Live Through This

That’s How People Grow Up

Becoming an adult.

Illustration by María Ines

Sometimes it feels like high school is all about counting down the days until you’re an adult. You can cook your own dinner, take care of money, go places by yourself…what’s holding you back, other than some arbitrary law that says you’re still a kid? Why aren’t you FREE?

But adulthood isn’t that clear-cut. I’m in my 20s, and every day my friends make Facebook posts like “Doing taxes while drinking chocolate milk. Is this adulthood?” It’s not like when you turn 18 you get a certificate that says: “[Your name here] is now a bona fide grownup with all the benefits and responsibilities that title implies. Congratulations, you are now FREE.” So what makes you really, and officially, finally, an ADULT? Some options:

Turning 18

Turning 18—the age when, in the U.S., you get to vote and enlist in the military and stop asking your parents’ permission for everything—doesn’t do much of anything, honestly. Sure, I got a nice gift or two from my family—I think that year it was a new cell phone. My birthday is in November, so I still had basically a whole year of high school to go before REAL freedom. I didn’t even take my parents off my bank account—in fact I still haven’t (I just opened up a second account when I moved out of state five years later). I was still driving my parents’ car, living in their house…the only difference was that I didn’t need their permission go home sick from school and I could buy my own Sudafed at the pharmacy. It was a non-event.

Adulthood comes in stages, really. It sneaks up on you. There are these little milestones you don’t even notice—you start doing more of your own shopping and banking, setting your own schedule, that sort of thing—and big milestones you look forward to. Like driving.

Driving

I remember the first time I rode in a car without any “adults.” My older friend had just gotten her driver’s license, and she stopped me in the school parking lot to ask, “Do you want a ride home?”

YES. Yes, I wanted a ride home. I got in the passenger’s side, casually, like I did this every day, and we drove off, just two responsible grownups out for a drive. It wasn’t until we were on the road that she told me that her blinkers were out. We drove the whole way home without signaling. Like responsible grownups do.

I survived that drive, and many more with other teenage drivers—including one backing into a ditch, one going the wrong direction on a highway, and one who rushed through traffic like she was trying to win at Mario Kart.

Getting your driver’s license is definitely a big step toward adulthood. You have freedom. Finally you don’t have to rely on your parents or friends to cart you around everywhere. You can make plans at the last minute. You can go wherever you want.

But you’ve got all these responsibilities. You’ve got to keep the car working and filled with gas, and not run into things and cause really expensive damage (and, like, not hurt anyone). Also, now you’ve got to go to the store or chauffer your siblings around, in addition to whatever you already do at home.

You’re probably also going to have to pay for that gas, which leads to our next milestone:

Getting a Job

High school is the only time when no matter what job you have, it’s cool. It’s cool to work in a store, because now all your friends can shop there and visit you. It’s cool to work at a restaurant, because all your friends can eat and visit you. And if you work someplace offbeat, like a bowling alley or a website, you’re SUPER COOL. I didn’t work for Rookie as a teen, but I did some work for my local newspaper, and I was SO PROUD of my grownup job. Even mowing grass or shoveling driveways is cool, because you’re an entrepreneur and you probably started earning real money way before all your friends.

But as soon as you get a job, you’ll see the downsides. You’ll have less free time. Your boss might suck. And while you’re showing up every day with a rosy glow because you love having a real job and being treated like an adult, you’re working beside some bad-tempered older person who HATES being there but has to feed her children somehow. And that’s when you get that first tinge of fear that adulthood might not be the nirvana you’re hoping for. Sure, working is fun now, but you can quit with little to no repercussions. You’re in school, and that’s your real job. But in a few years, this thing you’re doing on the side could be your full-time job, and it’s not going to be as much fun.

I didn’t get my first “normal” job until after graduating from college. No one was hiring because of a recession, so I ended up working as a cashier. At first, it was really exciting. I had a uniform and a nametag, and when I walked into the store I belonged there, unlike all those other people who were just there to buy things. I had POWER. And best of all, I could tell people I had a job, which felt really great after spending several months sitting in my childhood bedroom counting down the days until the student-loan people started coming for my blood.

