Last year I wrote an article covering the main lessons I learned by the age of 30. This year I decided to do it again.
This year I finally wrapped my head around how people become adults.
When I was a kid, it seemed to me that grown-ups had it easy: nobody told them what to do, and they were old enough to do anything they wanted. I desperately wanted to grow up. But a curious thing happened: my conceptualization of being an “adult” evolved as I grew older. First, I thought I would be an adult when I was allowed to stay up past 11pm, then when I was allowed to sit on the front passenger seat, then when I received a passport, then got a job. As soon as I reached my perceived "adult-mark" I thought "well, I am here now, but I don't really feel like an adult. I must have been wrong.” Then I would identify a new milestone and tell myself “If I get to that new milestone then I am for sure an adult".
I, like many people, missed the point completely.
Which brings me to my realization: adulthood is not something that just happens to you with the passage of time, it is something you yourself bring about.
What is being an adult?
Becoming an adult is learning to master your lizard brain, the part of your brain responsible for all basic instincts like fight, flight, feeding, fear etc. When we are children, the lizard brain is in the driver’s seat. If leading with the lizard brain defines child-like behaviour, then being an adult is governing ourselves in accordance with rational thought. For example, adults practice foregoing instant gratification in pursuit of long-term goals.
Becoming an adult is having the courage to critically reflect on old habits, beliefs or behaviours you may have inadvertently developed, and identify the harmful and destructive ones that hold you back. Adults take steps to continue educating themselves, and work diligently to foster new habits, beliefs and behaviours that support a more balanced and sustainable lifestyle.
Becoming an adult is learning your rights with the understanding that each and every right comes with an equally important responsibility. Adults do not shirk that responsibility.
Becoming an adult is acknowledging the fact that your personal needs and wants are just as important as those of others. Adults spend more time doing things that aren't just good for them, but are good for others, not just their inner circle of friends and family, but humanity as a whole.
My take away
Being 31 now, I see that every person grows older, but far from everyone becomes an adult. I finally understand that being an adult comes from within — it’s a proactive, every day effort. It is how you care for your body, manage your finances, and choose your activities. It is how you treat your loved ones and others around you, how you demonstrate empathy, even in situations that may seem to warrant none, and how you value Earth and your time on it. Being an adult is not static, it is a process. In short, adulthood is a journey with no destination.