I’ve heard almost every person my age use the word “adulting” at some point or another.
Adulting describes a communal frustration our generation feels about not really being adults, not knowing what we’re doing and not being successful at many things we attempt.
When you think about it, it’s strange this term exists. Our parents and grandparents somehow transitioned into adulthood without a fuss — so what’s holding us back?
First, we’re entering a very different financial environment than previous generations. Our grandparents could get jobs as long as they worked hard, supporting families with minimum wage jobs without college degrees. Employers today are expecting young people to have a college degree — even entry-level jobs require previous work experience. In a more competitive job market, the dream of being a successful, stable adult seems practically impossible.
In addition, young people entering the workforce today are often shackled with significant student loan debt. According to Forbes, Pennsylvania has the highest per capita student loan debt at $5,690, almost $1,000 more than the already large national average.
According to The Atlantic, a student in the late ’80s could pay for a semester of college with their summer wages. Today’s students can’t even make a dent with the same work ethic. Couple this with the difficulty of landing a job in the first place, and the debt crisis becomes especially crippling for young people.
Lucky millennials who do manage to land jobs out of college are then faced with the problem of wage stagnation. According to The Economist, productivity has risen 220 percent since 1960 while wages have risen 100 percent.
The cost of necessities like rent have increased with inflation. Wages have not. A young person working the same job as their parents won’t be able to afford things typically associated with adulthood and success, like purchasing a home.
While the financial situation is decidedly negative, there are some positive reasons why young people may feel differently about growing up than previous generations. Progress has been made by social movements — women, the LGBTQIA community and people of color can secure more rights than previous generations.
The typical “family unit” is much different. Families are no longer dominated by the patriarchal notion of a male head of the house, an obedient wife and a gaggle of kids. Women can be breadwinners, men can stay at home with kids and families can be all women or men. It’s not the stereotypical image of the family we were given as kids, but we should embrace it. While financial changes have hurt us, change like this makes society a more diverse, equal and loving place, which can only be a good thing.
Another reason our generation might not be “adulting” correctly is we put too much trust in adults. Our grandparents were hippies and our parents were rebels, skeptical after controversies like Watergate. They saw that previous generations made some mistakes, and they were at least going to try to avoid following in their footsteps.
Growing up in a post-9/11 world, however, was a different environment. For most of our upbringing, we didn’t question things that much. We were young and didn’t understand what was going on. When we did, we felt too jaded by it and powerless to do anything.
Blind faith led us to feel like the adults always had things together, but what we didn’t realize is life is difficult for everybody. Everyone gets overwhelmed and everyone struggles — our parents just didn’t tell us this growing up. At least in my experience, there’s no distinct point when people magically snap into adults and have everything under control.
We expect things to happen in set stages. As a senior almost done with my college stage, I feel no different as I’m about to embark into my young working adult stage.
I’ve learned and gained new skills. I’m sure if I work hard, I can navigate the challenges life throws at me. But I think I expected something more, like waking up to realize my old life was over and my new one was beginning. This feeling might be what “adulting” tries to encompass. In reality, life is a spectrum.
Things happen gradually and don’t tell you when they’re coming. Will I turn into an adult the day after I finish college, or when start my first full-time job, or when I learn how to do taxes? I don’t think so.
I think it’s the day Disney movies gave me a nagging feeling in my eyes like I had to cry for reasons I didn’t know.
I think it’s the day my brother came up to me at a party and gave me a hug and said he was glad I came. When we were little, he would have just shot me with a Nerf gun. Now, we’re friends.
I think it’s the day I started feeling a little guilty for taking food and supplies from my parent’s house after learning to value things more.
I think these moments are different for everybody. They’re not grand moments — just the little things. When it comes down to it, that’s what “adulting” really is.
Anna Simoneau, ’18, is the design editor for The Brown and White. She can be reached at email@example.com.