Working was really fun and interesting at first. But after a while, it grated on me. I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life not knowing what my schedule would be week to week, annoying innocent customers with store credit-card offers, and basically SELLING MY SOUL TO CORPORATE AMERICA. But that’s what adulthood is to so many people. Just trying to earn money to pay the bills and feed their families. I was lucky, and I ended up getting my dream internship six months after starting work as a cashier, and now I’m working in the field I wanted to be in. But I’ll never forget what it was like to be in a job that felt so wrong for me.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t enjoy your first job. You should have fun, but you should also use it as a learning experience. Can you see yourself doing this for the rest of your life? If the answer is yes, you’re lucky. You’ve got a head start! But if not, congratulations, you have a sneak peek into adulthood at the perfect time to start making choices about your future career. Enjoy your job, but also enjoy the fact that you won’t have to be there forever.

So if it’s not turning 18, driving, or working, what makes someone an adult? Graduating high school, right?

Graduation

Graduation is the end of life as you’ve known it. High school is no longer your job. Your classmates will no longer be central to your life. You’re free to move out, take a full-time job or go to college. And if you are one of those people who move out and start working right away, awesome: you probably do feel like an adult. But you’re going to freak out those of us who went the college route instead, because college is not adulthood. It’s limbo.

I could write a whole article about how college is like high school without parents, or you could just watch any fraternity/sorority movie and get the same message. When you’re in college, you slowly take on more responsibilities, but you get to ease into them. With the right circumstances, you could survive four years living in college housing, eating in the dining hall, and never working. It’s a taste of the real world without living in it. And that’s how, even as a freshly minted college grad, I still felt like I was way too young to get married or start a family and got freaked out every time one of my high school peers took those leaps. True story: A guy from my graduating class went through my line once while I was a cashier, and the girl he was with was carrying an adorable baby. When I found out they were his wife and son, I actually said, OUT LOUD, “That’s so weird!” And then I had to apologize and explain that I was socially stunted and he really did have a lovely not-weird-at-all family.

Because I still don’t feel like an adult. I feel like I’m play-acting every time I make my own doctor’s appointments or do my taxes or consider my 401K (I mean, RETIREMENT? How am I old enough for this?). To people younger than me, I am a grownup. And to people older than me, I will always be a kid. I used to laugh when my mother called 20-something people “kids.” And now I do it. Adulthood is a series of stages. It’s about learning to survive on your own, to handle your own challenges.

Pizza

But it’s also about making your own rules, which is what you’re really waiting for, right? Someday you’ll be living on your own, sitting on the sofa at midnight thinking, I could really go for a pizza right now. And there will be no one to tell you that you can’t order a pizza at midnight—except for maybe the pizza place, but then this is a great moment to experiment in the kitchen with English muffins, marinara sauce, and cheese. BECAUSE YOU’RE AN ADULT, AND YOU DO WHAT YOU WANT.

Don’t worry, you’ll get there. But until then, take my grumpy grown-up advice and enjoy being a teenager. Your parents still pay for you and cook for you, which rules, and you can still sneak a midnight pizza if you’re extra quiet. ♦

46 Comments

  • starcollector April 17th, 2012 11:20 PM

    Totally needed this article. I’m working at a job really similar to the one you described, Rachael… except I’m not even a cashier, I’m at the job level of a 14-year-old even though I’ve been there for a year… but I digress. I’m in an early college program and I feel like I graduated a year ago, so that “crap i’m so close to being an adult” feeling is setting in at rapid speed. I’m not going to lie, after working for minimum wage and driving myself everywhere and doing everything on my own… I kind of want high school back?

    http://china-lily.blogspot.com/

  • Ludo April 17th, 2012 11:24 PM

    Being an adult is awesome! I ate Dunkaroos for breakfast the other day and no one could do anything about it. Being an adult doesn’t necessarily mean you need to be mature ;)
    http://xkcd.com/219/

    http://skeletons-on-parade.blogspot.ca/

  • Saraleebread April 17th, 2012 11:48 PM

    this is helpful; having pre-graduation anxieties.

