I had my first quarter-life crisis this year.
While traveling Southeast Asia, I contracted a nasty case of Dengue Fever and spent a week cooped up in a hotel room in Cambodia, wondering if I was doing it all wrong.
You see, for a long time I was doing adulthood right. I had a nice apartment and a serious boyfriend. I had a 9-5 job in an office and a comfortable amount of savings in the bank. My life was laid out the way every twenty-something dreamed theirs to be, except for one thing: I was miserable.
At the risk of sounding horribly cliché, I’ve never been the 9-5 type. The daily grind drives me mad. Monogamous relationships make me feel claustrophobic.
Doing things the way my parent’s generation did them makes me feel like a brain dead zombie – and yet for a long time, I followed in their proud footsteps anyway. Because I thought that was what it meant to be an adult.
But the thing is, I eventually got tired of playing grown-up.
I lost the boyfriend and the apartment and the office job – all within a month of each other. And I pretended to be unhappy about it all. I pretended to care that I was no longer fitting the cookie cutter model of adulthood. But the truth is, I didn’t care. At all. In fact, I was kind of relieved to watch my picture-perfect life fall apart.
Because at the end of the day, that’s not what I wanted my adulthood to look like. And at this point, it no longer does.
Now I have a job doing something I love. I travel often, I go out often, I fall in and out of love often, and I fall short of many of the ‘adult-esque’ requirements.
I don’t have a fancy apartment with minimalist décor and designated plates for when important guests come over. I don’t have a serious relationship. I don’t have expensive taste in wine.
And for a while, I assumed that the lack of these things made me less of an adult than those around me. After all, I’ve watched my peers start to move towards these achievements in leaps and bounds.
I’ve watched engagement announcements and baby photos flood my news feed. I’ve seen old classmates score high-paying jobs and buy property. I’ve watched some of my peers lives fall into line in a highly specific way, and watched other peers salivate over their successes.
And on my bad days, I understand that jealousy. On the days when instability gets tiring, I feel too old to be drinking and traveling and sleeping around and changing my life plan the way other people change shirts. On the days when I’m sick and delirious in a lonely hotel room in Cambodia, I want the traditional ‘adult’ type things that my friends seem to so desperately covet.
But those days are also few and far between.
The truth is, I hardly ever feel shitty about the fact that I am not ‘adulting’ the way I seemingly ought to be. I love my life. And I’m tired of pretending I don’t.
There’s this weird idea out there that we have to pride ourselves on the things that indicate that we’re in line with where we ‘should be’ in life. In our parent’s generation, being in your mid to late twenties meant that you had a home with classy belongings, and probably a partner and child.
It meant you had a steady job with a retirement plan and that your future was starting to take shape in a concrete, predictable way. Hitting these milestones meant you were an adult. And so we assume that they still do. But hold up a second.
Can we take a moment to acknowledge the fact that we no longer live in our parent’s generation?
The world is changing. And so are we.
9-5s are no longer a necessity in the work force that we have created. Monogamy is no longer the only acceptable dating practice. Staying rooted in one place is not necessarily cheaper than traveling long-term anymore, and switching companies frequently may actually be what is best for our careers in the current workforce.
So why are we still fixated on measuring how much of an adult we are by how closely we’re falling in line with the values of the generations that preceded ours?
I’m in my mid-twenties and I’m currently in between apartments. I’m single. I’ve spent way too much money on traveling in the past year, and I don’t have plans to pop out children anytime soon. And yet I absolutely feel like an adult.
When crisis strikes, I handle it. When someone I love needs me, I’m there. When life presents unexpected obstacles, I navigate them with confidence and decisiveness. I don’t at all feel ill equipped for adult life. In fact, more often that not, I feel damn good at it.
Because the truth about the concept of ‘adulting’ is that if you have to measure it by which possessions you own and which milestone you’ve hit, you’re probably coming at it from a place of intense insecurity.
Being an adult doesn’t mean having a pinterest-porn living room and an engagement ring resting on your finger.
Being an adult means knowing yourself. It means listening to your own needs. It means understanding which kind of lifestyle you want to be living and then pursuing it unapologetically.
Sometimes being an adult means getting married and having a kid, but other times it means the total opposite. Sometimes it means traveling long-term. Sometimes it means frequent career shifts. Sometimes, being an adult just means having the bravery to say, ‘I choose the life that I want over the life that I’m expected to have and I’m happy with that. I’m living with my own definition of integrity.’
Because at the end of the day, the most mature thing any of us can ever do is to know ourselves. To trust ourselves. To understand that even when our wants and needs differ from the desires of the people around us, they’re still valid. They’re still meaningful. They’re still there.
And to allow ourselves the honesty to grow into the exact kind of adult that we want to become.