How do you Adult?

Guest post by Eli

I’m young. I just turned twenty-two, and when I get married I will be three weeks shy of my twenty-fourth birthday. I graduated college recently, and while I am working full-time, I still live at home and don’t really have any expenses. Which is awesome, because I have the opportunity to save up, and my job does not pay very well at all.

But at the same time… I have almost no idea how to be a fully-functioning adult.

I was thinking about this all last night because I’d just signed up for dental and life insurance through my work, and that sort of thing feels really grown-up. Responsibility! Future planning! Insurance! But it also cast into sharp relief the fact that I really don’t know what I’m doing and I’m scared as hell.

How do Other People do it?

I just feel like when we get married, and start living independently, I’m going to be completely lost. There’s so much I don’t know. My mom is basically flawless — she works full-time and still manages to be a domestic goddess. I watch her and just wonder how on earth she manages it.

And it’s not even just the domestic household chores that freak me out — I’m actually pretty handy at that sort of thing — but things like bills and loans and car payments and mortgages and insurance and savings and home maintenance and car repairs.

And then, since we want to have kids, and to start relatively soon, it occurred to me that in five or six years I’m going to be a MOM. That got me even more freaked out. I babysit, and I know a lot about taking care of kids, but there’s so much stuff I never even considered — like sleep training, and breastfeeding, and what way the baby should sleep (on zir stomach? back? side? The research seems to change every ten years).

Pointless panicking, I know. Because the truth is, I know that eventually I will learn all this stuff. And while I may screw up, I’m not going to be alone in all this — I’ll have my husband with me, and we’ll figure it out, the way everyone does.

In the ever-wise words of Rubeus Hagrid, “What’s coming will come, and we’ll have to meet it when it does.”

So, let’s hear it Homies who’ve been there. When did you feel like you’d truly become an adult? What steps were most important to getting to that feeling?

Comments on How do you Adult?

  1. I’m going to take off my publisher’s hat and comment as a reader, because the conversation here is too interesting!

    Unlike many of you, I absolutely DO feel like an adult. I remember being 19 and talking to a coworker who was in her early 40s, and she was like “Nope, nothing’s changed!” and being sort of aghast. You mean I’m stuck with this angst and misery and turmoil FOREVER!? (College was super funz for me, as you can tell *eyeroll*)

    For me, there was a big shift in my 30s when I was like OH I GET IT, NOW I’M ADULTING. The key difference in my life was consequence pattern recognition… I reached a place where I’d made similar mistakes enough times that I started to be able to recognize patterns. Go out late the night before an early morning = rough morning… therefore, plan to go out late on a different night. Ignoring pile of unopened mail = bills getting lost = creditors calling… therefore, open the mail as soon as it arrives, and post bills where I can’t ignore them.

    It wasn’t like I learned any magic skills or waved a wand and felt Very Mature, it was just that I started getting better at recognizing the consequences of my decisions. Of course this doesn’t always mean I make the right decisions, but for me I felt like an adult when was able to recognize my own behavior patterns and predict consequences. Even if I don’t always make the adult decision (“getting up early tomorrow… meh, fuggit: going out late tonight anyway”), it was huge when I was able to identify the patterns of how my behavior had consequences on my life.

    • I completely agree with you. I posted elsewhere and just saw this comment now. I’m in my late 20s and definitely feel like an adult.

      I even posted something similar, where I mentioned the same stay out late scenario.

      You were far more concise though!

      Ultimately, for me, being an adult is about responsibilities: being responsible for yourself, your actions, your commitments, and your things.

      Sure, a lot of the behaviours are repetitive and become habitual, but it’s also about recognizing the consequences and choosing to do things based on either an aversion or embracement of the consequences. You can decide if the consequence is worthwhile, and you can make that as an informed decision.

  2. There is no point at which you feel adult. As far as I’ve come in my travels, I’ve determined the term is as fictional as the desert planet of Arrakis or the forest moon of Endor. I’ve never felt as if I’ve moved beyond the juvenile feeling, and I’m 31, a science teacher, married, and have a 2 year old daughter. I still feel like a kid accomplishing the things in life I want to accomplish and just playing adult as best as possible. I think that’s the best anyone has to hope for.

    Deal with things as they come to you and you’ll do fine. It all falls in place eventually with a little effort.

