There is no hard line between childhood and adulthood. You don’t magically turn wise and responsible when you turn eighteen. There is no angel coming down from the sky, or a minister knocking on your door saying: “congratulation, you are an adult now”. No, It is a gray line. Adulthood and responsibility happens gradually. We might become more and more adult as we grow through our lives, up to the point of decrepitude.
I often wondered, what it was to be an adult?
When I was a child, I was always frustrated by people seemingly ‘above’ me, qualified as adult. There were given more deference and respect automatically, and I didn’t understand why. I though the whole affair was unfair. I loathed hearing: “you’ll understand when you grow up.”, and as painful as it is for me to admit, sometimes it was true. Also sometimes, it was just hurtful and misplaced, coming from a person that didn’t really understand themselves what they were talking about and wanted to save face.
When you grow up, you do tend to realize and maybe understand things that you didn’t before.
Maybe you also lose things along the way too.
A definition of an adult is: “A person who is fully grown or developed. Or a person who as reach the age of maturity”.
Maturity is not always easy to define. It can be defined in two ways. In nature, biological adulthood means attaining sexual maturity. For most of us, it would mean being an adult in the teenage years.
There is also a social adulthood, that is define by reaching a certain age, 18, based on social conventions, and to embody certain traits. Attaining the age of maturity centers around being regarded as independent, self-sufficient, and responsible.
It can also be determined by passing certain social landmarks, such as; getting a job, getting married, and having children, but as social norms changes, it is not the case for everybody.
So adulthood is not clearly definable. The criteria of gaining a sense of responsibility, independent decision-making, and financial independence often takes many more years to develop.
“The distinction between children and adults, while probably useful for some purposes, is at bottom a specious one, I feel. There are only individual egos, crazy for love.” Niccolo Machiavelli
Interestingly, the age by which one is considered to be an adult as increased throughout history.
In the middle ages, the age of accountability or adulthood, when a person could be trial and executed was seven years old.
The Christian bible and Jewish traditions contains no age requirement for adulthood or marriage. The Jewish coming of age, Bar Mitzvahs, when one supposedly become an adult is the age of thirteen.
Today, the legal age of adulthood is 18, but often enough, people do not feel adult then, some people do not even feel adult in there 20s.
I believe it is partly because our social human world is becoming more complexe. It is increasingly difficult to understand and take responsibility.
In an age when being responsible ment growing food, fighting for survival, and taking care of your family, responsibility wasn’t as abstract.
Today, between legal liability, politics, taxes, insurances, mortgages, a changing economy, an evolving career, progress and technologies leading to irrelevance, understanding our place in the world is more difficult.
Besides, society as gotten rid of lots of rites of passage by which becoming an adult had a more defined line. So many are still wondering when and if it truly happened.
Furthermore, turning 18 and becoming an adult is often celebrated by being irresponsible, by getting drunk without being scolded.
Often the first experiences of being a adult, is justifying making bad decisions without feeling bad, because no one is there to tell us otherwise.
One of the difficult aspects of adulthood is to be left on your own. One day you must leave the cocoon of your family, and explore the world all by yourself.
Nobody provides you with the answers anymore, and you must come up with your own. Nobody tells your where to go, you need your own sense of direction. Nobody tells you what to do, and if we hate being told, sometime it feels it would be easier.
Becoming an adult starts by owning yourself. It is to be responsable for yourself by making your own decisions, performing your own action, following your own path. To do that you must come up with you own answers, only then can you start taking responsibility for your life.
As a child, someone was taking responsibility for you, and the transition is not always easy.
Adulthood is often regarded as being painful. So many jokes and hidden desires resolve around being forever a child, young, carefree, and living for fun, leaving problems and issues to others.
The character Piter pan embodies well the fear of growing up. The desire to dream and not confront reality.
Many are perpetually looking for others to be responsible for them, in their jobs, relationships, finances, and activities.
I think part of being an adult is leaving the fairytale behind. Rashida Jones
But we like fairytale. We have been brought up and nurtured around fairytale, to shelter us from the adversity of life when we were young and not strong enough yet. It is not always easy to let go.
The fairytale is the guardian of our hopes and dreams, not always a guaranty for reality.
As adult, we should ask ourselves, what to do about the fairytale we tell ourselves?
Adulthood is an active and ongoing choice. It is a form of independence, or chosen interdependence.
In many areas of our lives, we chose not to grow. We find the status quo that is confortable and the easy option, out of fear, or laziness.
Here is the hard truth:
At a certain age, no matter how much you want it, nobody is responsible for you but you. You have your life in your own hands, and if it sucks, it probably means you sucking in some way.
