I’ve stated before that there are certain words I believe should be purged from the English lexicon. Contrived, agenda-driven terms like “toxic masculinity” or “mansplaining” are at the top of my list. I strongly believe that terminology like that is doing everything to further hostility and hinder understanding.
That being said, there are a few words that I have mixed feelings about. I think they also do plenty to divide people for all the wrong reasons, but I also understand why they exist. One term that I feel is increasingly relevant, albeit for negative reasons, is the concept of “adulting.”
I put that term in quotes for a reason, but it’s not out of sarcasm or scorn. This is one of those words that exists because there’s a need for it. Even if you think “adulting” sounds silly, chances are a word every bit as silly, if not more so, would’ve been coined. That’s because what it means to be a functioning adult is changing and not in a way that makes things easier.
This sentiment is implied in the popular definition. Even though it’s a fairly new term, it has become relevant enough to warrant a listing in the Oxford Dictionary, which defines it as follows:
The practice of behaving in a way characteristic of a responsible adult, especially the accomplishment of mundane but necessary tasks.
It may seem too simple to warrant scrutiny and maybe that was right several decades ago. However, a lot has changed in the past 30 years. A lot has changed in the past 10 years. The world isn’t as simple as it used to be. It’s become incredibly complex, full of fake news, alternative facts, and contrived outrage. That has changed what it means to be an adult.
I know this will elicit plenty of groans from certain crowds, but I’ll say it anyways. Being an adult is hard these days. Yes, I’m aware that it’s supposed to be hard to some extent. It always has been, going back to the hunter/gatherer days. Being an adult means functioning on your own and contributing to your society. You can no longer rely on parents or elders to provide for you. You must now do the providing.
It’s a challenge for many, some more so than others. However, there are some unique challenges facing adults today, especially among the younger crowds. I know this because I’m one of them. I’ve discussed the distressing issues surrounding Millennials and the potential issues that Generation Z will face in the coming years. Many of those issues, though, will affect everyone of any generation.
I’m not just referring to the crippling student loan debts that are burdening Millennials or the rising cost of housing in urban areas. There are deeper, more fundamental struggles that hinder or even discourage our ability to embrace adulthood. You want to know why nostalgia is so popular or why escapism is so prominent in media? Well, the complications and frequent frustrations that come with “adulting” are huge factors.
To understand, here’s a list of a few reasons why “adulting” is a thing and why just being an adult is getting harder. Hopefully, it’ll help make sense of this annoying, but relevant term. You’ll still probably roll your eyes whenever someone claims they cannot “adult” anymore for the day. If nothing else, this will help you understand where they’re coming from.
Too Much Information Is Overwhelming Us (And Making Us Mentally Ill)
This isn’t just a Millennial thing. It’s not even a byproduct of social media. The trend of people just getting more and more information has been happening for decades as people moved further and further away from rural, agrarian communities. Today, more people are educated now than at any point in human history. That has many benefits, but it comes at a cost.
Now, we can’t just see what’s going on in our world through pictures and streaming media. We can read about things, learn about them, and scrutinize them. That’s helpful in some instances, but in a world that’s increasingly connected and full of conflicting information, it can be overwhelming.
On top of that, we tend to find out about bad news and horrific atrocities as they’re unfolding. Many people alive today actually saw the horrors of the September 11th attacks occur on live TV. More recently, people were able to follow the horrors of the Parkland shooting as it unfolded on social media.
Being informed is part of being an adult, but when you’re informed of every horrific thing that happens in the world, it can wear on you. Some research has shown that this sort of system is impacting peoples’ mental health. In that context, it makes sense for someone to want to step back from that part of adulting.
For most of human history, we didn’t know or care about the horrors going on outside our tiny community. In the past 30 years, we know everything that’s going on everywhere. The human mind is good at a lot of things. Making sense of that much information isn’t one of them.
Our Options Feel Increasingly Limited (And We Don’t Know Which To Follow)
Growing up, every adult told me the path to success was simple. If you just stayed in school, got good grades, went to a decent college, and got a bachelor’s degree, then you were set. You could expect to find a good job with decent pay that would allow you to build a comfortable living for yourself and your future family. I believed in that path. I followed it. I can safely say it was half-true at best.
While there is plenty of merit to a college education, it’s no longer the clear-cut path it once was. I personally know people who graduated from good schools with quality degrees in subjects like engineering and they’re struggling. It’s not that people are getting useless degrees in underwater basket weaving. It’s that just getting a degree is no longer sufficient.