  • Mags April 17th, 2012 11:51 PM

    I’m 26 and I have a full-time job, but I don’t feel like an adult AT ALL. Maybe I’m just “young at heart” or maybe it’s because I don’t make enough to live on my own without roommates, or maybe it’s because the thought of getting married and having kids FREAKS ME THE FUDGE OUT. I don’t know.

    I don’t even do anything frivolous or immature or [insert another adjective associated with youth here]. I just don’t FEEL it. I don’t feel old or in control or like I have all my crap together. Some of my friends are married and I just look at them like they have horns growing out of their eyeballs. Sometimes I feel like a “grown-up” when I’m around younger people, but some of them are ten times more independent and mature than I am, so, really, I don’t know when I’ll ever feel like I’ve crossed over fully into adulthood. Sometimes, I’m not even sure that I want to.

  • SweetThangVintage April 18th, 2012 12:13 AM

    A few months ago I told my mom I was scared to turn 18 because I didn’t know how adults made friends. She laughed at me!

    Great article. :)

  • cherrycola27 April 18th, 2012 12:19 AM

    I’m 20, in college and still living at home. I’m trying to take steps towards becoming an “adult” and even though I know I am, it’s hard to see the progress.
    But oh my gosh, I HATE making my own doctor’s appointments!! I pretty much do it myself now, but it’s hard. I have social anxiety and get so scared talking on the phone, I never know what to say. I feel like I need a script.

    • anonymouse April 18th, 2012 1:41 AM

      Write a script! Seriously. I hate speaking to people on the phone so I write things out first, like bullet points, of where I need the conversation to go. It also helps me remember what I talking about, cause I have horrible memory. :]

  • thedoctorhastwohearts April 18th, 2012 12:40 AM

    This brought back a little meltdown I had in front of my mother a couple days ago. Between the gross sobs I said something along the lines: “oh gosh, oh no. my future. what am I gonna do? my only plan, the only way I figure I’m gonna make a living, support myself is to get published. but no one’s gonna publish me. I suck. I’ve never written anything. I have a lot of ideas but none of them materialize. I’m gonna starve to death on the sidewalk because no one would publish me. oh gosh”. Or something. She stared at me for a while and then started laughing. She reminded me I’m 14 YEARS OLD. But that’s one of the things I dislike the most about being a teenager, you think everything’s the end of the world.
    I don’t know if that’s really the point of this article but it’s what I thought.

  • radio1radio April 18th, 2012 12:41 AM

    I loved this article! It’s just the right moment for it, i’m turning 18 in 26 hours and 8 minutes and i’m having a minor life crisis over it.

    It’s good to know that I can still cling to my childhood for a few more years :)

  • Adrienne April 18th, 2012 12:46 AM

    Ahh I’m going to get my driver’s license really really soon and I’m pretty stoked/scared. I’m still a little nervous when I’m driving around.

    I have a job at a golf course where I pick up balls at the range and clean golf carts. Which was super exciting for me in the beginning. First of all, the interview was pretty scary but the experience of getting interviewed is really good. Second, I was so elated when I first started my job.

    I was all like “omg I have a job now sorry I can’t hang out with you guys anymore since I’m too busy” to my friends. I felt awesomely mature. But as you point out, Rachael, there’s a downside. Though I do get to play golf for free which is great because I’m on my high school team, I get 3 hours of my day taken away. While my boss is really nice, I’m constantly surrounded by old people (the majority are really nice people!) because I work at the retiremment home’s golf course.

    I have a blog post about my job here: http://theaverageasiangirl.blogspot.com/2012/02/hardships-of-teenage-girl-work.html

  • kirsten April 18th, 2012 1:00 AM

    pizza…

  • guiltfreedonut April 18th, 2012 1:01 AM

    High School is just like college without parents? I hate high school and I was hoping it would end by college… sigh.

    I really related to what you said about feeling like you belong somewhere when you’re at a job, though. Great article!

    http://www.guiltfreedonut.com

  • Rita April 18th, 2012 1:27 AM

    I’m an older mom of two and have a mortgage, and a lot of the time I don’t feel any more mature than I did in junior high. However, I will say that one of my few regrets in life is all the time I spent stressing out about what was going to come next, and whether I’d be able to handle it. Most of the time, I did handle it just fine, and the times I didn’t–well, I learned a lot from them. Plus the mistakes always make for better stories than when things go smoothly.

