culture & community health

When I grow up

by Cheney — July 10, 2012

We’re all adults here. Or, at least, I thought we were. Seems I could be wrong – especially if you don’t have guest towels, or don’t listen to Radio 2. And if you, like me, have no idea what it means to “bleed a radiator”, you could be in serious trouble of being demoted…

Recently, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article appeared online about what people in the UK consider signs of being a grown-up. The article was based on research by the Skipton Building Society, who interviewed 2000 people and compiled a top 50 list based on the responses of those surveyed.

You can read the list here.

Richard Burton. Wearing a cardigan, hosting an aggressive dinner party. Classic grown-up stuff.

I found it confusing because, according to just every single legal yardstick I can think of in my country, I’ve already been a fully-grown adult for about 10 years.
I’m allowed to vote, buy cigarettes, drink cocktails, join the military, have a credit card, get a licence for a firearm and learn how to drive just about any kind of vehicle there is. I’m not allowed to do all these things at the same time, but if I did, I’d be tried in court as an adult and go to a proper grown-up jail.
But it seems, when you consult the Skipton list, I’m lacking in a number of areas (see above about the towels and the radiator and so on). It seems that what we’re talking about here is a cultural concept of a grown-up, not a legal one, which is trickier to define.

Ways of demarcating the transition from adolescence to adulthood is varied even within cultures, not to mention between them and people write proper books about this stuff, so you know it’s serious. Of course, the biological process of puberty happens to nearly all of us, but if that was all it took to be a grown-up, your average 13 year-old American girl would be considered one. Except she isn’t. Although she might be in some other countries.
So, there’s more going on than just biology when it comes to deciding whether or not you’re grown-up or not.

Culturally speaking, I do quite a few grown-up sorts of things. I make my own money and pay my own bills. I have insurance and maintain a good credit rating. I have civilised dinners with other grown-ups where we eat food that we’ve made ourselves, drink wine and (sometimes) talk about politics and architecture. I very rarely have tantrums in public, and I’m generally more afraid of changes to my income tax bracket than I am of the dark.

But then again, I’m not married. I also don’t have kids and I rent my apartment, instead of owning it. I don’t have a driver’s licence and I’m not entirely sure about the best way to save for retirement. I’ve been known to do colouring-in at the dinner table, eat ice-cream as the single component of a meal, get unreasonably excited about Lego, and prefer cartoons to most other things on television. Except Antiques Roadshow, which is awesome.

So, how do we quantify our transition to grown-up? If, as per the list, you need to own a lawn mower, should you buy one even if you don’t have a lawn? Should you open a joint bank account with the first person you can find? Do you actually have to enjoy cooking, or do you just have to be able to do it? What if you can’t have children? What if you don’t like sensible shoes?

I’ve been talking about this with people I know, and the consensus seems to be that being a grown-up is not about having particular things, or liking certain hobbies or being a boring old fart that never does anything except shout at kids to get off the lawn (regardless of whether you have a lawn, or the requisite equipment to mow it). But a lot of people had ideas about the sorts of things that you should look at learning if you’re going to go around calling yourself a grown-up.

After the thinking and talking, I came up with a different list. It’s not exhaustive and I certainly don’t come close to meeting all the criteria, but I think they’re all good things to aim for. There are 9 points, because evenly numbered lists are for chumps.

1. Learn the basics of managing your money, even if you don’t have much. At the very least, know what you’re spending it on. Figure out what your priorities are and budget around them the best you can.

2. Admit fault. Not all the time, but learn to say you’re sorry, or that you were wrong, or that you don’t know something. Sometimes growing up means being the bigger person and reaching out first.

3. Keep in touch with your friends. Realise they don’t come and go as easily as when you were in school. Figure out who is important to you, and let them know once in a while. Send a letter, a text message or choreograph an interpretive dance.

4. Take care of your health. If you can afford it, get some insurance. If not, take some precautions. Floss. Try to eat vegetables sometimes. Move around. Don’t put sharp things near your eye.

5. Learn how to get what you want without threatening, sulking or bribery. This involves learning how to negotiate, compromise and be a good listener. It also involves standing up for yourself if you’re being taken advantage of.

6. Do something nice for someone else once in a while. Especially when it doesn’t involve a direct benefit to you.

7. Make use of the wisdom of hindsight you’ve accumulated. Know that being dumped won’t kill you, if you eat a whole packet of chocolate biscuits you’ll probably feel sick, and if you go for a run/write another few paragraphs/clean the bathroom now instead of later, it’ll pay off.

8. Learn new, relevant skills. Few people are actually self-sufficient, but it’s a drag to have to pay/ask people to do things for you all the time. This might involve learning how to cook basic meals, do a load of laundry, change a blown fuse or clear out your internet browser cache.

9. Care less about what other people think. Honestly, most people are too busy worrying about themselves to care that you’re not married yet or something. Figure out what you want, don’t apologise for it. If you want a 9-5 office job, you’re not a bad person. If you want to be a circus mime, that’s cool too. Just don’t go around telling everyone how individual you are for choosing your own path – we all have to some extent. You’re just being annoying.

So, go, on your own crazy way! Be occasionally sensible! Try not to be a jerk as often as you can! Good luck on your grown-up journey!

You Might Also Like

  • Bridget

    That is fab Cheney! I love your list so much better than the one on the Telegraph. Your grammar is also far superior! LOL! The only thing I think you’re missing on your list is the moment when you realise that you’ve become the parent to your own parents. The day you start giving advice to your parents (and/or inlaws), and it’s better than theirs, certainly makes you feel old. I still often forget that I’m an adult though. I wonder if that feeling ever goes away?

    • wendy

      I agree, a much better list than the Telegraph’s. No. 49 confused me: “Being able to follow a receipt”? The trappings of adulthood do not an adult make. Cool post, Cheney, lots of food for thought.

      • Cheney

        Thanks for the votes of confidence in my list (Bridget – I’m especially picky when it comes to grammar!). The thing that annoys me most is that you can do all of those things on the Telegraph list and still lack emotional intelligence, which to me is a HUGE part of being a grown-up.

        I recently started having the sorts of conversations with my parents where I feel my advice is equally valued. I was actually discussing this blog post with my Mum over dinner and she emailed me later to tell me how she’s thought of me as a mature and responsible adult for a long time now. It was a warm and fuzzy moment 🙂

  • Niffer

    I very much prefer your list to the one in the Telegraph. I don’t understand the sweeping statement that marriage and children and house ownership indicate adulthood… the neighbours are married with kids, but aren’t mature enough to understand that blasting their music till after 1am is as unacceptable as shoving their kids out of doors at 7am the next day to scream in the back yard while they get some extra sleep. And house ownership is increasingly out of reach for the average person, especially in city centres. Being unable to afford property is not an indicator of maturity, it’s an indicator of our economic times! And how about having the maturity to realize that a marriage certificate and/or a child is not the end all be all of life, nor the solution to all of life’s problems?
    Clearly I need to work on #9 a bit more, but I’m getting there. I have the maturity to know when I’m happy and when I’m not and to know that bowing to the pressures of some arbitrary list is not going to make me a grown up.
    Thanks Cheney. I needed that.