  3. Thank you for reminding me just how much I love being in my 30’s.
    All this adult stuff?
    It really does get easier.

    I started to feel like a true adult over the last couple years. Granted, this is also when I started playing hula hoops and having a whole lot more fun in my daily life. Basically though, I figured out how to listen to my own inner guidance and not worry at all about doing things as society says we should.

    I’ve learned how to take care of myself properly and my household. I know how to cook, the best ways to shop, how to do laundry and how to balance taking care of my needs with those of my family (although this is an ever evolving process) and how to ask for help!

    Learning how to learn and how to figure things out are the most important parts of growing up. Knowing when to ask the internet, when to ask a friend or your grandma, and when to just pay a professional to do the work for you.

    Really though, the best part of growing up for me is realizing that life can be easier and more fun than it ever was when I was a kid, because I get to do whatever I want to do and I gave myself permission to do whatever I love.

  4. So, this adult thing?

    I felt like an adult when I paid off my student loan, before my intended date, accomplished via goal setting and making realistic decisions of what my priorities are.

    I have worked hard to remain debt free ever since and increase my savings with every pay cheque. I recently checked my balance and thought to myself, “wow, I’m doing great”. I started with $25 a month when I was struggling to pay off my student loan.

    For me, financial independence and managing my responsibilities makes me feel like an adult.

    I would like to suggest that while you are at home, practice living on less.

    Buy the week’s groceries for a week and tell your mom you want to help out and prepare all the meals for a week. In res, I had a number of people on my floor who couldn’t cook (yet were in the res that had kitchens in their unit).

    Start tracking your expenses. It can be as easy as opening a spreadsheet, writing down your current bank balance and then deducting the amount for every purchase/auto payment, and adding the amount for any income (birthday gifts, paycheque, reimbursements, etc).

    Tracking my expenses began when I was first on my own and I thought, “no, that can’t be right. How did I spend so much? I thought my pay would go further!” With my first “full time job”. It’s not a fun feeling to realize you’ve over-spent an entire paycheque.

    Since you’re living at home, do some research – how much does rent cost for a 1 bedroom apartment in your neighbourhood? Are utilities included? What’s the cost of cable, Internet, and phones? Once you have those numbers, start putting aside that much out of your pay into a savings account. When you’re ready to move pit, you will have a cushion, and you’ll already be used to paying that amount. In general, you want housing to come in under 35% of your take home pay so you aren’t crippled with payments.

    Other suggestions for the pie chart of finances (from Gail Vaz Oxlade, a Canadian version of Dave Ramsey/Suze Orman) include: 10% retirement savings, 15% to debt repayment (once paid off, you can use that for anything else), 15% transportation, 25% life. You can read more online at

    You might also want to start putting something aside for retirement – get in the habit of saving right now, and then once you’re ready to increase those to higher deposits, you’ll have had some experience and practice with that too.

    Being an adult is mostly just routines and repeated behaviours – they can be both positive and negative. Oh, and added responsibility. As you grow up, you take on a greater responsibility for yourself, and as things transition a greater responsibility for others.

    Sometimes, it reads like a boring choose-your-own adventure book: “you’re out with friends and realize it’s 9 pm. You have to get up for work tomorrow morning at 6 am and it will take an hour to get home because your bus and subway ride sucks. Will you go home now and go to bed or stay out a little later with friends and suffer the consequences?”

    In the end, I see “being an adult” as making responsible decisions, being capable of being independent (even if in a relationship), financial independence, and being able to set goals and prioritize (and re-prioritize when “life happens”) things to work towards your goals.

    This kind of sounds like I live a dull life. I don’t. Some days are certainly more boring than others, but I think everyone probably experiences that.

  5. Checking in from 32 over here: still faking it.

    Don’t sweat it — I’ve come to believe that being a ‘grown-up’ is just a myth that ‘grown-ups’ tell children, akin to Santa Claus.

  6. I actually came on here to recommend the “Adulting” book that was recommended in the first couple of comments 🙂 I just bought it for my 19 year old brother for Christmas, and plan to borrow it back from him to check it out!

