I turned 36 last week.
The tickover from 35 to 36 isn’t a huge one. But it feels like a fairly big change. This may be because when I was in my 20s the age demographic that was considered the most important for driving popular culture was 18-351. So 36 is officially out of touch. Mind you, for me that transition started when we had kids, and suddenly had no time for TV or movies.
It’s the sort of transition that has made me think about what this whole being an adult thing is about. At 36 I have twin 4 year olds, 2 elderly dogs, a wife of nearly a decade, a steady job, and a mortgage. By any measure of the last century, I’m firmly one of the grown ups.
So why the hell don’t I feel like one?
And why do I hear the same thing from all my friends, many of whom are in the same situation?
I think the rules for being an adult have shifted. Part of this is because we live in a deeply weird time. Adults who have children and mortgages are still often not seen as adults, because the oldest generation of adults are still out and about and often in charge2. Part of this is also that the whole concept of being an adult is kind of bullshit, and on we’re figuring that out. Sprinkle in a little bit of ever present burnout, and I think that’s where the whole “adulting” thing has come from. Not really a retreat from adulthood like it often is presented, and instead a different model for being an adult.
“Adulting” is mostly used as a joke. There are abundant examples on social media. But the idea that being an adult basically just boils down to doing adult things rather than reaching some predefined state is powerful.
The founder of the EFF, John Perry Barlow, came up with basically the same idea when he hit 30 some 40 years ago. He put together a really great list of the actions that make you an adult. Some of my faves:
- Laugh at yourself frequently.
- Become less suspicious of joy.
- Tolerate ambiguity.
- Expand your sense of the possible.
The whole thing is actions that define being a grown up. Decades ago we’ve got a list of “adulting”. Making it a set of things you do that you sort of figure out as you has a nice side effect: saying “fuck off” to a prevailing attitude in some quarters that as adults we should give up things like comic books or games or whatever else brings us joy. Taking positive adulting actions doesn’t have to mean giving up things that are fun.
I could go into a whole rant about that but I think this post is already unfocused enough. Instead I’ll end with a twitter thread that I think does it better than I would:
Do you know why millennials “refuse to grow up”? Because we finally figured out that the whole idea is bullshit designed to suppress human joy enough to keep them grinding for an uncaring company for 50 years in unhappy marriages until death is a mercy.