“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.”
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.
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.