I remember being a kid trying to figure out what set adults apart from the rest of the masses of “watery moles” (Thanks, Florence King, for that reference I will be using often). In my best estimation, they were bigger than kids, had breath that smelled like coffee, cigarettes, alcohol or artificial mint, drove cars, watched news and complained about work.
They were there to make us eat vegetables, follow rules, go to bed early, live in fear of saying swear words and make sure our clothes matched.
Another common characteristics of the adults of the human species, in my estimation as well as the estimation of many of my peers – real and fictional (Peter Pan counts), is that they didn’t know how to be silly or have fun or otherwise prioritize imagination, spontaneity and the joys of getting dirty.
Generally speaking, it seemed that being a grown-up meant earning the right to make kids do stuff “because I said so” and avoiding answering questions like “why” – or just generally making the answers up.
Having been a human of adult age for quite some time now, I think it’s safe to say that my burgeoning anthropological-analysis skills were spot on. Adults are generally just more serious “watery moles” who have entered a life stage seemingly devoid of fun.
Lets consider this concept of the adult / grown-up life-stage for a minute.
It’s one that I have been grappling with a good amount lately, both as a professional who studies culture and consults for companies and brands and as a human resisting the confines of conformity.😉
I remember when i first started seriously examining the topic. It was several years ago when, on what felt like my “bazillionth” project helping clients understand “Millennials” (the seemingly perplexing generation of humans born sometime between the early 80s and the year 2000). In particular, I had been forced to finally develop a framework (which still works today) that showed the divergent sets of life-stages being occupied by the “adult”-aged sub-sets of Millennials
You see – the world has changed a lot since their parents were kids. Hell – it had changed a lot (and continues to) since their parents had become parents. There are and were a number of mitigating social, cultural, etc. circumstances that prevented adult-aged Millennials (let’s just go with 21+) from fitting neatly in to the “grown-up” mold.
The term “extended adolescence” had been thrown around for a while. Lots of talk about “entitlement” (still present) and other forms of behavior associated with being young and naive. The fact is, however – that there are / were adult Millennials still in a semi-dependent life-stage: relying on their parents for financial, emotional and otherwise logistical support navigating the transition to on-thief-own. Then there is / was the group who – not even thinking about marriage yet – is / was enjoying the freedom of being on their own, having the money to “play” while exploring career options and working hard to make a name for themselves. Then there is the group that most closely resembles the standard definition of an “adult” – those who are starting families and getting more serious about their professional lives whilst doing things like buying houses and new cars and starting to explore retirement savings plans.
But here’s the thing that, regardless of life stage, seems to have come to pass as part of “Millennial” Adulthood and has also rubbed off on “the rest of us”. The idea that “adulthood” (noun) doesn’t have to be a definitive end. Rather – you can maintain the trappings of youth that help keep us all curious, creative, energized, fun and otherwise still interested in exploring this human experience from a naive and ultimately rewarding point of view.
You just have to realize that there are certain behaviors that constitute the “responsible” part of being an adult. Otherwise, the rest is crap and you should just scrap all preconceived notions of what an “adult” (noun) looks like. Rather, just selectively practice the skills / art of “adulting” (verb).
As defined by urbandicitonary.com
Adulting (v): 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.
Used in a sentence: Jane is adulting quite well today as she is on time for work promptly at 8am and appears well groomed.
You see, there are certain kid behaviors and characteristics that are super-valuable if you want to thrive as a human being. For example:
Play: this is behavior we do as kids to prepare ourselves for adult responsibilities. But what separates play from adult responsibilities is that it is done for enjoyment, rather than for a serious or practical purpose. We do the activities of play because they are fun. We learn things, we experience consequences and then we brush them off. Because it’s not so serious. When we choose to be adults in the traditional sense we tend to take everything too seriously and always have an agenda – win or lose.
Fearlessness: daring to express ourselves and test our limits without fear of reprisal or injury. The sheer will to not care what people think and just boldly do what the voice at the core of our being tells us to do. Because even if you do get scraped up or break a bone or get your heart-broken – all of those things heal and we are better off for ware having had the experience.
Curiosity: the audacity to ask “why” at every turn – to see the world with fresh eyes as often as prolifically as possible. The need to have things explained to you “like a three-year old” because “because I said so” is just not a good enough answer and if you ask “why” often enough you eventually find out that nobody really knows anything – that we are all making it up as we go along and that there is always room for interpretation and there is always more to learn.
Creativity: perhaps the last bastion of childhood that some lucky and enlightened humans have been lucky enough to carry on in to their grown-up lives. This is the art of envisioning the reality that you want and making it happen by any means necessary – even if it means coloring outside the lines or putting something out there that might be utterly imperceptible to others or simply allowing yourself to temporarily exist in a fantasy of your own imagining. It’s the art of making yourself think beyond the tangible by allowing yourself to dream. It is the behavior that allows newness in to the world. It is probably the single thing at the root of the other three behaviors / characteristics listed above.
But let’s not devalue the importance of “adulting” as a behavior. In balance with the childlike behaviors above, these acts are necessary for survival so we may free ourselves up to thrive. Example adulting behavior includes:
Holding down a job: showing up on time, completing tasks and otherwise establishing a track record of being able to support one’s self financial through delivery of a service to others and playing nice with other humans in pursuit of the same.
Paying taxes: because somebody has to pay for all the things we take for granted, like roads and schools and feeding / caring for those who can’t support themselves.
Voting: the act of being accountable for creation and direction of government so we don’t become a race of lemmings or victims. Nobody wants to fall off a cliff to their death simply because they didn’t take the time to learn what’s going on and punch a few holes in a piece of paper. If you choose not to vote for your leaders you give up your right to complain.
Eating right: deciding that the cake made out of fruity pebbles (it’s a real thing – i narrowly avoided that non-adulting behavior this morning) does not count as breakfast and realizing that in order to actually keep your adult body functioning so you can do all the cool stuff you want to do well in to your old age that you need to be careful about what you put in it.
Listening to others: being mindful of hearing other people’s points of view and not just putting your fingers in your ears and screaming when someone is saying something you don’t want to hear. The fact is, we don’t all agree and need to respect one another’s right to divergent opinions so we can get along in harmony. The side benefit is that sometimes you learn something and often learn to empathize with your fellow humans simply by being open to new words or experiences that might bear similar motivations to your own.
Cleaning up: yourself, your home, your car, your desk,etc. Because dirt = germs and chaos and cleanliness = space to think, grow and thrive. Also – a clean “anything” is more welcoming than a dirty one – which means you will invite more humans in to your world that you can play with.
That being said – it is all a delicate balance. All work and no play makes any human a dull sack of flesh. But all play without accountability for one’s actions can lead to serious consequences.
But i think the new generations of adults (I refuse to use the “M” word anymore) have taught us a few things about a life well lived. There’s nothing wrong with choosing the lower paying job because you get to spend more time with your kids or taking the road less traveled because it looks like more fun. And you don’t have to separate your creative self from your work life or not play at the office.
Life is a curious wonderful time where we spiritual beings get to have this awkward and amazing human experience. Lets remember to enjoy the ride and – by all means – practice “adulting” responsibly, but NEVER EVER become a full-fledged grown-up!