Has the thought ever crossed your mind that, although technically speaking you are an adult, deep inside you don’t feel very grown up? Kind of like you’re just a kid stuck in an adult’s body. Have you ever felt that uncomfortable sense of drifting, like you should know where the next turn leads, but you have no clue where you are actually going in life? If any of this sounds familiar, I’d like to formally welcome you to capital “A” Aging. You always knew you’d get here eventually, but perhaps you didn’t realize just how confusing it will be. Growing older is perhaps the biggest lie of all. With it comes the illusion of progress and advancement, as if every new year is another dollar in your spiritual bank account. But it doesn’t really work that way, and most of us learn that lesson the hard way. The highest spiritual currency has little to do with your age, and everything to do with what you choose to do next? Whether you’re going to do the right thing, swallow the discomfort, chase the big dream that’s been waiting for your attention in a dusty cardboard box under your bed while you got busy paying the bills and hating your job.
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Growing Up Is Scary
As you move from being a student, to being out in the workforce, there is a swift and sudden shift from seeing your friends everyday, to seeing them all move away and move on with their lives. You’ll find yourself spending more and more free time with your coworkers, that is, if you are lucky enough to have anything beyond geographical space in common. Suddenly you’re faced with an unstable economy and crippling school debt, on top of a deeply unsettling sense of not being in control of your life. There’s a real physical and emotional struggle in transitioning into adulthood. Any missteps at this critical moment in your life may haunt you for a long time to come. Perhaps it’s no wonder that so many young adults are buckling at the pressure of becoming a successful adult, and avoiding the next step altogether. Marriage, professional success, children – all the traditional things that characterize adulthood are put on the back-burner for decades. As they say, 30 is the new 20.
As the security blankets of college and parents are peeled away, we are faced with finding jobs, building careers, perhaps moving to cities, separating from our old support systems, taking care of her own finances, dating, marriage, thinking about children, starting families, making our first large investments, creating new socialize, watching our parents age, and shaping an identity to last the rest of our adulthood. Whew! That is more responsibilities than we have ever been faced with. ~ Christine Hassler, author of 20-Something, 20-Everything
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The Eternal Puberty of the Adult Mind
Dr Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, author of Emerging Adulthood, argues that the process of becoming an adult should be acknowledged as a distinct developmental stage like puberty. Contrary to what most of us assumed as kids, you don’t just become an adult one day. Some of us will never become adults, no matter how old we are.
The millennial generation has been raised with the idea of being a unique individuals, and that their lives should reflect that unique individuality. They want to follow their passions and change the world for the better. Unlike the boomer generation that came before it, this new generation of adults takes longer to get a sense of their identity and come to grips with getting older because the bar they’ve raised for themselves is higher. They don’t want a conventional life, or traditional form of employment. They don’t want the white picket fence and standard office job. They want to do great things, whatever that might mean. And, not surprisingly, great things don’t come easy, which gives rise to a massive amount of anxiety and frustration.
One of the greatest surprises of adulthood is that things don’t just fall into place because you followed the rules. Success doesn’t come just because you believe in yourself and have a fancy university degree or scored an internship with a prestigious company where you made coffee and licked stamps. In the real world no one cares about your grade point average, or how special you think you are, or the name of the company on your resume. All that matters is what you can actually do for people. In other words, only your marketable skills and experience matter, and when you’re young that’s something you’re not going to have much of. Not yet.
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A New World Outside the Classroom
Unlike the Boomers, by the time today’s young adults reach their mid-to-late twenties, the only life they’ve ever known is within the safety blanket of institutionalized education. With the exception of zero-to-low responsibility part-time work, the largest chunk of their life experience is in the classroom. This may not seem like a big deal at first, but it is. The classroom gives the false sense that by default life has a safe and solid structure, instead of the nebulous mess it really is. At school you were given a schedule, all you had to do was show up, and as long as you managed decent grades you advanced. And even if you didn’t manage to get decent grades, there was a whole system in place to make sure you got back up on your feet if you fell. In school, there is always a safety net to catch you. In the real world there’s only the cold concrete ground.
The world beyond school is so radically different, graduation alone can shock recent grads into a quarter life crisis. All of a sudden, structure and routine have been replaced by rampant uncertainty. You understand the mechanism behind applying for your dream job – resume, cover letter, interview. That part remains familiar. But what do you do when you get rejected? Or, when you end up at a dead-end office job you hate, what then? When you don’t see the bright and shining future you imagined for yourself materialize, you go into full blown “what the hell am I doing with my life” panic mode. and it can turn into a downward spiral.
Becoming an adult is one of life’s most difficult transitional periods. Becoming an adult is about becoming responsible for your dreams and everything you’ve ever wanted to accomplish. That is a difficult burden to bear, but it is the burden of all successful adults. In the words of existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre, “We are alone, with no excuses… Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” It’s important to remember to stay calm, and to move in the direction of your dreams, even if it means taking microscopically tiny steps to get there. You may not feel ready for the wrinkles and responsibilities of adulthood, but time does not move according to our needs. Improve simply. It moves always, whether we’re ready or not.