By Samantha Menard
Every Sunday at four in the afternoon, I call my mother on the walk home from theatre practice. This is not only so that she knows I am still alive, but also so she can be my sounding board. I usually recap the average college-student week: going to class, keeping on top of weekly readings and homework, and the number of days until my next exam brings forth my demise. But in the last year of my undergraduate career, the weekly recap expanded to things that were never a concern when I lived under my parent’s roof. Small things like being punctual and accountable for appointments, having an intelligent or an honest discussion with someone, or following a budget. Once in a while, we go a bit deeper, and talk about things like accepting a job offer, long-term education opportunities, or how do you know you will marry someone. These big conversations usually prompt a bit of emotion from my mother, who will say goodbye with, “when did you get so grown up?” To which I answer, “I’ll let you know when I have.” Even with these new, adult-like concerns, I still ask myself, are we all really adults yet?
Most of us have matured and learned a tremendous amount since graduating high school. In the first year alone, change and loss bring growth and strength. Both of which usually come in full force that first year, once you learn that most things aren’t permanent. The change and the losses that once felt unsurmountable slowly become more distant. They get smaller in the rearview mirror as the world expands around you. You soon learn that the overused adult adage of opportunity springs from every loss is, very thankfully, so true.
Many of the opportunities that come forth from loss and change pertain to learning how to take care of yourself and put yourself first. Independence is the name of this adult game after all. Yes, you should go to the gym, eat real food, and make that doctor’s appointment if you’re sick. Do things that make you happy, and sever ties with anyone or anything that doesn’t. Be aware of your everyday mentality, and speak up if lately things haven’t been quite right. Healthy physical, emotional, and mental self-care is the foundation for independence and functionality in the adult world. If you’ve achieved that on your own, or at least are trying, you’re on your way to growing up.
After achieving some degree of personal independence, decision-making freedom, and learning from the mistakes that come with it, comes the conception of some life goals. This can be defined as knowing how you want to improve your life, and how to do that. Notice that this definition only concerns how you want your life to look and no one else. Finding that line is hard, but necessary. You must find your own passion, based on your own strengths and interests to become the best and most productive person you can be.
Remember that almost nothing in life is totally permanent, and if one goal doesn’t work out, there will always be another. Almost everyone goes to college to find a good job, but many are under the impression that they wont have much choice in what that job will be. This is untrue; not only will you have a lot of say in the matter, but you will also have lots of say in the matter many times over in life. If the first try doesn’t work out because it wasn’t meant to be, you, as an official adult, will have the necessary arsenal of skills, independence, and strength to try again.
The notion of functional adulthood and maturity doesn’t seem so hard when all that has to be done is to be independent and have some goals. What is constantly at odds with this, unfortunately, is our own narcissism, as well as a huge dependence on others. With modern technology supposedly making people around the world seem more connected, the same connection is often sorely missed in day-to-day interactions. You become more absorbed in your own worlds, heads, and phones, and expect everyone to be just as absorbed in your world as you are.
This breeds the belief that if we are the best “liked” online, our offline lives will be just as easy, and fulfillment will be handed to you if you craft the perfect caption. We’ve become dependent on the approval of others, and often sacrifice our own independence, goals, and happiness for a false sense of achievement or inclusion. Ambition and success are seldom realized if one is waiting on the approval and attention of others. The truth is, that anyone can like that photo of your degree, but no one except you will understand the work that went into it.
Learning to take care of yourself and working to achieve your goals for your own fulfillment are the two biggest lessons of adulthood. This does not discount, however, the thousands of little ones that sum up to the big ones. When taking care of your physical health, you might also want to understand how health insurance works, and why its important. When trying to achieve financial independence, it will be helpful to have a budget, and the discipline to stick to it. A well-paying job would be nice, but the paycheck won’t matter if you despise the way you’re earning it. And if you’re having trouble navigating the tumultuous sea of adult world, ask someone to help you. Asking questions, and admitting that maybe you don’t know everything, is not a sign of weakness but a major sign of maturity. We’re all amateurs trying to make it out there.