If you are waiting for a miracle that will change your life or somebody to come along to fix your problems, hand you a job, stop your anger or depression issues, make you cleanup your room and exercise, you are fooling yourself. Nobody will come and nothing will happen until you act yourself.
Understand this, it is not because people don’t care, it is because they have their own life to worry about and besides, they can’t be you instead of you.
People care about you, people don’t care for you. It is a very important difference.
Nobody can crawl under your skin, and go about your day instead of you, making better decisions and taking responsibility.
At the end of the day, the only thing people can do is support you emotionally and mentally through your obstacles, give you advice and some of their time, their attention, and their love.
But even that has its limit. People are human, their ressources and energy are limited, and they’re already spending the major portion of it on their own problems. If you keep demanding and seeking from others, they will run out of things to give you, and they will also run away from you. You will have exhausted them as much as you have yourself and you will end up alone and worse of than before.
Do not confuse obligation for love. Often people will give and care for you, out of reciprocity, respect and dignity, out of care for the relationship. But if you always take, the relationship is unsustainable, obligations runs out.
The person either realize that it is one-sided and become sick of giving and leave, or the persons has no boundaries and exhaust themselves until they can’t give anymore anyway.
Some people are leaches and only take, trying to fix their problems with others, going from relationship after another, exhausting other people, because they refuse to grow up.
These people constantly ask, because they never have enough. It is the behavior of a child, trying to understand the limits.
They are like a pierces barrels. No matter, how many time you fill it, it leaks out and ends up empty.
Nobody want to take responsibility for you, not even your parents. After a couple of decades, they are happy that you leave home, even if they love you, because they finally get their life back, freedom from obligation.
Parents don’t tell their kids what to do because they like it, it’s because they have to.
It is out of responsibility and obligation. Parents have to legally look after their child, but sometimes, they would rather forget about them, because it is exhausting. Just like you have to look after yourself even though it is sometimes exhausting.
The best moments for parents are not the moment of obligation and control over their kids, but of fun and shared activity.
Be your own source
At some point, you have to take care of yourself. Nobody can really take care of you but yourself. It means being you own source.
Being your own source is what it means to be an adult. Being you own source means you can provide for yourself the thing that you need, it is a simple concept, yet it is a long journey to fully manifest it in your life.
It means supporting yourself, mentally, emotionally, financially, and physically.
Becoming an active part of society
As you learn to be an adult, you learn to provide for yourself and behave appropriately.
You learn how to make a living, to be financially independent and provide for yourself, as well as contributing value to society. Hopefully, you learn skill and knowledge throughout your life and become increasingly valuable
You can fend for yourself and not rely on being supported by others to survive.
You learn to interact and socialise with other in a positive and constructive way. You come to realize that others have needs, problems and lives of their own, that you are not the center of the universe, and that you need to compromise for everybody to have their needs met.
You learn to adapt to a changing environment, break free from outdated social norms and adopt new behavior as humanity progresses.
As an adult, it is your job to self-regulated. Because nobody is going to do it for you. It means setting your own limits. Be a parent for yourself in some ways.
you self-regulate by:
-finding out what you are doing, feeling, thinking and monitoring it
-finding a sense of direction and meaning
-changing you behavior, feeling, emotions accordingly.
-interact with other in a place of responsibility and partnership, not of codependency.
The premise of philosophie, as well as self-development and religion is the bettering of oneself through self-regulation. You can say, it is to become wiser, better and more just, and developing a morale and ethical code of conduct and thoughts. You can say, it is to become more adult.
Limiting yourself and setting boundaries
When I was a kid, I though being an adult meant being absolutely free. That I could do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, now I realize that I was probably more free as a child that I am now.
In fact I realize that freedom is an illusion, that freedom is always relative.
Absolute freedom is often dangerous and scary. I though the pursuit of freedom was the expression of adulthood, but it is limiting freedom by choosing a direction that is.
With to much freedom, we can be lost, confused and paralyzed.
Personal freedom and responsibility is not having no limits, it is choosing your own limits, because you understand how they are good for you.
The desire for no limits and absolute freedom is the attitude of a child.
I think people always want candy, whether you’re a kid or an adult. Dylan Lauren
Being an adult means learning when it is appropriate to eat the candy. We must try to get leverage on our urges and consume in a reasonable amount.
You learn to set boundaries for yourself because even tough it takes sacrifices, it supports and benefit you in the long run. By abstaining from something, you gain something els. Your set your boundaries based on your experience and beliefs. Ideally, you have come to develop for yourself a morale code and a morale compass. Determine for yourself what was right and wrong, and you are acting in a way to try to be a good person.