    You are all smart and fantastic women, and you will be awesome.

    • erin April 18th, 2012 9:57 AM

      I don’t even know what a mortgage is! eek!

  • AllisonWonderland April 18th, 2012 1:39 AM

    This article couldn’t have come at a better time for me. I’m 17 (through December) and graduating from college in a month with my bachelors and I’m floating along in a super awkward realm of adulthood. I can’t legally vote or even lease an apartment solely under my name yet I’m expected to either get a serious job or pursue an impressive graduate degree leading me straight to working in Corporate America (or the federal government). I’m embracing this by taking a year starting this May to fuck around, grow up further, be semi-independent, and experience life before I buckle down and do what is socially expected. Rookie may you guide me through that year.

  • Sputnick April 18th, 2012 1:41 AM

    I won’t benefit from full citizenship for half of my first year of college because I’ll be 17. Things are sprouting up at an alarming rate– in the first half of 2010 I was in 7th grade, and in the last half of 2011 I was in 10th grade (huzzah for homeschooling). It was all accordion-ed together, and now I’m dangerously close to moving out of my parent’s house. Two years may be long, but the last time I was in a school I hadn’t even finished middle school yet. !! Golly gee.

  • unicornwar April 18th, 2012 1:42 AM

    I realized being 30 years old didn’t mean anything when I threw my granola on the floor and ate it off the carpet.

    • neenah April 20th, 2012 3:37 PM

      At 32 I hesitate to think of all the things I’ve eaten off the floor. I think we can be more grown up in some aspects and less so in others.
      This was a great article. When I first moved out and had to start paying bills I told my mom ” If I had known what being a grown up was like, I never would have left home!!”

  • ivoire April 18th, 2012 2:23 AM

    The image was on tumblr radar!

  • _Katya April 18th, 2012 3:54 AM

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. How does Rookie always manage to do this? Your articles always appear at the exact time that I need them. :) Keep being awesome. ;)

  • timelady April 18th, 2012 4:46 AM

    This article could not come at a better time.

    I turned 20 a few days ago and freaked out about where my life is going. It was my first birthday away from home, on another continent entirely, and a few weeks away from exams.

    So I sat down and stopped stressing for the evening and indulged in some prosecco (the legal drinking age here is 18). I decided to remain in law school, not that I ever really questioned it, and face everything like a grown up. No more looking to my mom for guidance or asking permission. It’s hard.

  • M. Kitka April 18th, 2012 8:51 AM

    I did all sorts of seemingly super-adult things really early in life: started college at 14, began producing shows at 16, lived on my own & supported myself early etc. etc. But I never felt “adult” until the day I learned to hand wash my own (thrifted) silk and cashmere. As a broke artist there was always this nagging idea that someone would finally buy me that “home drycleaning” kit or a magic fairy would come by and pay for my drycleaning but in the meantime the sweaters just sat there, waiting.

    So when I finally taught myself to care for my nicest belongings for essentially free I finally felt like an adult. There was nothing I couldn’t take care of.

    All to say: you never know what “grown up” is going to look like.

  • Jamia April 18th, 2012 9:00 AM

    YES!!!!!
    “Enjoy your job, but also enjoy the fact that you won’t have to be there forever”

    The mantra: “Everything is temporary” has helped me get through the hardest days in a number of contexts.

    No job defines you. You are who you are (brilliant and wonderful of course) no matter if “your boss may suck”, if you’re not being paid fairly, or you’re dealing with the ignorant whims of “some bad-tempered older person who HATES being there but has to feed her children somehow”.

    Brush it off like dirt on your shoulder and know you and your dreams are real and don’t let haters get in your way.

  • stephanie4786 April 18th, 2012 9:08 AM

    this article is exactly what i needed to read right now. i’m turning 19 on saturday and i’m still treated like a child but at the same time i still am. thanks

  • chasen April 18th, 2012 9:22 AM

    This brings back memories of the weeks before I moved out of home (I was 18) and I had a total meltdown with my mum about how I didn’t know how to pay bills and I was going to starve and how do I even go grocery shopping? But then a few weeks into life alone the first bill came, and it had instructions on it for how to pay. Because things are never as hard as they seem, thankfully!