    But I just wanted to weigh in on the kids thing — sure, do your research, join support groups (like La Leche League, or whatever you think you might be into) and meet people — BUT — once that baby gets here, YOU will be the expert on your child. None of the decisions about things like sleep training need to be made in advance. Your child will let you know what he/she needs, and you will be able to understand far better than anyone else. So about sleeping position? Sure, the doctors will give you advice, but after a month of sleepless nights, that baby gets to sleep in any old position it will actually SLEEP in! 🙂

    Also — everybody has to do dumb stuff, like miss a utility payment or not change the oil in their car until they ruin it … and THAT’s part of how they learn to be adults. Yes, even your parents did stuff like that.

  7. Many other people have already said most of what I was going to say, so I’ll just say this:

    The moment I started to really feel like an adult was when I bought my first charcoal grill. Only grown-ups have grills.

  8. To add to everyone’s awesome advice, one practical thing I’d add is: don’t procrastinate. I speak from experience. It’s easy to put off that adult-y insurance/tax/legal/repair/whatever because you don’t want to do it.

    But there will be a deadline, and that will make you about a million times more nervous. Then there’s always some dumb form you didn’t know you needed to have, or something else will come up. And then you have a nervous breakdown at the license bureau or on the phone with your insurance person who is tired of talking to people like you all day.

    • Yup. There had to have been a manual or something. When he turned 26 my boyfriend mentioned that he was no longer eligible for the draft, and remembered when he registered. Apparently all men in the US have to register when they’re 18-25, and there’s a penalty if you don’t. I was flabbergasted. Like, how do you KNOW?! No one told me those that.

  9. I’m 24, have a real job and apartment and cooked a full friendsgiving meal this week, all of which made me feel really adult. And yet, the same week, I built a pillowfort in my living room and had a water gun fight that drenched the entire apartment with my roommates… I’LL NEVER GROW UP! And the great part is, I don’t HAVE to!

    I think a part of being an adult is accepting your responsibilities, but a bigger and more important part is being happy with yourself and your quirks, even if they include a love of pillow -fort building and bubble blowing and water fighting.

  10. For me, becoming an adult is about emotional stability. I am feeling more adult-like as I practice finding/staying in my center. The teaching I learned is that in your center, you know who you are, what you want, and you already have the answers. It is huge for me to connect to this when there is an external trigger to feel anxious, intimidated, FOMO, insecure, inadequate, etc. I’m me. I’m here. I’m fine. I’m awesome. I’m going take care of my own needs and wants. Whew, that’s a relief.

    To deal with the red tape of adulthood that you mention (really, a drag for most of us I think!), my husband and I have recently started writing everything down and setting it aside. Then we have a scheduled “Grown-Up Conference” where we have a grown-up-y treat (such as cheese and wine) and work on our business. Sometimes this is literally just a support group–like, he might need to make a phone call, and I am just there to help him do it Now, rather than Sometime. We do it about once a week, for a few hours, and see if we can get 3-4 things marked off the list. Outside of Grown-Up Conference, we are not allowed to wallow in angst or worry. If something comes up, we write it down. We’re free to be happy and feel nothing is hanging over our heads! And we actually make the conference time fun too, so now our lives are pretty much wonderful all the time. haha 😉

  11. So this was my post (and I was happily surprised when I stumbled across it!! Does this mean I’ve achieved my goal of being a published author?), and I have to say–the outpouring of support and advice and wisdom from all of you quite literally has me in tears. Thank you all SO MUCH for your kind and wise words. Good to know I’m not the only one who feels like this, and that being an adult is a learned skill. I’m still nervous, but I feel better. Bless you all!

  12. I’m 28 and just picked health insurance for the first time in December. Even then, I called my parents and made them listen to me process it and reassure me that I’m not making a stupid decision with the plan I pick. I don’t think adults know what we are doing. I think we are just really good at pretending like we know what we are doing.

  13. I think being an adult is pretty much having an absolute awareness that there will ALWAYS be something you don’t know how to do but you’ll have to wing it and progressively you start learning. And then there’s something new entirely you don’t know how to do and so on and on.

    I want to think I’m about 60% at that point 😀

  14. My husband and I just had a 2+ hour meeting with a financial planner to discuss our plans for RETIREMENT. And discuss things like at what age we think we might DIE. Talk about a slap-in-the-face reality check. I was thinking, “WHOA, I am a grownup.” And it sucks. That is some heavy shit.

  15. “Phoebe, do you have a plan?”
    “I don’t even have a pla.”
    How to be an adult, according to FRIENDS.

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