The burden of responsibility
Responsibility is often viewed as a burden. It is associated with pain and hardship.
Taking responsibility means sometime more effort, more pain, more time.
But responsibility is were freedom and meaning lies. By taking responsibility, you accept that your action have an impact, and that impact creates meaning in your life.
If you live a life free of responsibility, it means that none of your actions have an impact, and that your life is devoid of meaning.
But your actions do have an impact. It is not because you can’t measure it that it isn’t there.
So you are responsible that you want it or not. Being a adult means to endorse that responsibility, to determine it’s impact, and try to make it a positive one.
Through taking responsibility, you also make choices, and through those choices you express your freedom.
As you progress through life, you come to realize that being responsible is being alive.
It is often when things are to complexe, that we want to bury our head under the pillow, that we want to procrastinate, that we want to be a child again.
Keeping things simple may seam to be the trait of a child but decomplexification maybe the work for an adult. To make sense of life, by reducing things in simple terms. By setting goal and deconstructing them, to achieve one small step at a time.
Making decisions for yourself
Being adult doesn’t mean making perfect decisions, it means making justifiable decisions. It means you understand you options, you understand the impact of your decisions, you accept responsibility, liability and ownership of those decisions, and you try not to behave automatically or irresponsibly.
You cannot predict the future, so you never know if the decisions that you make are the right one but retroactively, and even then, you do not have feedback on other decisions you could have made. All you can do is try your best, and make decision according to your understanding, the information that you have, and your morale and ethical code.
Owning up you problems
It means you have to look at your own problems, and fixe them, because nobody is going to do it for you.
Honesty and objectivity is another part of being adult. Denying your failings is also a childish behavior. It is like playing hide and seek with yourself, covering your eyes while exposed in front of the room, hoping your issues won’t find you. They always will. (image)
We all have failings, we all have issues, we have a dark side. Accepting this part of yourself and trying to change it in a positive way is what you must do for yourself
I believe regular introspection is part of being a mature person. You can ask yourself questions to find and tend the grounds that your childish self you rather keep unexplored:
Such questions could be:
What am I hiding from? Or What am I running away from?
What are my issues or difficulties? How can I start solving them?
Where and when do I behave like a child ? Why ? What do I gain, hope to accomplish with this kind of behavior?
Where and when do I wish I could be a child?
What am I afraid of and why?
If I were to… I would….
What is preventing me from doing…
what are my cooping mechanism?
Why do I do it ? What do I gain from it.
How can I pursue my own happiness?
What do I do that is childish nowadays?
Where do I transfer responsibility?
Accepting help from others
It doesn’t mean that you are completely alienated from others. It means you interact with others in a place of responsibility.
You can seek and accept help from others through partnership and interdependence or paid services, but you are still responsibly active in the process.
You make decisions to enter those situations and that affect the outcomes of those relationship.
Seeking help is itself is a form of responsibility. You seek help because you accept that you have problems that you would like to change.
But you must remain responsible and active through the help of others.
Even in therapy, you must take responsibility for your problem, not put it on someone else shoulders.
If you don’t, it is very likely that help from other will be ineffective or irrelevant.
Owning your mistakes
Taking responsibility and being an adult also means owning up to you mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes, often despite good intentions, it is part of life and learning. Being mature means accepting when you screw up and making up for it accordingly. It is not pleasant, and it is why people shy away from it. But being an adult means confronting and dealing with the unpleasant, accepting it as a part of life.
This kind of attitude or behavior is not always prevalent. Because we have been raised up with guilt as a mean for control, taking responsibility often means feeling guilty and emotional pain. Because of the unpleasantness involve, people prefer to not admit fault at all.
More often than not, guilt is not an healthy response. In the face of failure, we can take confort in the fact that we have tried our best, that shit happens, and failing is OK.
We are still responsible, but we remember that feeling guilty, is unnecessary and even unproductive.
Guilt can serve the function of repairing social damage. In a way, guilt is to feel ourselves the damage that we have cause someone else. This mechanism has been used to evolve in tribal groups, as cohesion was important for our survival. But today guilt can push us away from responsibility, and be used to manipulate.
I think guilt is use as a tool for pressure in unhealthy relationship as well as social and marketing pressure. Excessive guilt, can lead down the trap of the blame game and away from responsabilisation.
People can also reject responsibility because of pure selfishness and self-protection.
Today with liability issues, there are strong incentives not to admit fault, lie, and push responsibility onto others. Because of status and money, their are strong social and economical intensives to not own up to your mistakes.
