Adulting 101

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I’ve never really understood the concept of an age of majority. The basic premise, as it was explained to me by “grown-ups,” is that young people are not psychologically developed enough to make lasting decisions about their futures, so we — as a society — have stepped in to protect our kids from their own naivety and stupidity. Or something like that.

I agree with the premise (lords and heavens above will know how stupid I was in my teens), but I find society’s decision to implement this a little odd: We’re going to draw a line in the sands of time, and below this age you’re too young to make decisions; above this age, and you’re an adult now! Hurray! Now go make lasting decisions about your future.

What? Six months ago at the age of seventeen and a half, you considered me too young to do anything. Suddenly, on a day approximately eighteen cycles around the sun later, I’m old and mature enough to make decisions about my future.

For me, this contrast was particularly poignant, because my eighteenth birthday coincided approximately with when I began to attend Northwestern, and precisely with when my plane (with I on board) landed at O’Hare. Unlike many, I imagine, there is a clear line in my life between when I wasn’t old enough to independently decide my future and when I was.

I won’t presume that it makes things any easier, nor do I think it is worth the hassle of creating an artificial life event to mark attaining the age of majority. But I can say, with confidence, that my about-twenty years of living did not prepare me for such an event.

A lot of things happen when you turn eighteen, most of them having little to do with the things that truly matter in life: You can sign legally binding contracts without parental consent; in most places, you can make out with anyone you choose (with their consent, please); you probably won’t be lying if you check the “I am over the age of majority” box. But you don’t automatically get any richer (unless there’s a secret turn-18 handout I don’t know about), your friendships don’t get any better, and you don’t magically figure out what it is that you’re doing.

Where do I sign up for classes that teach me these things? Where are the tests for mental well-being, for social skills, for managing your life? How did we end up with a pre-adult education system where I know more about the composition of planets and moons which no human will ever visit in my lifetime than I know about how to manage and live my own life?

It took me a while to figure out that, no, I’m not the only one who feels this way. It was another leap to realise that most people I had considered “grown-ups” — people who were supposed to know what they’re doing — probably don’t have it all figured out yet. (A special shout-out to all the grad students I met at Northwestern, whose lives seem to be filled entirely with questions.)

Many of you have reacted sympathetically to my last post, where I articulated the struggles that I feel when it comes to social interactions and maintaining friendships. Most of you reached out to say you felt the same way, and my writing resonated with you. (That’s very flattering — thank you.) A few of you messaged me to ask if I was OK. (The answer: kinda. I’m definitely not well, but it’s also not bad enough to be considered a mental health emergency, so I’m trying to find a therapist.)

We’re all on a journey of discovering how to adult, and I don’t think there’s any point in keeping that secret. Adulting is hard. It’s all the little things — folding laundry, buying groceries, cooking, paying bills — that add up to be big and exhausting. With all that going on, can’t we just spare the effort of pretending?

About the author

Leo Ji

oh dear lords and heavens above, what is your innocence

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