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What even is 'adulting' anymore?

Oct. 25, 2017
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As a 17 year old I’m reaching that stage in life, near the end of my adolescence, where I’m currently in the challenging and often confusing transition into the world of “adulthood”: working hard to keep my grades up at school, earning that extra raise at work, trying to create a plan for my future, deciding which direction to pursue—and, of course, figuring out my purpose in life.  

The notion of being an “adult” is, well, a subjective matter, one I am currently trying to work out for myself. As most people see it, though, “adulting” is the stage of independence, your growth as an active and progressive individual as well as the growth of your outlook on life. For centuries, people have graduated into “adulthood” by making the typical contributions to our community: pursuing a college education; holding down a suitably stable job; having responsibilities; and then, ultimately, starting another family who will continue this routine. However, as times have changed in recent decades, our idea of what “adulting” means has recently gone through some pretty significant shifts. 

The current generation—commonly known as the millennial generation, or Generation Y—is considered by many to be the “generation of change” because we have grown up with exposure to radical ideas that may be used to change our society. However, like all the other generations that came before us—The Lost Generation, Baby Boomers, Generation X—millennials have been (unfairly) labelled as uniquely narcissistic because of the "selfie-obsessed" culture that has lately taken over our society.

I asked several people of a similar age for their thoughts on being labelled the generation of change. Gabby, 17, states: “I think that every generation will view other generations differently because each of them have been raised and built on different ideas, different world scenes, and changing values, along with technological advancements.” And this is true to an extent: people of the Lost Generation had a completely different perception of what being an “adult” is, which had that time was more closely tied to one’s age. “People had to grow up real quick… especially for men, because they had to be gone at the age of eighteen since they were counted as adults,” says Hailey Gentis, 18, referring to the young men and women of the G.I Generation who risked everything to fight in the war. Since then, our ideas of “adulthood” have fluctuated from generation to generation—some people believe adulthood involves following and continuing our society’s traditional values; some, like those from the Silent Generation, believe adulthood involves focusing on themselves and their careers; and some—particularly the Baby Boomers—see adulthood as a state of rebelling against the status quo, opposing the conservative regime and campaigning for change. 

With the drastic advances in our technology and civilization as well as the evolving complexity of the ideas comprising our culture, I believe millennials are impacted the most by society’s radical progress. Amidst this rapid evolution, “adulting” for millennials has been rewritten to include the added pressure to be responsible for this continuation and improvement. In the current political climate in the United States, teens and young adults are encouraged more than ever to be mature. “Who’s gonna be next after Trump?” says Hailey, referring to the notorious history-shifting presidency of Donald Trump. “It would have to be people our age, who have to get a degree so that they could try to better the United States as a whole.” And I believe she’s right. Society is being dragged down a few eras backwards thanks to Trump’s leadership, forcing us to go all the way back to square one—but this time people are relying on young adults who have become more politically and socially involved (or “woke”) due to increasingly radical educations. Examples would be Amandla Stenberg and Rowan Blanchard, who are using social media and entertainment to challenge the way we perceive the complex idea of feminism; Malala Yousafzai, a Pakistani activist and the youngest person to win the Nobel Prize laureate; not to mention Colin Kaepernick, the NFL player who silently and effectively protested against police brutality by taking the knee. And, these people are far from the only ones.

via: Time Magazine

These inspiring individuals’ actions have certainly played a role in shifting our perspective on “adulting”. More people of our generation have become even more headstrong and open-minded because of what they’ve learned from history’s mistakes. “Like the body, if there is a virus the good cells fight the bad ones until they are unable to harm the body,” Gabby says when I bring up the recent attack on Las Vegas. “There’s always going to be people like Trump, people like the Las Vegas shooter.” Reactions to this tragic event and the issue of gun control have become ubiquitous throughout social media, with many pointing out that this particular debate stands to be especially impactful to our younger peers. Gabby also goes on to point out that “adulting also comes into play with just being human: accepting others, being kind, the ability to disagree and accept that others aren’t always going to think like you do—being a functioning, progressive member of society.” And in light of Trump’s presidency and the rise of white supremacy, this statement has been established as the ideal mindset of the young adult today. (It’s no wonder, then, that we’re considered the most demanding generation.)

Young people not only feel pressured to improve civilization—they’re also expected to do well in school and college, achieve personal goals, and take care of their responsibilities independently. Throughout my interviews, I noticed that a lot of people feel obligated to be accomplished in life. “There’s always competition to be the best,” remarks Angelina, 17, “because someone is always better.” Now, competition has always been tough, and wanting the best for yourself and your family is a universal drive—but with the millennial unemployment rate rising up to 12.8 percent, competition is even tougher. Despite the lack of employment for students, there are over 8 million job vacancies within the STEM field as of May 2015—but given rising college tuition fees, fear of student debt and the mounting difficulties of securing a wage-paying job, it’s little wonder that these vacancies aren’t getting filled. These factors also suggest that “adulting” has become even more challenging than it was perhaps twenty years ago: students cannot afford to pay to study at a university, making certain qualified careers for young adults difficult to attain. 

Given the crush of technological advancement and rapidly evolving social and political mores, it’s no surprise that millennials have so much to bear on their shoulders. With the pressure to be independent and the high expectations of those around us, the standards set for millennials are the toughest yet. The Boomers have left us with large shoes to fill, and it’s going to be harder than ever before for us to fill them: we have had the worst recession since the Great Depression and such an astronomical increase in student loans that a recent study found nearly 30% of millennials are willing to sell their organs to pay off their debts. 

So, what does it mean to be an “adult” today? With the current political, economical and social situation, it’s difficult to define. As many people as there are who are able to live the life of an average adult—having a stable job and career, handling their responsibilities independently—there are just as many who struggle with even reaching the lowest rungs of “adulthood”, even as their expectations for themselves rise ever higher. So, let’s just say that being an “adult” today is determined through your maturity and awareness of current affairs just as much as it is determined by financial independence. With the latter growing increasingly out of reach for millennials, other avenues to “adulthood” are a godsend.