afraid of. I write my fears down on sticky notes, and where I am telling myself a lie, I replace it with the truth and choose to believe that instead, even when I don’t feel it yet.
  • In the Three Pines Mysteries by Louise Penny, the wise Chief Inspector often quotes the four sentences that lead to wisdom: “I was wrong. I don’t know. I’m sorry. I need help.” Say these things. Often. (Believe me, it sounds much easier than it actually is.)
  • Take your focus off yourself. It’s easy to feel insulted when an older generation stereotypes everyone your age as lazy, selfish, afraid of commitment, etc. So respond by doing everything you can to break those stereotypes.

Sure, part of being an adult might be scheduling your own dentist appointment or assembling IKEA furniture correctly on the first try or making a cheesecake without having to call your mom with a question. But more importantly, being an adult means asking for advice, knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and facing your fears instead of numbing them with a scrolling social media feed. That takes work…but it’s also worth celebrating.

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4 comments

  1. Great post! I want to tweet out half of the one-liners here, ha ha. But maybe I should take the advice in that “take a break from technology” thing instead. 😛

    Being right on the generational edge (born the year “millennials” began, I feel more in tune with Gen X) I tend to lean towards that stuff you had in the middle there on concerns with the upcoming generation. But then I remember every single generation feels that way about the next, and it isn’t quite as worrying. Is what it is, and one day it will be their turn to look at the generation after them (Gen Z, I guess?) and think “They don’t have a clue about real life.” And so the cycle continues!

    1. I’m a middle aged mum, but I sometimes feel like a “millennial”. I think it has something to do with the age we are when we receive our (un-dealt with) hurt. (See 15 ways Hurting People Hurt People by Joseph Mattera.) Thanks to a couple of thought provoking and resonating sermons last year on the Samaritan woman, hurt dealt with, and I now feel more like I’m supposed to at my age. Yet, being an adult can be fun. I’m a mum and that can be fun. A mum gets to play on the climbing frames, build Lego, and watch cartoons and kids movies. Wearing batman socks inside adult socks sounds like great fun. The best children’s talk I’ve heard was led by a teenager, the one about squeezing toothpaste back into it’s tube (it can’t, just like our words). Why has adulthood become such a scary phenomenon (or is it phenomena?). Yes Schools should be teaching how to pay bills etc, then maybe adulthood wouldn’t seem so scary. I suppose my point is yes, we need to embrace adulthood, but we should embrace every age that we are. Some kids are in such a hurry to grow up, thanks perhaps the the pressures applied by movies and magazines), and in such a hurry to learn how to do everything. We have this cultural idea that we have to be an expert at sex before we get married rather than learn how to experience sexual intimacy for the first time when we get married. Then there’s the idea that we have to know how to bake a perfect cheese cake before we walk down the isle. Way too much pressure. Let’s learn how to be kind to each other, build each other up, instead of competing with each other. We don’t have to be perfect to be considered an adult or to make it as an adult. If that’s true, then adulthood is way off for me. Sure, it’s great to teach my kids how to bake a cheesecake, but asking them to show me how to do stuff, can be a great teaching tool for them and a great boost to their confidence. And anyway, what we don’t know at 21, we can learn from maturer friends, parents, teachers, mentors, pastors, grandparents, kids, and yes, you tube. And the big old Bible or it’s other name: God’s Big Book of Life Wisdom.

      1. That should say adult boots. How frustrating not to be able to change one’s own grammatical errors after we post a comment!

      2. The sermons resonated, not because I have had numerous husbands, I might add. But I think our hopes for finding a life companion can use up a lot of our attention when we are in our late teens, and we allow disappointments and rejections to affect our well being. The choices we make can lead to regrets that we can’t redo. So because time travel hasn’t been invented yet – thank goodness – we have Jesus to give our regrets, hurts and disappointments to – thank goodness.

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