After graduating from college, I was in this daze for a while and many of my fellow graduates were the same. We were all told that getting this degree would set us on the right path, but nobody told us how to navigate that path or what it even looked like. As a result, most people ended up in jobs that had nothing to do with their college major.
On top of that, the job market is becoming increasingly unstable. The rise of the gig economy is making it so people don’t just live paycheck to paycheck. They live job to job, never knowing if they’ll even have one when they wake up the next day. These are not the same well-paying, blue collar factory jobs of the past. This is work that will not help pay a mortgage or a student loan debt.
However, we’re still told that this is the path. This is how we’ll prosper in the future. Even as we look for other options, most adults today don’t know how viable they are. We’re left in a state of uncertainty that past adults never had to deal with. We still need to choose, though, because our bills aren’t going to pay themselves.
There’s No Margin For Error And Every Mistake Will Follow You Forever
Remember when it was possible to make a dirty, offensive joke among friends and not worry about it haunting you for the rest of your life? I’m not being old or cantankerous. I’m serious because I do remember when that was possible. In my youth, I heard plenty of jokes that would’ve ruined someone’s life today if they’d been captured on video or posted on social media.
This isn’t just about political correctness or identity politics corrupting discourse. Adults today live in a world where any mistake they make, be it a bad joke or an off-hand comment, can come back to haunt them. It doesn’t matter if it’s from a celebrity or even if it occurs in private. It can still cost you dearly.
Now, I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I have to since I’m posting this on the internet. None of what I’m saying is implying that certain behavior, language, or comments are justified. I think it’s a good thing, for the most part, that certain people are paying a price for their bigoted attitudes. However, that good does come at a cost and it’s felt by adults at every level.
To some extent, we envy kids now because kids can say dumb things and get away with it. They’re kids. They have an excuse and it’s one of the few excuses most people accept these days. If you’re an adult, though, you’ve got nothing of the sort. You can blame liberals, conservatives, or Ambien all you want. You’re still going to pay a price.
As adults, we’re responsible for what we say and do. That’s part of what it means to be an adult. The problem is that in a world where every mistake is documented and preserved forever, our margin for error is exceedingly small. How many people don’t get the job they want because of an embarrassing photo or tweet they made a decade ago? How many people get fired because of it?
Regardless of how justified it may or may not be, it adds further stress to the inherently-stressful responsibilities that come with being an adult. The adults of today have many complications to deal with and if you mess even one up, then it could haunt you to the day you die. Now, do you understand why so many adults seem so uptight about adulting?
We Feel Like We Cannot Escape (And Badly Need To)
Life has always carried harsh burdens. Whether it was escaping wars or fighting disease, people of every generation in every period have sought out some reprieve from the endless struggle. Sometimes, it takes the form of games, drugs, books, or sports. After a long day of working the fields or gathering food, we needed some form of reprieve.
It’s as important today as it was in previous centuries. The big difference today is that we feel like we have fewer and fewer opportunities to do so. Life on farms and fields was rough, but at least the challenges were clear and laid out. We worked to survive. If we survived, we celebrated. It was simple.
Today, surviving just isn’t enough. We have bills to pay, debts to service, jobs to find, and connections to make. On top of that, we have to keep up with the news and popular trends. We have to fit into an increasingly diverse world where people of different communities and cultures are connected. It’s a lot of work, taking time and energy that go beyond plowing a field.
It doesn’t help that the abundance of information and the prominence of bad news makes the future seem so bleak. Even if society is progressing on almost every measurable level, our perceptions imply that the world outside our windows is dangerous, hostile, and hopeless. We can’t do anything about it, our politicians are inept, and our votes don’t even count.
In those frustrating circumstances, it makes sense for people to lose themselves in video games, movies, and TV shows. The whole concept of binge-watching allows adults to lose themselves in hours of content, which subsequently allows them to detach from a harsh reality that they have no hope of effecting.
Say what you want about adults who still love comic books and video games. The fact that they’re both multi-billion dollar industries is a sign that many are desperate for an escape from the frustrations of their adult lives. The things we loved as kids are just the easiest and most familiar paths.
There are plenty of other reasons I could list about “adulting” and why it’s getting increasingly difficult. I have a feeling that many adults reading this have their own sets of reasons and there will probably be more within the coming years. There will also be others who complain about anyone who tries to talk about those reasons. It’s sure to evoke more frustration and whining.
In the end, we all have to be adults at some point. There’s a time and a place to just step back from it all and take a breath. That shouldn’t be controversial, but the fact that “adulting” is now a thing means there are a lot of complications to adult life and we’re not doing a good enough job handling them.