One does not simply “adult”

It’s probably easier to walk into Mordor!


If you haven’t heard the term “adulting” come into prominence over the past decade then I don’t know what rock you’ve been hiding under. Simple enough, “adulting” refers to tasks that one would expect an adult to carry out by necessity to live e.g. shopping, cleaning, home maintenance, budgeting/finances etc., usually not referring to fun or enjoyable activities, it’s voiced in a manner to signify a reluctance and/or disappointment – with it’s meaning being perfectly conveyed and understood.


It's not difficult to understand the popularity of the term has come during a time when people of age don’t feel like an adult. People espouse “I’m doing adulting”, like it’s something separate from them. I have a friend who has a comedic shirt “cleverly disguised as a responsible adult”, which I still find hilarious, but in this context, has being an adult become an act for most people?


“Where are the initiation processes now? For some it’s not clear where childhood stops and adulthood begins – if indeed, at all.”

Before I start diagnosing the infantilisation of modern society, let’s examine a few very important concerns troubling the masquerading adults of today. Housing availability and affordability, job and income security (or is that insecurity?), inflation and cost of living – not to mention the changing social and cultural thoughts and values on what being an adult entails (it’s no longer a given of “married, two kids, white picket fence 4x2 house”).


“We are all a product of our times, for better and worse.”

On the subjects of housing and income, it’s interesting looking at and comparing the data/trends over time thanks to ABS and RBA records and calculators. Back in 1970, the average adult wage was a little over $4,000 with the average Sydney house price being just south of $19,000, generating an house price to income ratio of approximately 4.5. Up to 2020, this number had ballooned out to beyond 12. Even after adjusting for inflation, you could still buy over 5 houses in 1970 for the average Sydney house price in 2020. The purchasing power of money just isn’t what it used to be and “just work harder” is not going to solve this problem.


“Uncertain income, certain expenses.”

So, everything costs more and you earn comparative less in real terms, you have more responsibilities and things you don’t want to do – why become an adult? Why not stay child-like forever?


Sadly, some adults do stay child-like forever and it’s not a pretty sight. However, shall we delve into the infantile society and why some people want to be stuck in a world of potential and fantasy rather than actuality and reality?


Part of the reason why people don’t wish or want to grow up is that it involves the sacrifice of childhood for the realities of adulthood (potentiality to actuality) and I think the lack of and/or unclear initiation processes are aiding this. Responsibility, maturation and a “real life of value” give way to a world where no one can tell you no and everything is possible. The irony being that in this “world”, people paradoxically want to be told how to live and what to believe. With the abdicated responsibility of thinking for themselves, they buckle up under the burden of existence rather than buckle down (see: resilience or lack thereof).


Just like Peter Pan, the symbolic eternal child, you can’t stay “magical” forever. Our lives have limitations.

I think partially the rise of meme culture is the rejection of adulthood – hear me out, I’m not a killjoy. There’s plenty of mocking, derision, nihilism and cynicism in meme culture, but ultimately I know most of the time it’s just people wanting to have a laugh. It’s important to be able to laugh when the going gets tough – like it is now for a lot of adults – an essential reason why humour and comedy is so crucial to us is precisely to transcend our suffering in life.


People would usually become grateful to their parents or at least understand of them – and by larger extension, the past – when they would have kids of their own, but now they are not having kids (or a lot later in life) so that gratitude has disappeared (or at least has been delayed) combined with changing sentiments.


Choosing – and accepting – reality is always a better long-term strategy than living in fantasy, no matter how appealing it may be.


The desire to be taken care of is a call back to childhood, the desire to take care of is the call forward to adulthood.

Make the transition voluntarily and with gratitude in spite of its difficulties – past, present and future. Seek guidance where applicable. Be careful who you choose as mentors/role models. Be prepared to learn…and to fail, sometimes fail again…and then learn again. Integrate your inner child into your outer adult. You don’t need to cast it into the fire and destroy it (and we know how difficult that can be), but some pieces of you may need to be burned off like deadwood.

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