    For me I think the biggest change is just the level of control. This is probably a bit different for people who don’t live alone, but I basically don’t have to do *anything* that I don’t want to do. I can – and have – just left the city for days on end without anyone having a clue. That’s awesome, but also a little scary. And the decisions! Having to weigh up whether I’m depressed enough to pay for psychiatric treatment, convincing my doctor to bulk bill me, making employment decisions, education decisions, taking out loans, no-joke budgets … these are all down to me and me alone. Like I said, you learn how to do them as you go along, but I look at myself sometimes and wonder where my years of blissful irresponsibility went :).

  • erin April 18th, 2012 9:53 AM

    ahhhh! adulthood, stay away from me! At least college is like limbo though. Can’t wait for college.
    But is my life really over after high school ends? Because high school sucks!

  • Pocket Cow April 18th, 2012 10:21 AM

    I think you really need to have an article about how to move out/live on your own. I’m trying to move out soon, and I am very much a-frightened.

  • megantron April 18th, 2012 12:00 PM

    Thank you so much for this. Every time I hear about someone I knew from high school getting married or having a kid, I start to freak out because I am SO many years away from that point. I actually felt LESS mature when I graduated college because college is when you’re supposed to sort out your priorities and I clearly did not do that lol. Like yeah, I lived in an apt where I got to party with my friends (the rent was obviously mostly paid by our parents), but after graduation, I moved back into my parents’ house while attending grad school. It just feels like a major step backward.

    It’s super depressing to read all these comments from high schoolers because I want to be like, “YOU HAVE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE TO GET YOUR SHIT TOGETHER!!” which I guess I have too lol but it definitely gets harder when you get older (people are less likely to give you a chance if you don’t have experience).

  • tankgrrrl April 18th, 2012 2:10 PM

    Thank you. You have perfectly summed up what it feels like to be a twentysomething now. I’m graduating college in a year and I still can’t believe I’m old enough for this.

  • Nishat April 18th, 2012 2:41 PM

    pizza.

    Haha. I turned 18 in January, I don’t have a job (or, maybe I’m an entrepreneur but that would be a euphemism for the fact that I’m a freelance photographer which is also a euphemism considering I book people once a month on average.) I also can’t drive. I’ve never driven a car in my life. The last time I was in a go-kart (I probably didn’t drive it) I was 13.

    My transition is going to be great, I’m sure, haha.

    • neenah April 20th, 2012 3:29 PM

      Nishat- I never got my license, and I’m like a real grown up (at the crusty old age of 32). Don’t be afraid, be confident and aware and you will be fine. That said, I am still terrified behind the wheel. I think of it as a public service not putting my freaked out self into traffic.

  • AnguaMarten April 18th, 2012 5:34 PM

    i can’t even imagine being an adult and, like, actually having shit to do. i don’t feel like a kid either. everything is weird.

  • ladyjenna April 18th, 2012 6:16 PM

    Rookie should totally do an article about getting jobs. And other ways to make money if you can’t get a job. I’m doing nothing during high school, wondering if there is a way to make it productive?????

  • Janelle April 18th, 2012 6:25 PM

    I have to say I was dissapointed in what this article turned out to be…. I have been dealing with this sort of idea of growing up and whatnot, as my junior year of high school draws to a close. I am 17 and yet I feel miles behind many of my friends – a lot of which are seniors (but still!). I feel so reliant on my parents, I barely know how to pump gas into my mom’s minivan, in spite of the fact that I’ve had my drivers license for six months. I don’t even have my own cell phone (glamorous perks of hippie parents)! What if I never grow up? What if I can never survive out there in the big scary world? I want independence and maturity and I have no clue how to find it or have it. I think that it would be great for Rookie to do a series of articles/personal stories on “growing up”. It would be really great to hear more than one opinion or story on this matter…