In career, deflecting mistakes on others and taking credit for other people works is often rewarded. Only a strong personal morale code can prevail against this.
Every nation, like every individual, would like to believe it owes ‘no apology’ to anyone. Adults realize, however, that few among us are purely innocent or utterly blameless. Stephen Kinzer
An irresponsible society
Maybe even soecity doesn’t want us to be fully adult. The econnomy and consumerism is banking on your lack of responsibility and realsim.
Irresponsable consomptions is what fuel many industries, all industries based on addictions, food, alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, gaming, luxury.
All because we want to feel great. It is normal to pursue what is pleasant and avoid the painful, but maturity is understanding that both are a part of life.
As a society the primary messages are obsess with happiness, constant pleasure, feeling good all the time, to the point of the pathological.
We are pushed products, technologies and services, told it will make our life great, while it is most of the time a coping mechanism.
The cell phone has become the adult’s transitional object, replacing the toddler’s teddy bear for comfort and a sense of belonging. Margaret Heffernan
We are always on the hunt for new toys, new things to buy and fill our lives with.
People want to be told sweet lies, sold dreams, and ideas. We are told that happiness and fulfillment are based on external values, sending us in a perpetual chase, all to fuel a collective rat race, that probably creates more misery than good. We collectively function in a collectively organized delusion.
I think there is accumulating damage, done by generation after generation of advertising and selling happiness.
Each new generation forget the value of hardship a little more. We are being served that you should never struggle, that pain and difficulties are not OK. Isn’t it a condition of the human existence? Aren’t we all going to die? Aren’t we all going to experience the loss of closed one?
Trying to bloc ourselves from the reality of suffering in ourselves, by distracting ourselves with the means that society provides, makes it that much harder for us to relate to the suffering of others as well.
As kids we had parents telling us we were being silly, on an individual level we can reason with ourself, sometimes with the help of a partner, but who is there to scold us as a nation? Who is there to stop us from being collectively childish and self-destructive? Nobody. The only things we can do is limit and regulate, which is the aim of law and politics, but we must all do it individually as well.
But self-regulation and self-limiting is not sexy, we must follow our heart desires, pursue our own gratification, and of course, be better of than others, that’s how we get respect.
Accepting adversity, Forcing yourself through pain
Sometimes, things are hard, and there are no way around it. There is no shortcut, there is just the process of getting on with it.
Being responsible means that sometime you have to push yourself through the unpleasant.
Forcing yourself to do, what you don’t want to do, because you know it will be good in the end.
Going out of your confort zone, even though it hurts, because you know that is what will make you grow.
Furthermore, having a pleasurable experience doesn’t always mean it is positive, and an unpleasant experience is not always negative.
Take the examples of drug induced bliss, or physical pain in order to get fit.
It is often in retrospect that we evaluate the value of our experiences. Being attach only to how it feels right now is misguided.
The concept of adulthood can also be damaging and misunderstood, that is why it is often rejected.
For some being adult represents seriousness, control, knowledge, and power.
We can create a persona, a character to fit into society and the demands imposed on us.
I think that inside every adult is the heart of a child. We just gradually convince ourselves that we have to act more like adults. Shigeru Miyamoto
But if this concepts is not balance, adulthood can rob us our ‘inner child’, and our very human nature, such as spontaneity, curiosity, lack of knowledge, an open mind, vulnerability, space for the new.
Adulthood can be use to mask and hide those natural qualities, instead of protect and making them bloom.
The place for dreams and fairytale is inside, where it can define us and nurture our ideology for a better world. But it must be supported by concrete foundation, rooted in reality and action.
We must become practical dreamers, striving to manifest our ideals through practical and realistic actions and understanding.
I believe that maturity is not an outgrowing, but a growing up: that an adult is not a dead child, but a child who survived. Ursula K. Le Guin
The chalenge become not to oppose dream and reality but how we make dreams realties by taking responsibility and actions.
To conclude adulthood is a concept more than it is a state of being. Because we can’t limit adulthood to a set of social standards, becoming an adult is the process of gaining maturity, responsibility and wisdom. Therefore there are nor child nor adults, just growing individuals.
It is our responsibility to grow in the right direction, the direction of our own choosing, that is positive for ourself and others.
To Recap, being and adult takes a few active ingredients:
-do not wait for others to take care of you
-own your problem
-own your mistakes
-be your own source
-self-regulate and self-limit
-make your own decisions
-be responsible in your relationship, as a citizen and a consumer
-learn skill and knowledge to contribute to society
-look for personal meaning not things
-accept suffering and hardship
-preserve your authenticity
Thank you for reading