Extended youth and the myth of adulthood

I had today off work, but I woke up with a long list of to-dos.

First, I’m off work because I’m working for the OPENAIR Circus. So I should have spent the morning working on the program book for the performances this weekend.

Second, there’s still a few work-work related things percolating on my mind, so I thought about working on some of that.

After that comes a long litany of tasks from following up on emails to cleaning the house to weeding the yard.

And all I really wanted to do was stay in bed and read.

I ended up doing a little of all the of the above. And while I was out in the yard, pulling up the weeds that have been slowly encroaching on every possible inch, I thought about how hard it is to be an adult.

I mean, there’s just so much to do.

Psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, from my alma mater Clark University, studies what he calls “emerging adulthood” – roughly that period between 18-29 when you’re kinda an adult, but kinda not, because you’re getting older but you don’t really have your life pulled together.

Well, that’s how I would define it.

There’s all kinds of research from Arnett and others on this “new” stage in life development.

  • The key to becoming an adult is accepting responsibility for yourself (50% parents/36% emerging adults).
  • The longer road to adulthood is both positive and negative (44% parents). Or just mostly negative (43% parents).
  • Young people receive little to no financial support from their parents (69% emerging adults).

Now, this is all well and good, but with all the talk about how kids are taking longer to grow up and how 30 is the new whatever, I can’t help but wonder – what does it mean to be an adult anyway?

I mean, I’m more or less pulled together. I moved out of my parents house (and across the country) when I was 16. I have a job, a mortgage, and a retirement plan.

But I don’t really think of myself as an adult.

I’m not that grown up.

I’m no doughty, dull, matron overly concerned with the habits proper for a lady. Growing up hasn’t made it be beneath my dignity to climb a tree.

And more than that. Despite being mostly pulled together, I’m still kind of a mess.

Among the causes of declining social capital, Robert Putnam laments that entertaining guests in the home has fallen by 30-40 percent.

Putnam blames this on TV.

I blame it on my messy house.

I’d be ashamed to admit that, except the reality is that every adult I know struggles to get to everything. Everyone’s a mess.

We’re all frantically trying to pay our bills on time, keep our houses and yards looking neighborly, and stay on top of a million other little tasks. All while working, living, and, in most cases, caring for family members.

As a youth, or in my emerging adulthood, I kept waiting for this moment when I’d suddenly become June Cleaver (or something?) and suddenly be able to handle everything that was thrown my way. Lacking such an ease of dealing with things, I assumed that I was just not an adult yet.

I still managed to renew my passport, show up places on time, and not bounce any checks. But it continually felt like a struggle. It never magically got easy.

And now that I’m officially an adult, I’ve come to more fully appreciate the truth. We’re all just emerging adults – whether we’re 25 or 52.

We’re all just doing the best we can to be as pulled together as we can. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn’t.

But most of the time – we’re all just pretending to be grown-ups.

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