Attempting to define what it means to be an adult

Originally Posted on The Triangle via UWIRE

What does it really mean to be an adult? To me, turning 21 and becoming a legal adult was empowering, and I had a newfound confidence in myself. I also felt like my dreams, beliefs and aspirations were now twice as important because they were mine, and I had the authority to say that. Interesting to think that in the U.S. you are considered an adult at 18, even though in society’s eyes, you’re far from it.

In general, adulthood is the idea of being self sustainable, but what that means in our society is kind of complicated. Sustainability requires being financially stable from a job that you would hope is as rewarding emotionally as it is monetarily. This means having your own house, bills, a car maybe, paying off your debts and not really relying on your parents or outside forces to save you. Everyone has their own image of success, and yet we develop this stigma that anyone who strays from our path of success is doomed for failure. Some see success as fame, notoriety, being known by all for what you do, and in most of those cases, that would mean you have money to prove your success.

So many different paths to take, and the general rule of thumb is that you need a formal college education to do it. For years, children have been retold that getting a college education is of the utmost importance. Kids are born and whisked away into preschool, and from there they continue through kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, high school and then college. It’s honestly kind of funny to think for many of us, we have been in school our entire lives.

Why do we go to school? To refine our skills, to be useful, to follow our passion? I can definitely say that going to college opened the right doors to follow my dreams.We all dream of being successful, and in this day and age, if you do not have aspirations and a plan to make that success happen, it’s like you are looked down upon as an adult.

College is a time where high school graduates understand what they want in life and discover their own path to independence and adulthood. However, I think we also fail to acknowledge the stigma we have for people who don’t go to college in our day and age. To think that if you don’t put yourself and your values first, you will be considered crazy. It’s also a common theme in our new generation to take time to explore life and the world while we still have time. Our society pushes us even harder to be ambitious and fight for our beliefs. The popular sentiment of the American dream, of going to college, graduating and getting a career, just seems like the right way to win. We can make our life whatever we want, but the funniest thing is that the biggest obstacle stopping that is having kids.

Some people can’t wait to have kids, and some people might not have any ever. It’s a complicated topic for debate for many people currently in college. When our parents were our age, some were already starting to have kids. The difference in social acceptance of having children over the last 20 years is stark. The opportunities are also very different. People are encouraged to follow their career and put family aside until they are ready. Everyone is probably familiar with the parental theme of “giving your child more than what you had,” and for many of us, we have it. But as previously mentioned, there are different ways of being successful and being happy as an adult. There are people who choose not to go to college. There are people who may have pursued a trade, and people who pursued non-traditional careers that fall out of the normal “college majors” advertisement. Every college student knows someone who didn’t go to college after high school, maybe it was by choice, maybe it wasn’t. All of those people have built their own version of success, despite what anyone else thinks.

The world is a big place, and it has also been here for a while. Everyone who read Romeo and Juliet in school was probably shocked at how young the star-crossed lovers were. We all thought it was crazy to live in a society where marriage and childbirth occurred so young. Most people attribute the staple of adulthood at the start of marriage and raising a family, but socially in America, the timeline of that has changed.

Any parent knows that while it was probably hard raising their child, they are still their pride and joy, the best thing that they ever had. Society tells us that we should put our careers first and follow our dreams, but should we judge someone because their dream is to have a family first? It’s so hard to imagine starting a family as soon as you graduate. Since the life expectancy is higher nowadays, we have more opportunities, and the way of life may be easier than the generation before us. Going to college and graduating at 22 is really only a quarter of your life. You have so much life to live, why would you stop enjoying the time you have for yourself to have a baby that will literally take all that away? It is a really common theme that some people might ask at 21, and at 28, and still again at 30. But while our success increases with age, the  likelihood to have children with no complications goes down as well.

Is it really over for someone who has a child going into college? They could still end up as your boss one day. Biologically and socially speaking, American citizens become full adults around the age of 21. Yet the world we live in has changed so much that the thought of kids is so far out of our mind that college students still refer to themselves as kids. The curve for ambition is pretty steep, and in our capitalist society, it’s like we are bred to be career mongers, selling the idea that we should put our career first to be the best and in turn, be the best to represent the idea that America is the best. Our best and brightest talents are put first, and we are rewarded for it, and while that’s not a bad thing what happens to the people who realize too late that they made their career everything, and now their family is nothing?

Life is definitely a balance, and whether you have a kid at 20 or 30 shouldn’t mean anything as long as you handle the responsibility and still chase your dreams. There are many different ways to proclaim yourself as an adult, but the day you are taking care of someone other than yourself is the day you really become an adult. As long as you are responsible and determined and ready for the new challenges life has in store for you, when you have your first child, it’s not going to be the end, just a new beginning.

The thing is, another part of being an adult outside of independence, is being happy. We are all driven to pursue careers that we care about, and feel like we have to make a change and affect and inspire people to leave a mark on the world. Out of all the different job titles and career paths people take, everyone wants to be admired for what they do and what they stand for. Many people take immense joy from their career and the life they built for themselves. It definitely is a great reason to have self-pride from all the hard work you put in to get where you are, but different perspectives can really challenge that.

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