What does it mean to be an adult? My first reaction is to say, “I will let you know as soon as I become one,” but I would be pretty short on my word count if that were the answer I chose.
Maybe I am more of an adult than I give myself credit for. After all, I am upholding some kind of job-related responsibility, which is apparently a thing adults do, kind of like brushing one’s own teeth.
I could list a handful of other tasks that could be used as evidence to prove—even if just for myself—that I am, in fact, an adult: I wash my sheets once a week, I listen to NPR, I shower regularly.
Then again, I had responsibilities when I was younger, too. Of course, the risk of not honoring them wasn’t as dire as it is now, but I still treated it as such. I woke up at 5:45 a.m. Monday through Friday, took the hour-long school bus ride (I went to Catholic school, and it was rather far from my parents’ home), was in my first class by 7:48 a.m., did the learning thing, and stayed after school for gymnastics until 7 p.m. When I got home, I showered, did my homework, and then woke up to do it all over again.
The thought of it now impresses me. Was I an adult then?
“I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now” – Bob Dylan, “My Back Pages”
I agree, Bob. Sometimes I feel as though I was more adult when I was a child, whatever that word means. I did my routine without hesitation. I had no frustration, or wish that I was somewhere else. It’s simply what I had to do. And I seemed to do it with ease.
As the years passed, though, I am certain I became more juvenile in terms of wanting to avoid things I don’t want to do; I refuse to work a job that doesn’t reward me with a meaningful, creative high (despite the small paycheck), I set more snooze alarms than anyone else on the planet, and social interactions have become an obligation that I know is necessary to my well-being, but still prefer to avoid.
Many people have the work ethic and mind frame to go about their lives in autopilot mode–my family especially.
My college-aged brother, for example, told me during one of my rough patches—my stubborn refusal to leave academia despite the insulting pay of adjunct professors made me feel as worthy as a wart—that he didn’t understand where I was coming from.
“Your job is just something you have to do,” he said. “Then you come home. Why not do something that pays the bills?”
I truly wish I had his mentality.
Being born into a family where you are the outsider—“You artists,” my dad always says with a flamboyant wave—can feel as burdensome as carrying a cross. Whether or not we want to admit it, most of us want to impress our parents, and choosing a career in the arts—especially in a business-oriented family—is one sure way to squash that possibility.
“But I like my job,” I told my brother, which is a response that seemed to him as adult as drinking chocolate milk and watching “Rugrats.”
Is being an adult, then, doing things that you don’t want to do? If so, then I’m neither here nor there. Of course, life throws things at me that I don’t WANT to do, but must anyway for survival purposes. I don’t LIKE paying the bills, but I do. But when it comes to a life routine, I’ll be damned if I spend most of my waking hours doing something I don’t like.
I am aware that my life is hard by working standards. I work three jobs—all of which I find fulfilling in some sort of way—but I chose to pursue this life despite the struggles and words of warning from my family and friends who tell me that I am burning the candle at both ends.
Most people don’t understand this. You commute how far?, they ask. Two-and-a-half hours, I respond, with an air of confidence that makes them feel awkward for having asked it in such a seemingly condescending way. It is my choice, and I have learned to own in.
The truth is, I don’t want the marriage or the white picket fence or even the stability that most people associate with the happiness and success of adulthood.
My Buddhist teacher tells me that the only stable thing in the world is instability. Once I understood the truth behind that statement, I felt the burden of all the expectations imposed on me by my family, by my upbringing and my self, lift, as though gravity were never a fact.
The milestone that pushed me out of my cradle and into adulthood is not the routine nor daily tasks that society says are indicative of a successful adult; it is my ability to own up to my choices and admit that it is okay to not want what we assume everyone else wants.
And I do.