On Being an Adult

I set the standard last year; it’s my birthday, and so I’ll write about whatever I want to! Last year, it was about Stephen King’s On Being Nineteen, the intro to The Dark Tower. I guess birthdays get me thinking about age and responsibility (just me or everyone?), because this year I wanted to talk about what it means to be an adult.

We throw the term around a lot. It’s an important part of our lives, our understanding of things. We crave categories, and “adult” is a huge one. But what does it mean? Age? Maturity? Responsibility? I’ll look at all of these things.

You know, my old thought used to be that becoming an adult was that moment when you started questioning your past, your beliefs. Maybe it is. That moment when you have to decide, do I really believe this? Still believe this? Will I believe it into the future? Again and again, about many things. We don’t have good rights of passage anymore, so maybe that’s it. But once you’re “there,” once you’re an adult, what does it mean?

Exists in Relationship

On its own, adult doesn’t inherently mean anything. If you were the last man or woman alive, being an “adult” wouldn’t mean anything. It exists as a separator, a difference from childhood.

Well, and a lot more divisions over time. We have all sorts of names for children as they progress – infants, toddlers, children, pre-teens, teenagers, young adults, and then maybe finally, nebulously, adults.

We’ve lost some of the progression from there – you don’t hear as much about “elders” anymore, although as we live longer that makes sense in a way – when do you become an “elder” when people live into their eighties and nineties? Maybe the new term is “retirees.”

All of these terms mean something in relation to each other – steps moved through, categories we’ve placed. But there’s not a hard rule for when they happen or exist, nor a final word on what it should mean or what you should be doing or feeling or be.

So is it all just age? It can’t be. After all, what does it mean to “act your age?”


So is it maturity, then? We’ve gotten into this debate before, in the comments on a Feminist Friday post. Maturity is a judgement – about some action or attitude being better than another. There are “childish” things we’re supposed to “grow out of,” but then, reading comics is one of those things, and guess what I was just doing?

We don’t really judge maturity as a society. We assign ages to things – driving, voting, smoking, drinking. Those “adult” activities. Regardless of “maturity,” you can’t do these things legally earlier – and for some, it’s weird when you start them late. I didn’t drive until I was in my twenties – was I a “late bloomer?” Or did I not have a car to make me want to drive? The world may never know.

If maturity is a judgement – and an external one, though I suppose we can apply it internally as well – then it too exists in relationship. To be mature is to be more or less mature than someone or something else. Or it can be a checklist of societal constructs: do the mature things, and not the immature ones. Go to cocktail parties (there are always those cocktail parties in stories, right?), don’t go see action movies. Got it.

This is still all external. What would that look like internally? What about responsibility?


Responsibility is kind of the result of maturity – it’s what you’re given when you’re deemed “mature enough.” Isn’t it?

I don’t know if that tracks with my experience. Some of my earliest memory of being given responsibility was with Field Day back in elementary school. I was one of only a couple kids in my grade helped to ask run an event – usually it was the older kids. And I think we were running the events for the older kids, even.

Responsibility can be the sort of thing you don’t feel ready for, but gets foisted on you anyway. Then you have to sink or swim with it. It becomes a point of honor – and honor exists as both an internal and external sort of judgement. Internally, we care (or don’t) about how honorable we are, and how that is perceived. Externally, it is also judged and remembered by others.

Responsibility is a weird thing to me. I’ve mentioned before I’m on a Board of Directors. And I’m the president. And it’s just still really weird to me, even after almost two years as president. I am easily the youngest person on the Board. I feel like the kid in charge of the adults. But by society’s standards, we’re all “adults.” We’re all in the same age bracket – even the people twice my age.

Wait, why am I president again?

Responsibility is given. In the end, there’s a lot external to it as well. So maybe that’s what it is to be an adult – to have these external pressures, external judgements – and to still hold on to a sense of self, a sense of identity.

I don’t know. What do you think? What makes one an adult? And what does it mean in ongoing sense? I’d love to know your thoughts!


