Over the weekend, I had a very interesting discussion with a friend of mine. He is getting married in two week’s time and he asked me when someone is really grown up. Surely when you are done with school you must be a grown up? What about after you get your first job or start paying rent?
This year has been full of grown-up moments for me. I relocated, started my first job, started paying rent and had to take full responsibility of keeping myself fed (not only with junk food), washed and clothed (in preferably clean undies). It might not seem all that significant (especially you have been doing it for a while) but, for me, it has been profound.
None of these things, however, really made me feel like a grown up. I feel like a little girl dressed in her mother’s clothes, stumbling down the hall in the too-big heels determined to make it to the living room to show everyone she can. It was only when I applied for a credit card that I was suddenly flung into the “adult” world.
A bank, with all its investment knowledge, trusted me to make credit. I was never planning on having a shopping spree and spending all my credit until I was bankrupt, but I now had the opportunity to do it if I really wanted to and the bank trusted that I wouldn’t. For the first time, I understood what adult meant.
It’s not about a feeling you have of being confident in your ability to navigate the adult world; that only comes after years of practice, failing and tough lessons. Being an adult is having other people trust you to be responsible with the choices you make. When you turn 18, the government trusts you to drink responsibly, to vote for a party that will be good for your fellow countrymen and to take responsibility of your own body.
At 21, your parents put that trust in you. When you get employed, your company trusts you to show up to work and perform. A bank trusts you with credit as your landlord trusts you will pay rent. Your life partner trusts you to support and love them.
Your children trust you to protect, feed and guide them. Being an adult is having people trust you – at least that’s part of it. The real adult feeling comes from your response to this trust that is thrust upon you.
When people trust you, it becomes your responsibility to prove them right. I need to show up to work, pay my rent, not overspend on my credit. Unfortunately, there is also a very small window to still make mistakes. A 45-year-old parent that feeds his children takeaways three times a day will most likely be judged very harshly for not acting like the grown up he is supposed to be.
A 23-year-old that oversleeps and shows up late to work is still frowned upon, but the world gives you some grace. That being said, it’s never too late to try to be more adult or too early to start taking responsibility seriously!