The Myth of Adulthood

The Myth of Adulthood

While college is indeed a time of exploration, of new experiences and opportunities, it is also accompanied by a lot more responsibility, more time management, and many beautiful moments when the brain zooms out from the open textbook and in towards the future’s impenetrable void. These small identity crises can arise at any time, but I have found that they become much more prevalent the closer I get to graduating and entering the daunting adult world.  Yet now, stepping into the bittersweet reality of my senior year, I have come to a conclusion.  

Adulthood does not exist.  In word form, one can be an adult (noun) and one can do something that is adult (adjective). The meaning of both forms of this word, “adult,” already point out their own inconsistency as a state of being. Is it an action, or an identity? Adulthood is marketed as a miraculous threshold that, once crossed, grants one respectability, maturity, responsibility, and capability. However, in reality, all of these qualities must be displayed in order to even come close to the threshold. But because adulthood has become an integral part of the modern rite of passage and the process of aging, it is absolute, unavoidable, and yet somehow, still impossible to achieve.

Human personalities are constantly in flux.  A person cannot constantly display the maturity and responsibility that adulthood requires in every situation from a single point on. It is implausible that one can completely change priorities and personality traits at a certain arbitrarily defined point in life—in this case, graduation.  

Past this point, some people may remain children at heart, maintaining an elusive curiosity and enthusiasm.  They might enter into long, deep conversations with coworkers at the copy machine, dedicate themselves to a career in research and grant writing, or move to New York—for a new opportunity or just to live in the constant movement that pulses through its streets morning, noon, and night.  They are not adults, but rather, they are just making sense of the world in the way that makes sense to them.  

Some may develop old souls.  They might work two jobs, or take graduate classes at night.  They might volunteer extra time to unpaid endeavors on top of raising a new family.  They may go to bed early and only go out with friends on Friday or Saturday nights.  They are not adults, but rather, they are just making sense of the world in the way that makes sense to them. 

No matter how we habitually spend our time, we all simply do what is required of us when we must and in a way that we know how, in order to create our own meaning consistent with our own reality.  Individuality pokes holes in absolute ideas like adulthood, transforming it into something relative that may have a different meaning to each person that tries to interpret it. “Human” is perhaps a better word to choose.  This is what we all are, what we all can be, and what we can continue to work to be better at in any situation at any point in time, so that our realities may overlap some in engaging ways.  This realization is a freeing one—maybe even one strong enough to hold onto in the face of your own particular future.   

Sophie Williams is a senior majoring in biology and English. Her column runs biweekly. 

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