18 responses to “On Being an Adult

  1. I just read your Dark Tower post, and I’ve always loved the books, especially The Gunslinger. I’m not sure how much I am like the person I was in 19, I was a hot mess at that age. Oddly, though, I’ve got a Western story influenced by the Dark Tower and I’d say the 19 premise fits my characters. Didn’t do that on purpose. I think for me being an “adult” means accepting accountability for my choices and making healthy decisions for myself.


    • The 19 idea is pretty great, yeah.

      I like your ideas for what an adult is… I am now wondering how well those standards apply to me?…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I am re-reading my comment… what I mean by “how does it apply to me” is… am I doing a good job accepting accountability and making healthy decisions? I’d like to think I’m trying. But I could be better.

      Maybe there’s more of a place for the term “young adult” than I think…


      • It’s a process. Nobody does it perfectly all the time. I think my adulthood means recognizing the healthy vs. unhealthy and trying to do something about the unhealthy instead of …what I used to do? LOL.


  2. I turned 30 this year… everyone on the outside wonders: I dress exactly the same as when I was 15 – jeans, capt america t-shirts, always tennis shoes; I read YA fiction; nobody takes HP away from me… you catch my drift.

    Still, the moment I realize I was an adult was when something I probably did in my teens and YA life suddenly became silly and weird to me. I don’t think its about things you like, nobody has the right to judge those, it’s about how you behave I guess.

    I don’t thinks the responsibility makes us adults, because no one is truly ready, ever, for that. But the fact that we have the mind set to power through.

    When you look at YA acting like children and you think “WTF are they doing?! Children!” – I thinks that’s when you realize that, without knowing how you got there, you’re an adult!


    • It’s about that difference from being a child, yeah… I don’t spend a lot of time around people much younger than 18, I imagine (interact with some that young at my job at the University here, but not much younger). So maybe that’s some of it! I don’t have someone younger to compare myself to.

      Instead, I am the “baby” among my family and friends in town, so I am constantly interacting with people who are generally at least two years older than me. So my point of reference is still in feeling younger… not older. Probably also makes it hard to feel like I’ve “gotten there” and become and adult!


      • by “children” I actually meant 18 and up… because those of the ones I see, everyday at the university too. But don’t you sometimes have those moments where you go “oh… did I used to do that?!”… for me, it’s when I realized I had grown up!

        I get you, I’m the baby of my family as well, I have 3 older siblings, so each time there’s a discussion or a debate, my stands and opinions are somehow less worthy because I’m “too young” – I’m 30 years old, mind you – and maybe it has also something to do with the fact that some of them think my career choices (I’m doing my Phd) aren’t deemed as serious as an office job or similar.


        • I don’t know if I get a PhD not being as serious as an office job! My dad’s a professor, though, so that might have something to do with it šŸ˜‰

          I get what you’re saying, though, for sure. It’s actually been interesting to think about how little interaction I have with younger people. Among our friends and siblings, even, there are very few children.

          On one of the YouTube Channels we watch a lot, SourceFed, they have one new host who’s a lot younger than the rest (I think only twenty) and they have a lot of moments where they realize how much older they are/how young he is! But it’s mostly stuff about not recognizing pop culture or history references.


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  4. Happy Birthday, David! Hope you had a great one. Based on age I’ve been an “adult” for a while now, and I’m still not sure what that really means. It doesn’t really capture that you keep on growing as a person because it’s a static term – okay, so you’re an adult now, now what? I think about two components of being “adult.” One is that you are confident enough to accept who you are as a person and interact with others on your own terms. And the second is that you are able to recognize that you’re not the centre of the universe, and have a responsibility to others (like the next generation). Great post!


    • Thank you! I like your point about a responsibility to others and the next generation… I was thinking and writing about that as recently as my last blog post, about Naruto and education: https://comparativegeeks.wordpress.com/2014/10/07/the-purpose-of-education-2-education-in-naruto/

      I also like your point about it being a “static” term, because I do believe in the need for looking at life as constantly improving, and constantly learning – it’s easy with a static term to feel like you’ve “made it” and are “done.”

      I want to write, and that’s a process of continual improvement, and generally something that really only gets better with age. So in some ways, I kind of want to be getting older!

      Liked by 1 person

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