Being an adult isn't the same for everyone.
By Rachel James (Treasurer/Writer)
After attending four weddings in disparate parts of the world last year, and my Facebook feed filling up with pictures of newborns, I’ve begun to wonder what kind of life I am living. Plus, checking off a new age bracket made me all nostalgic as to where I thought I’d be at this point in life. But you know what? Another great thing is happening as I age: I suddenly find I have several less fucks to give about what people think of my life.
An article in Jezebel this week, and this amazing visual piece by Matt Bors, got me thinking about life milestones. Spouse, kids, house (own, not rent), career - not necessarily in that order - are the benchmarks we’ve set out to adulthood. And, if we’re honest, the house and career parts only got added for women in the last fifty years or so. However, why are these still the benchmarks that everyone must reach? If there's more choice for life, why do we all have to reach the same milestones in order to consider ourselves adults?
So I’ve decided to compile a new list of milestones on the path to adulthood. Some I’ve reached, and some I’m working on. Some are good for lots of people, and some might be a little more specific. But I think they work pretty well.
Discovering that what you wanted to do at eighteen may not be what you want out of life
Or how about “Knowing what you want to be when you grow up is a life long journey”? Especially since we leave college with the monetary equivalent of a mortgage (oh, and thanks federal government for doubling student loan interest rates!), you want to put your degree to good use. You want to know that all that money and time was worth it for a good career.
Well, the fact is it doesn’t always work that way anymore. Artists have known this forever, but the days of getting a job, putting your time in with a company, and retiring are practically gone. Chances are you’re going to have many different careers in your lifetime. And as scary as that sounds, it’s actually quite exciting.
Being realistic about your finances doesn’t have to be painful and/or boring
Designing a monthly budget, sticking to it, and having money in a savings account feels really good! I wish I were being sarcastic about this, but it’s true. Also, figuring out what things are worth scrimping on, and what things are worth spending extra are just as important. Finances are a constant work in progress.
Realizing that vacations are cheaper and more necessary than moving
I hate tourists. All right, “hate” is a strong word. How about “I am highly frustrated by tourists”? It’s from years of having to walk around stalled groups of out-of-towners in Midtown. So you can imagine my dislike when I leave New York and have to be a “tourist”. However, I know that there are some days when I am fed up with this city and just want to leave as quickly as possible. I think “That’s it. I’m done.” I was twenty-four when I took this thought to the extreme: I packed my bags and moved to Los Angeles. That’s right - MOVED. And while it was an interesting experience - I met some amazing people, explored a new city, and owned a car for the first time in my life - I’m not sure I really thought it out. I’m not sure I really wanted to move so much as I just needed a holiday.
Having the desire to “get away from it all” doesn’t necessarily mean “complete life change”. Or, as I’ve come to understand, relaxing is not just for lazy people. Spending time away from the regular rhythm of your life and your regular surroundings is important to clear your mind. And while I often find I want to leave the city (especially this time of year when the air has become liquid and the heat makes the city angrier than usual), I don’t know if that means I want to leave forever.
This isn’t to say that I’ll stay in New York my whole life. Honestly, I hope I don’t. But as Anthony Bourdain put it (and my friend, Haley, expounded on): Be a traveler, not a tourist. In fact, one of my proudest moments as an adult on holiday was walking the streets of Barcelona by myself and having someone ask me for directions. Clearly I’ve mastered the art of looking competent even when I’m lost. Plus I haven’t worn a fanny pack since I hit puberty, so that helps.
Finding you don’t have "an elevator speech" - and being okay with it
I’ve already written about this, but it bears repeating. And I’m still working on it.
Understanding that someone else’s success doesn’t take away from your own
This is the big one, isn’t it? Especially in the social media age of constant updates on career, life, and everything in between. It’s hard to remember that there isn’t limited luck in the world. Just because someone is getting married doesn’t mean you’ll die alone (also, CAN WE STOP SAYING THIS?!). Just because someone’s career is on the upswing doesn’t mean you’ll never find success. I’m writing these words out as much for me as I am so that the world can calm the fuck down. Measuring your life’s worth against others may have worked when we were all being graded on the same curve; when we all grew up in the same place, with the same advantages and same way of thinking. But we’ve grown beyond that now. And the only curve you can really be graded on is your own.
Regardless of where you are in your life milestones, or what they even are, it doesn’t have to be the same for everyone. It also doesn’t have to be the worst thing ever. Sometimes it just is. And being fine with that is really the mark of a grown-up.
is a native New Yorker and theatre baby. Her plays have been produced by The 52nd Street Project and Starfish Theatreworks. She currently makes a living as a Broadway treasurer.
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