Chapter 2 – Adultizing
Growing up, well; actually, that’s a funny thing – growing up. Before I even begin to explain what my life was like growing up and how I got to this point in my life, I’d like to talk about just how oddly we go about creating grown ups in our society or classifying people as grown ups and what that results in.
Take how we classify a boy becoming a man for starters. Depending on your culture (or wacko family) becoming a man could mean anything from when you turn 18, to when you stop growing, to when you start growing body hair, to having your first drink, to when you lose your virginity, to standing on some tall pole practically naked for a ridiculously long amount of time, etc., etc. However, through all the traditions all over the world that have to do with classifying how a boy becomes a man (or a grown up), I don’t think one actually coincides with how that individual recognizes their own maturity. It’s just assumed that under certain circumstances or by a certain time you will become one – a man or a grown up. But what if you don’t? And who the fuck ever has?
I often wonder how we even came about classifying those things – what makes a boy a man or what makes a young adult an adult. How did we decide on when or how that would happen, and what led us to believing that certain things could signify reaching or launching those milestones and what about it did we think would be conducive to positive growth?
For me, just being classified as a legal adult at 18 was scary enough because I knew there was no way in hell I was now all magically grown up and mature enough to make responsible decisions for myself. To even know what decisions I should make for myself. And that that didn’t just change overnight solely because I had passed some chronological threshold. The thought that someone could now hold me legally responsible for my actions was actually horrifying. I had no foresight as to what I was doing back then, and I couldn’t fathom how someone could hold me legally responsible for any of it let alone expect otherwise of me.
I may have been a legal adult at 18, but I was definitely not mature or a man. That is something no one can argue.
I mean think about it, in our society a group of people you don’t know can one day decide to scribble some words on a piece of paper that say 18 is the magic number for adulthood and then a day, an hour, a minute means the difference between being held criminally responsible or not being criminally responsible for certain decisions you make for the rest of your life.
How did we decide that was rational? Is adulthood really universal?
It’s almost philosophical to think about. On one hand we need to hold people responsible for their actions and set goals for growth, but we also need to give people the ability to figure shit out on their own to promote real growth; whereby, we allow people to make mistakes and learn from them without insurmountable consequences.
Fuck if I know what to make of it all.
But to say I was incapable of understanding the consequences of my actions or even understanding who I was at 18 may be the biggest understatement I ever make. The law and society can think whatever the hell they want, but expecting me or anyone else to do otherwise at or anywhere near 18 shows just how much we all need to mature really.
Hell, it took many, many years of making mistakes as a legal adult myself before I even began to become my mature, adult self. And many of those things I did that allowed me to grow up organically would have ruined my life had the legal system gotten wind of it. I don’t think it can be done any other way honesty with such unfair expectations and systems currently in place in society.
I mean show of hands who was an actual adult at 18. My point exactly. Shit, you could probably ask that question all the way up to 30 and still get the same results. However, in America it’s like we think something monumental changes in a teenager between 17 years 364 days and that next day when we turn 18 (or at any other milestone set forth by society signifying maturity). But it doesn’t. Life never has and never will fall into place in some convenient, preconceived fashion. Life just happens. If you expect it to do otherwise you are only setting unfair expectations for yourself or someone else that will garner nothing but disappointment.
So, I dunno what I’m trying to say with that other than I just wanted to point out how delusional it is to think you can rubber stamp maturity and responsibility. But it’s a conversation we need to be having.
What may be even more dumberer though is how we go about making an adult in society.
The best part about being made into an ‘adult’ in our society is that with every step you take closer to 18 (and even for some years after 18) people expect you to rapidly handle more and more things that nobody prepares you for, and to make decisions for things you couldn’t possibly understand the outcomes of. It’s fucking genius really. I mean, it’s like hey you dumb teenager why don’t we play the game of Life, but you only get to play once and whatever happens you have to do in real life. Don’t wanna be a cop with three kids? Tough shit. Society doesn’t care if you don’t know who you are, or if you’re unsure of what you might like to do, or if who you might be ten or fifteen years from now is totally different than who you are now, or if one of the dice falls off the table and you want a redo. Society says you have to make decisions now and take on all this responsibility now, because you are going to be classified as an adult now. And so you have to deal with making bad decisions for the rest of your life because that’s what adults do.
