In recent years a new verb has become part of our popular lexicon. Adult. As in, how to adult. As millennials graduate and move away from the world of academia, it is becoming increasingly difficult to gauge whether we are busy making progress or just busy.
In previous generations the goalposts by which adults judged their relative success or failure in life were clear and easily discernible. Marriage. Home ownership. Children. Promotions at work. Acquiring or failing to acquire these things told us whether we were adulting properly, or merely wasting time. But the goalposts have moved. The economic and social fabric of society has become much more porous and dynamic. Buying a home is no longer the aspiration of all young people, and I any event it may never be possible. Fewer than 40% of millennials see climbing the corporate ladder as a career aspiration. And young people are delaying marriage and children or forgoing them altogether.
With no tests to pass, grades to achieve, or definitive order to follow, it’s easy to feel lost. If a graduate lives at home with their parents but is busy building a successful online platform is that success or failure? If you live alone and draw a significant salary from a company whose mission, policies, and products are uninspiring or even contrary to your ethics are you a success? If you love your job but have meagre savings are you a failure. So, how do we know if we are adulting properly?
Do you make decisions and take responsibility for the outcomes?
Maybe your dream is to backpack across Europe. You are drawn to the digital nomad lifestyle. It seems very reckless, even dangerous. It offers none of the security or prestige of a graduate program or a coveted position at a large multi-national company. However, you cover all of your travel and living expenses including insurance and savings for an emergency. You also make sure to stay in contact with friends and family, even while on the road. Congratulations! You are adulting. Surely being an adult means that, regardless of the path you choose, you take responsibility for those choices. No passing the buck. No playing the blame game.
Do you invest?
While investing financially is very important and everybody should be fiscally responsible, investing goes deeper than simply playing the stock markets. Investing in relationships, putting down roots, and nurturing a career are all ways you can invest. Adults know that they won’t be young forever. A recent study said that 50% of all men over the age of 25 who attempted suicide could not name one person they considered a best friend. Somehow, their relationships broke down, and when life got hard they found themselves isolated.
Directing a portion of your income into a savings account of a retirement fund is something that everybody should do, no matter how little it may seem. But, remember to invest yourself in others and to invest time in yourself. Get a hobby. Learn a skill. Build your career capital. If you are investing then congratulations, you are adulting.
Do you have a plan?
‘YOLO’ (you only live once) is not a lifestyle choice. It’s foolishness. And while there are times when seizing the moment and taking chances precipitates growth and opportunities, in general you are going to need a plan. And a plan needs a goal. A goal is achieved through defined steps and a timeline. The difference between people stuck in perpetual adolescence and those who have moved successfully into adulthood is that adults have chosen a direction and are busy working towards goals. Sure, you can change direction. Often you will find you need to recalculate several times before you find your truest path. However, committing to a path or direction and working hard to achieve goals is a sign that you are adulting.
Are you improving?
A lot of people are very busy going nowhere and doing nothing. They exhibit a lot of activity and are dedicated to doing whatever they are doing, but never seem to get anywhere or get anything done. Denzel Washington once said “never confuse movement with progress. Because you can run in place and not get anywhere.”
You know you are adulting when you can see growth and progress. If you think you are the next YouTube sensation, then your subscribers should be on the increase. If you are a freelance graphic designer then your client list needs to be growing and your portfolio improving. You need demonstrable and measurable signs of improvement over time. If you are working hard and going nowhere, it’s time to take a step back and figure out what you are doing wrong.
It can be hard to tell whether or not you are “graduating” as you move into the “real world”. The loss of those predetermined milestones can be disconcerting. It can be even more stressful if you are taking the path less travelled and pursuing untraditional careers. However, with hard work and self-reflection you can find your true north.