I turned 18 last year. All my friends turned 18 before I did, and this happened in such a way that I honestly thought at one point I would be 17 forever. You know, when every day you seem to see yet another person posting a 2 day countdown to their 18th and you die a little inside and yell, “THEY get to be an adult before I do? Seriously…”. But eventually it came and after all that waiting it seemed a little anticlimactic (no, Facebook statuses didn’t even make it climactic, I know I’m a traitor to my generation). I went to sleep 17 and I woke up an adult. This is the part I don’t understand. There are so many previously locked up things that turning 18 unlocks. You can drink (legally…what happens at the formal after party stays at the formal after party), vote, insure things in your own name, sign a legally binding contract…the list goes on. So what made me so much more capable of being able to do those things that morning when I woke up 18 than the night before when I was still 17? I’m pretty sure nothing. Because 18 is just a number. It’s a number that allows the government to put a nice bureaucratic, universal cap on plenty of things because taking into account individuality is just so damn hard. So my next question is, how does one be an adult? And I don’t want to hear all the normal cliches about knowing how to take responsibility blah, blah, blah. Despite what society may think, many of us knew that at 16 or even earlier. It’s not about that.
Who really knows how to be an adult? When you’re a kid you have this image of what an adult is. They’re pretty much everything you’re not. They’re tall, they don’t (usually) wear onesies with matching rainbow socks outside the house, they have jobs, they control the money, they control the food, and they’re seemingly not scared of anything that you are. So we kind of think that’s what we’re supposed to be. Well-dressed, unafraid people who control the resources. Another interpretation is being able to do whatever you want (within legal means of course) without someone telling you not to. You can pick whatever job you want, whatever food you want in your fridge (coz you own that shit now, childhood dream unlocked), decorate your space how you want, wear what you want. But are you not afraid of anything? Are you always right? I’m guessing no (thinking you’re always right does not count, fyi). And all those things that you CAN do, do you always do them? I’m guessing no again because even though you can eat whatever you want, you know you should eat green things not chocolatey things. Even though you can wear whatever you want, you dress in a way that is generally dictated by some sort of social order (whether that be seasonally appropriate, fashionably appropriate, or just plain social appropriate).
Then there’s having whatever job you want. While becoming an astronaut when you hate physics with a fiery passion, or becoming a surgeon when blood makes you rock in a corner is probably not going to happen, it is true that if you want to be something you can generally find a way. But what if you don’t know? Being an adult seems to mean deciding to “settle down” at the ripe age of 18 and deciding what it is you want to do, sometimes forever. We don’t trust seventeen year olds to vote or drink, or even go to the bathroom without asking, yet we want them to make huge decisions that will alter the course of their life. Being 18 doesn’t magically make you qualified. What if, even after starting something you thought you wanted, you still have no idea? I, for example, have a chosen career path and am completing the requisite degree to match. But there is another career in my head, different to the one I have planned, that occasionally makes its way to the front. It screams, demanding to be heard and considered. I could abandon my current plan and start another, it would be fairly easy, but then again it wouldn’t be. Some part of me pushes that career away telling myself it’s too late, second year of a three year degree is too late to be making changes. Says who? Well, it seems to be some socially taught thing I have drilled into my head. Because it sounds insane doesn’t it, that 18 is too late to change the course of my entire life? But because we’re expected to be adults and choose, we feel like getting off this ride we’re on is not a good idea. It’s easy to change, but it’s even easier not to. My biggest fear (huh, aren’t adults not afraid?) is that either one I pick will be the wrong one. At 18, how are you supposed to know? A lot of us spend our lives living day to day, music festival to music festival, Facebook status to Facebook status. When we cast our minds forward to the future, it’s scary; it’s a huge abyss filled with the unknown. From what I’ve seen, this doesn’t go away. Not at 20, or 25, or 40, or even 80. Everything in front of us is unknown. But at 18, a relatively huge chunk is unknown; so why are we expected to make such huge predictions?
Why is 18 the magic number? Why does 18 say, almost in a sadistic way, you are an adult now…deal? How am I expected to plan my whole life? What if I’m wrong? After all, a year and a half ago my life was controlled by a series of bells. Why should I be trusted? No one knows how to be an adult. Ask anyone once you’re old enough that they can’t trick you with a simple answer. They don’t really know. They’re certainly not unafraid, in fact I think as adults we’re more scared than children because we know what’s really in the dark. As children we were afraid of monsters in our closets, but as adults the monsters just become more clear. They’re doubt, and death, and taxes. They’re the things we fear losing, the worries waiting for us when we wake up, and the things we may never have but wish we could. In look at people who’ve been adults longer than me and see that maybe they’re more confident and perhaps more talented at showing the world what it wants to see; the ‘image’ of the adult. The person who told me at sixteen that it would be okay because it gets better, and the real world would be where I found happiness…I wonder if he was trying to convince himself more than me, or if he truly believed it? The mentor who told me how much she loved her job, when I asked to reassure my own doubts….I wonder if she does, or she just wants people to think she does? How much of what we tell other people is what we think they want to hear? Is that being an adult? Sucking it up and carrying on, even if you hate it. Why?
So does anyone really know how to be an adult? Is it a secret kept by those who really do know? Or do we just keep trying not be children? If anyone knows, can you tell me? Us? Those of us who don’t really know are waiting with bated breath.