But why? Why do we as a society push so many young ‘adults’ to not only automatically make that switch from being young to being adults at a certain point, but to also take on all this unprepared responsibility and make so many life altering decisions – go to college, choose a career, get married, etc. – when they are clearly not all grown up and have only just started to learn about themselves? Why do we push people to make decisions that will dictate what the rest of their lives will be like before they can even to begin to fathom what their real, maturated selves will actually be like? And as it seems we do, why do we help choose those decisions for people, or classify certain options as being above or beneath them, or providing only a few options for them to choose from when those decisions are made? Why the fuck does the responsible adult path always sound the same for everyone? Why do we always try and be in control of the uncontrollable – life?
I mean no one automatically learns how to become more responsible, or learns who they are, or finds their purpose in life, or learns how to deal with all the shit life throws at them by a certain milestone, or by having someone explain those things to you. You learn those things when you learn them if you learn them at all. And actually, by trying to go about it a different way you will only delay that process further.
Don’t ask me why we do it. I just wanted it to be something else that others take the time to ponder as well. Perhaps it’s just because. Perhaps it’s because people think by getting adolescents to do these things it will make them adults afterwards. Seeing this route similar to a right of passage. Something along the lines of “I suffered through this and it made me stronger/wiser/etc. so you should have to do the same.” A likeness to throwing someone into deep water and just expecting them to figure out how to swim. However, in this scenario it’s more like you’re not just expecting them to figure out how to swim, but to swim exactly how you expect them to. No free styling allowed. You gotta love that old school mentality.
But again, why??? Why the incessant push to do things a certain way; to do things the way they’ve always been done; to do things the way everyone else does; to make this transition happen now; to make someone grow up? Why don’t we allow people to just do things their own way, on their own natural timeline, following their own path? How do we rationalize living our lives as others have as a means to eventual self fulfillment? How do you make someone grow up?
Personally, I think that’s why a lot of people struggle during young adulthood. I can’t tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people 23-30 years old that deal with their struggle to comprehend who or where they are in life because they have been told so many times where they should be and what they should do or who they should be that they don’t have a fucking clue where they actually are or how they got there. Quite often, feeling far, far away from actually being close to any of those things.
And we arrive at this dilemma I believe, because none of us ever had the permission within the worlds we grew up in to freely choose those things ourselves or to develop on our own terms. We are simply told time and time again that you should be like this by then and should do that by now and as long as you do everything along this perfect little time line you will become who you are supposed to be. That you will become an adult. And so we do.
We place this incredible amount of unnecessary pressure upon ourselves to meet all these laid out goals without any real insight as to what the consequences might be, because we are told this is the way. That if you do this you will be successful; if you go through that you will be better for it; and if you do things exactly like you’re supposed to you will be happy later in life. As if someone else could possibly know what’s best for us. As if someone else could possibly understand what our life will be like ahead of time. But, it all sounds really good doesn’t it? And, after all, we aren’t the adults when we are imparted with all this information so we trust those who are. It definitely requires a hell of a lot less thinking on our parts, and a lot less uncertainty too. So most of us just sign right up because we all so desperately want to be promoted into adulthood and to fit in. Which may be the two worst ideas ever.
But then when life doesn’t work out the way we thought it would, or the way we were told it would, or the way we designed our lives to be, we wonder what we did wrong. Why aren’t we who we’re supposed to be?
The unfortunate answer to that self inquiry may be everything.
This may be a bit of a side tangent here (it is), but if you think about it it is quite possibly that consistent, inherent desire to avoid uncertainty within the human condition that keeps us from becoming who we are supposed to be throughout our entire lives. If not for that fear we might actually live freely. Free to choose any path. Even our own. Yet it seems we are always tying to go about things a different way and find a definite solution: free of worry, free of failure, and free of risk. We try and shelter and protect our youth from so much of the world. From so much of the pain and hurt and uncertainty it can bring. When, ironically, it’s all of those things and feelings that we are able to go through in life that enable us to find meaning and purpose and self. Without experiencing them, it is impossible to gain true perspective.
Anywho, I know all this kinda sounds like a rant, but I just wanted to point it out because it’s true. In fact, my life was no different in any of these regards or in coming to any of these frustrating quandaries. Like a robot I always took the next step, and the next step, and the next step, and every other step we have so intelligently decided as a society that one should take in order to become grown up or an adult or a man. To become someone.
I was told so many times what I should or shouldn’t do and what I should or shouldn’t be that I realized I never was allowed to become who I was supposed to be. No one ever gave me the nutrients needed to ripen. I was raised the same as everyone else with no regard to what would make me blossom brightest. Listening to everyone else for so long that I really didn’t even know how to listen to myself anymore, or even how to speak up for myself. If I was an adult, I was a soulless one.
