How Do I Know When I’ve Become an Adult?

Casual businesswoman balancing coffee on pile of foldersBecoming an adult is rife with both uncertainty and adventure. The concept of being an adult is always in flux, and these days it’s hard to tell when adulthood is upon you. Culture, religion, socioeconomic status, and family situations may all impact and blur the lines between childhood and adulthood. No one sends you a complimentary toaster to let you know you have “joined the club,” and for many people, there is no one experience that affirms the acquisition of adult status.

In truth, adulthood is a process, not just a state you wake up in one day. For those of you who are just leaving behind adolescence, you probably bring a host of assumptions to this process that may or may not ease the transition into this new phase of life.

1. If I don’t feel like an adult, I must not be one.

Employment, paying the bills, driving, having a child—while all of these responsibilities are significant milestones, you might still have a sneaking suspicion that you’re not quite there. In reality, adulthood isn’t just about a set of responsibilities or accomplishments. Rather, it is more of a conscious effort to be aware of your strengths and challenges and a dedication to being the best version of yourself you can be. It is accepting that you will falter, but that you owe it to yourself to keep going.

2. I can’t have a life if I become an adult.

Perhaps you fear that if you get a “real job” or “settle down” you will have to give up your passions or having fun. These days, you can design your own idea of what it means to be an adult. You can identify the values and priorities you want to commit to and create a life based on those. They might be informed by past experience and important people in your life, or you might have a belief system that offers you guiding principles. Either way, take stock of what is important to you and build your version of adulthood around that.

3. I have to be in a relationship to be happy.

Sharing your life with someone can offer an additional layer of security and support that may improve your sense of well-being. But relationships—just like any important decision—should be entered into wisely. Gauge your emotional readiness to be a partner. If you are not ready to commit wholeheartedly, this does not make you less of an adult; in fact, it takes great maturity to be honest with yourself about your ability or willingness to balance relationship needs with your own. You also need to be aware of your intentions when you begin a relationship. Ask yourself if you are looking for your partner to make you happy, diminish your loneliness, or bolster your ego. None of these will lead to healthy, adult relationships. On the other hand, if you understand that you are solely responsible for developing into a whole independent human being, you might be ready to share your life with another.

4. I’ll know I’m an adult when I have it all figured out!

Because there isn’t a definitive moment you become an adult, there is also no definitive answer to the uncertainties that life brings to you. Embracing that you will encounter more questions than answers is the real wisdom here. Don’t wait for a magical day in the future when it will all make sense. Open yourself up to the rich and fulfilling experience of learning along the way.

5. I need to have it all figured out!

Because there isn’t a definitive moment you become an adult, there is also no definitive answer to the uncertainties that life brings to you. Embracing that you will encounter more questions than answers is the real wisdom here. You might worry that you must have a concrete plan in order to be a successful adult. You feel that lacking direction means you are failing at the adult game. Setting goals for yourself can be a valuable tool for making decisions and giving you a sense of security; however, life will offer detours in the form of unexpected opportunities and unfortunate obstacles. Learning how to tolerate uncertainty and how to adapt to changing situations is a big part of being an adult. And if you’re worried that you’re stuck in whatever plan you’ve made because nothing is going your way, remember that you can change your mind. You’re the architect of your path, so you can change it.

Adulthood involves growth, acceptance, and openness, and its meaning will transform as you develop new skills, form new relationships, and indulge in new experiences. Enjoy the impermanence and be present in every vital moment!

© Copyright 2015 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S, Young Adult Issues Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Bryson

    September 11th, 2015 at 7:16 AM

    One day it is gonna hit you like a ton of bricks and it will not feel good but then it will dawn on you that you are responsible, you can do this, and it will feel good to know that you are actually succeeding min the adult world!

  • Jane

    September 11th, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    If you actually still have thoughts like #s 1 through 5, then you are not there yet!

  • carmen d

    September 12th, 2015 at 10:46 AM

    When you are a child you don’t think at all about the ramifications that your actions could have on other people. But as an adult you are concerned when things that you do impact others and you understand this fact very clearly.

  • Mike

    September 14th, 2015 at 8:56 AM

    You mean you have to have it all figured out before you are considered an adult? Uh oh. I am not sure that I will ever make it to that stage!

  • jason S

    September 15th, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    MY parents quite literally kicked me out right after I graduated from high school and were kind of like, here you go, figure it all out. I was not ready fro this at all, even though my age said that legally I was an adult I really was not ready for the real world. I had to learn the very hard way and while I appreciate it that I learned a lot of that very early, there is still a part of me that is a little bitter I guess. I had to pay for everything, college included, so what I wanted was up to me to provide. They just saw that I was not their responsibility anymore once I turned 18.

  • Barb

    September 18th, 2015 at 8:14 PM

    That was cruel of them and selfish In our society it takes a lot of work and time to shape yourself into being completely out on your own earning a living and everything else At any age a person needs support from family and friends and colleagues Their sink or swim philosophy is not supportive of you maturing or even surviving They are your parents not just someone you used to know This was emotional abandonment

  • Shameela Keshavjee, MS, LMFT-S

    September 15th, 2015 at 7:57 PM

    It’s interesting to see how each person’s experience of becoming an adult is so different. Some of us are forced into that role, while others gradually move toward a stronger sense of self as an adult. Many of us are just figuring it out as we go along!

  • Melanie

    September 16th, 2015 at 10:51 AM

    Truthfully I don’t think that you are going to wake up one day and see yourself that way. I think that it is more about gradual change over time, and you begin to see that you do have control over shaping your own life to the way that you want it and that can be exciting and scary all at the same time!

  • Marnie

    September 18th, 2015 at 11:42 AM

    I know plenty of so called adults who may be so in age but at heart and mind never will be.

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