If you were to look at my resume briefly, you might be impressed (no “humble brag” here… when I commit to gassing myself up, I really commit). A few research positions here, a few government internships there. A brief stint in a doctoral program with a good G.P.A. and an honorable withdraw. A completed bachelor’s degree.
I’ve worked as a contributing writer for the blog of an internship matching website, and whenever I have time I try to commit to doing some good through community service as well. Hell, I even speak French!
The point is, I’ve been in a lot of positions that make me look good on paper, because I chose them for that reason. Positions that are based on presentation as much (if not more) as skill, appearing “put together”, appearing to have a good amount of mastery over being an adult.
I have wondered quite often this year whether my child self, if she were able to look forward in time and see my life as it is now, would be pleased with the person she became. I waver a lot, but ultimately I think the answer is yes.
From a child’s perspective, I have undoubtedly seen success in life. I have done things that an adult is meant to do (right?), therefore I am an adult. I am able to impress other adults, and so I am a good adult. Right?
I have been living my life according to the mythology of adulthood that governed my childhood.
Yet still, nagging in the back of my mind, there is the worry that I am choosing jobs “beneath” me just to feel comfortable or jobs I hate just to please my parents, my friends, my partner’s expectations. Behind the desire to be as good as, or better than, my peers in order to convince myself that I am okay, there is the persistent question – why am I not happy?
As an adult, I have never stopped and asked myself what being an adult means to me. Is it looking good for potential employers? Being able to talk my way through interviews? Being able to work myself to death for a paycheck that won’t cover much outside of the span of a month?
I have been living my life according to the mythology of adulthood that governed my childhood. Growing up, I have come to realize, means letting go of that definition. So what am I left with?
I want to leave work with a smile (or at least not a frown or tears) on my face, and a reasonably-sized paycheck in my pocket. I want enough time outside of work to be able to pursue my true interests, to realize that “time to myself” does not simply mean disposable time. I want to live according to my own rule, that work is for work, and the rest of that time is mine. I want to live knowing that working beneath an employer is not the only way to improve myself once I become an adult.
Soon, I will have the power of adulthood, I thought, only to find out that so many adults still feel so utterly powerless.
When I was a child I believed becoming an adult meant leaving myself and the world I knew before behind. When I was a child I lived knowing that the world I knew was a false one, and I craved the challenge and the seeming glamour of adulthood. When I was a child, I believed that when folks became grown, they grew up.
I was always a smart, inquisitive child, but as an adult I can see how skewed that view was. Adults are flawed. Adults hurt each other. Adults hurt children sometimes. Hell, a lot of the time adults hurt themselves. Adults can make bad decisions with good intentions. Adults can be hypocrites. Adults can be wrong. As a child, the romantic understanding I had of what life is for the human being was not ignorant of these things; rather, their importance was dimmed relative to that of who I might become. I was starstruck by my own future.
Soon, I will have the power of adulthood, I thought, only to find out that so many adults still feel so utterly powerless. Only to realize how powerless I
felt feel. It is only with this understanding that I now realize the power I wanted – that I observed being used to govern my life – did not extend beyond the relationship of a parent and a child. I yearned for the power that had been held over me.
I was starstruck by my own future.
I think that’s what I am still subconsciously hung up on. Stability and the power to control others is the essence of what I believe still comprises my understanding of adulthood. The ability to buy a house. The ability to buy a car. The ability (financially) to get married. The ability (financially) to have children. To move others with the sound of my voice and the command of my presence.
But these are unstable times, and if I am correct it is only going to become more unstable. My self-worth cannot be based on financial comfort in a time when the political and economic systems around me are setting up to rupture yet again (it was just the ten-year anniversary of the ‘Great Recession’ was it not?). What am I to do with an antiquated definition of adulthood that rings with the same rigidity and impressionable hope of 1950’s Suburban America?
Or, if I cannot rid myself of this definition, that is if I am not an adult, then what the fuck am I?…
I dream of waiting tables in a diner at night, writing poetry in the mornings, and painting around noon. I dream of marching in the streets, screaming and singing until what is due is come. I dream of having a small cottage home with a large garden and blossoming fruit trees. My heart craves a daughter and a son to dance with. My soul feels duty-bound to create a space of healing and mentorship for those in and affected by the penal system. My mind cries for its peace.
If I only strive, but never come to this ideal life I envision, that will be enough. I am not a child anymore, so the rest – whatever the actual fuck that may be – is up to me. ♦