Everything I did went along with all the understood plans, and I became that quintessential All-American man just like I was supposed to be. I graduated from college (twice). I got a good, safe government job after. And even though I hate to compare it to the other two, I got married like I was supposed to. All showing my full embrace of adulthood. Of the path I was destined to follow – the path of approval. Awaiting the many rewards to come. None of that though made me feel like I had found myself. That I had metamorphosed into the adult me. None of that gave me the confidence to say this, this is who I am. None of that gave me solace in feeling I had concluded my journey. None of that made me content.
If anything I was more lost at the end of that process than the beginning, because I had reached the end and I couldn’t tell you what the fuck that meant or where the hell I was.
Maybe some old timers would just say that thats all a part of life or growing up. Well, if that’s what being an adult is supposed to feel like then I want no part of it. By the end of my adultizing (you can steal that word), my brain had become so adulterated by all the competing information out there that I ended up losing the real me for almost my entire life in pursuit of something I thought I should be.
Thinking about all those lost years I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be that person again, because it wasn’t really me. I wasn’t in charge of my own life. I wasn’t really making decisions for myself. I was just doing what I had been told were the right things to do.
I dunno, I just needed to share that before I start my story because that is what we’re creating as a society – a swath of people that feel the worst kind of lost. That feeling of lost that comes only from a loss of a sense of self. Killing the little kid inside each of us in exchange for this model adult picture perfect life. It’s crazy and it’s sad, and in my opinion that innocence of youth lost – when a kid is told he or she can no longer dream their dream or do what they want to do justified as some sort of reality check necessary to grow up and mature – that is among the most detestable things I can think of in society. No one should have the right to do that. To tell a person they cannot be. Doing so isn’t a path towards a future, it’s a surrendering of our own identity.
But I’m not going to sit here and claim that all of those decisions in my life would have been vastly different if I hadn’t been ‘nudged’ in certain directions or ‘forced’ to make them as soon as I did. Or, that they in any way would have always been the right decisions had I been truly free to not just make any decision I wanted to, but to choose from every option out there. After all, you never know until you try. But had that been the case, at least they would have been my decisions. Decisions that I could live with and know something about and take something from, because I would know why I made them – for me.
How much time have you wasted making decisions that are “in your best interest”?
I mean is it really that crazy to think that kids couldn’t figure shit out their own if we let them? After all, there sure as hell are enough ‘adults’ out there that have gone through all the motions and don’t have it figured out.
I have no idea what the right answer is though towards fixing this problem and creating a healthier, more natural process of growing up. Maybe those of us who serve to create the environment and guidelines people grow up within could act more like lifeguards. Allowing kids to swim freely, and only intervening in the case of an actual emergency. Who knows?
Before I leave this at that though let me clarify what I’m not saying since I’m sure someone is unjustly offended by my assumed attack on your parenting skills or in the life you have led.
I’m not saying that we should never grow up or be held responsible for our actions. I’m just saying that we can’t expect someone to magically go from being a teenager one day to being an adult the next when all they really know is what they’ve learned in school and have yet to face the real world or deal with any real decisions of their own. I’m not saying that parents or adults should be totally uninvolved in a child’s life. You should just give your children access to the whole world, not just the world you envision for them or the world you grew up in. I’m not saying that what we need is a world crawling with wanna be superheroes and pipe dreamers, or that you shouldn’t go to college, or that you don’t need a job, or that you should take this as an excuse to just be a total rebel and not do anything anyone wants you to do. I’m just saying maybe we should let people find out for themselves what is right or wrong for them, instead of producing a large swath of society that doesn’t know who they are or how they got to where they are in life because they were never given complete permission to make any of those decisions for themselves. I’m saying don’t limit yourself to one solution before you even understand the problem. Allow yourself to always be open to as many possibilities as are available to you. I’m saying try as many things as you can, so that you can feel and learn what is right for you. Don’t assume that something is automatically right for you, or that what someone else thinks is right for you is right for you. And I’m definitely saying don’t be ashamed if you don’t know what that – the right thing – is. Or if you’re afraid of what lies ahead. Or if what you want is different from others. Finding the right answer and getting to where you’re supposed to be in life usually takes making a whole lot of mistakes, getting a lot wrong, and being willing to do things differently than others. But you are the only one who has to live with the life you lead, so do what you want to do. If you’re worried about letting someone else down, don’t.
Now, on to me growing up.