I think very few people actually become adults.
Many of us live in a perpetual state of childlike dependence, never letting go of the coping mechanisms that we developed as children. This is nothing to be ashamed of because almost everybody is stuck in their childhood in one way or another—and the feeling of shame would just be another compulsive behavioral pattern that keeps us frozen in this state of childlike dependence.
I’m 24 now, and it still feels strange to me that I’m basically an adult—for all intents and purposes. I certainly don’t feel that much different than I did five or ten years ago. But I guess that’s because there’s more of an emphasis on personal responsibility. If I did something stupid a few years ago, I could chalk it up to youthful ignorance, but that is steadily becoming a poor excuse.
The fact that I’ve lived with a severe chronic illness for the past few years has made becoming an adult even more complicated.
Being dependent on a physical level can often lead to being dependent on a psychological level. My environment has not lent itself to valiantly leaping into an adult life, and that has been one of the heaviest burdens. It’s easier to feel like an adult when we have a respectable job and everyone treats us accordingly, but when we’re struggling to survive and relying on the help of others, feeling mature is harder to come by.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a mature adult. Unfortunately, there isn’t really much of a blueprint for it. We are never told what the essence of being an adult really is, instead we are just given a laundry list of things to do with the hope that we’ll figure it all out.
The truth is most of us don’t figure it out—and if you need any proof, just look at the state of the world.
I’m no authority on the matter. I am by no means free of my past experiences, and I’m sure I continue to act out these old patterns without even the faintest clue of what I’m doing. Still, I thought I’d give a crack at uncovering the meaning of true adulthood, because it’s been on my mind almost constantly.
I believe “real maturity” has something to do with owning our sh*t and being able to make difficult decisions.
We all have baggage. We all have a few stains on our soul. What defines us as human beings is how we manage our own hangups and limitations. For instance, I realized quite recently that I have a propensity to repress my anger out of fear or guilt, which is likely something I developed in my childhood. This isn’t a particularly mature response to a problem, and if I can see myself doing this in the moment, then I can find a more mature way of moving forward.
The seeing is the changing.
There is an immense existential weight to being alive and awake. We cannot avoid the responsibilities placed upon us by our own humanity, even though there is no shortage of attempts to escape it. We can descend into drinking, drugs, or any other kind of pathological behavior, but it never quite does the trick. We want to get rid of the pain of our own existence, but it only grows and grows when we try to run away from who we are.
The only real solution is to go straight to the source by bringing awareness to our own suffering. I don’t just mean thinking about our baggage, I’m talking about actually feeling it in the body.
Next time we’re triggered by something and feel the burning desire to get the hell out of there—and I’m talking about the stuff that literally makes us feel like we’re going to die if we face it—see if we can just stay with that feeling. This is so f*cking hard—I get that. The only way to overcome it though, is to barrel straight through it with the full force of our own consciousness—like our life depends on it, because it actually does.
To be an adult means taking full responsibility for the weight of our own humanity without falling into unconscious habits. It means making decisions in our daily life that best serve us on our journey.
We make choices every day, it’s just that they don’t feel like choices because we make them unconsciously. Stepping up to the plate of adulthood implies that we recognize the choices that we make. We see what we’re doing.
It’s the child that says, “I didn’t have a choice.” The adult says, “I made this choice and I am responsible for it.”
One of the biggest limitations for me in this transition into adult life with my illness has been the fact that I haven’t been in a position to make many “real life” decisions. I’ve sort of been thrown around a lot to different places based on the intensity of my symptoms—and I haven’t been able to really carve out a path for myself. I’ve had to leave jobs and let go of many opportunities because of my sickness. For most young people in the West, the time in our 20s is filled with endless decisions. This is the time that we are supposed to be making choices, learning and growing in the process.
When we’re not in a position to choose, it makes it much more difficult to see the consequence of our choices. I’ve tried to compensate for that by putting more emphasis on the “smaller” decisions in my daily life.
I choose to meditate for hours a day.
I choose to be kind.
I choose to live a healthy lifestyle.
I choose to write.
I choose to be honest with people.
What I am learning through my illness is that we all have the capacity to choose, it’s just a matter of being willing to bring our attention to the small choices instead of only looking at the big picture. Looking at the little things can reap great rewards down the line.
The more conscious we are of how we’re living, the better we’ll feel. We become more well-rounded and creative human beings—the kind others will respect and depend on. Remember, when we act as our best selves everyone around us benefits.
This is what it means to be a mature adult, in my eyes.