    • unefillecommetoi April 18th, 2012 11:05 PM

      i feel that way too! i’m 17 and finishing highschool 1 year before my class (homeschooling), and moving to a different city for college. I’m not scared and I do have a cellphone (I don’t really use it so don’t worry you’re not missing out on much) but I really REALLY get where you’re coming from. most of my friends are in their first year of college and they’ve always felt way ahead of me. i don’t know how to drive, and more than scared I’m worried and I want to make sure everything goes as well as possible. but i just think maturity is a LONG process. I just wanted to tell you that you’re not alone in that feeling, at all. And rookie, a series of articles or at least one deep article about going through adulthood would be really appreciated. Good vibes, Janelle (: i think there’s an awesome life ahead of you, don’t be scared.

      • Janelle April 19th, 2012 4:35 PM

        This comment just made my day! Thank you so much… I’m actually homeschooling next year for my senior year. So, wow… I feel like we are in the same place in a lot of ways. :) Good luck, and major props for moving away from home and taking that huge step. I have to say that rookie is so amazing at making us all feel like we aren’t alone, and uniting us in whatever it is we all share. <3

  • Daisy April 18th, 2012 6:32 PM

    I’m eating midnight pizza as i’m reading this. yes.

  • diana94 April 18th, 2012 7:34 PM

    in Mexico having a job as a teenager kinda makes you uncool weird huh?

  • ScarletMorgan April 18th, 2012 11:11 PM

    This is absolutely what I needed to read right now! I have been suffering from the “Dear god, mum, I’m almost 18, I can make my own decisions, blah blah blah…” I’m in that shitty waiting stage, so close, yet so far from adult hood.
    anyway, this was awesome! xx

  • missmadness April 19th, 2012 1:10 PM

    my first job was such a nightmare that literally ANYTHING I’ve done since then has seemed joyous. I worked in a bookstore which sounds awesome, but was seriously horrible. It ended up closing a few months after I quit because there was so much crime they couldn’t afford to stay open (theft, customers being robbed at gunpoint outside the store, men exposing themselves to female customers/employees, general sexual harassment)

    And I had to sell “discount” cards, and I had a mega-bitch for a manager. Pure Hell.

  • camille April 19th, 2012 4:48 PM

    Also: the option of moving out at 18 AND work AND go to college at the same time.

    I was mortified at first (and ate lots of grilled cheeses and apples and eggs all the time because I didn’t have time/know how to cook much else), but there’s always how-tos online, friends with tips, and parents at the end of the phone line.

    It might be (and was) hard at first, but, 3 years later, I feel like as long as I make sure to live within my means and take advantage of whatever services my college offers, nothing can turn out that bad. Plus, you get to do tie-dye in your bathtub and eat pancakes for every meal.

  • KinuKinu April 20th, 2012 7:49 PM

    I am scared of growing up.I don’t want to.The only reason I actually want to be an adult is 1) pizza whenever I choose 2)driving around whenever I choose 3)dyeing my hair whenever I choose 4) goin’ thrift shopping whenever I choose
    I want pizza…………….

  • cakepop April 22nd, 2012 9:54 PM

    “And while you’re showing up every day with a rosy glow because you love having a real job and being treated like an adult, you’re working beside some bad-tempered older person who HATES being there but has to feed her children somehow. ”

    This is my life!!!

  • Dancergirl April 26th, 2012 1:24 AM

    I am two and a half weeks away from graduating college. I am moving back home because I feel like I can’t afford rent with the job I have had this past year. I see a lot of my peers getting these amazing corporate jobs and looking for apartments. Is it so wrong to start at the bottom to enhance my experience while saving for an apartment at the same time? At my school, I feel like I get frowned upon for that. I still don’t feel like an adult yet and I’m almost 22.

  • BaconNinja June 18th, 2012 2:17 PM

    Great article. I do have to say though that I don’t ever ever ever remember thinking having a job would be fun or cool. I guess that might have something to do with growing up with an overworked, single mother who had (still does) to clean the apartments of mean Manhattanites who love to leave passive-aggressive notes about the speck of dust they found between the toilet and the bathtub.

  • gabs August 6th, 2012 6:54 PM

    Randomly clicked on this article out of boredom… So glad I did now. The job part is so true!