What would it be like if the moment we turned 18, a switch turned on from “child” to “adult?” Suddenly, we would know how to do our taxes, cook our meals and make medical appointments by ourselves. Turning 18 typically means moving to college, living away from home for the first time and learning the science of microwavable meals. I first moved away to attend a boarding school when I was 15. By the time I got to Pratt, I thought I would know more about the ins and outs of being independent. I was sorely mistaken.
As children, the idea of growing up is something that is enforced on us in a more positive way (“What do you want to be when you grow up?”) and in a more negative way as well (“Grow up, dude!”). The act of “growing up” is put on a pedestal as some kind of achievable award. I think of my 13-year-old self and how I looked up to those who seemed to have their life together. My heart breaks for that girl who cried in her bedroom all of the time, crippled by insecurities and fear, looking at these adults sipping cocktails and striking up conversations with strangers. I wondered if that girl would ever be able to absorb even an ounce of that contentment. Now, as I prepare to turn 22, I find myself scratching my head, looking around at my unmade bed and burnt dinner and wondering if I somehow missed an exit sign leading to the Promised Land.
COVID-19 has forced twenty-somethings everywhere to confront the reality of their adulthood. We were dancing with carefree routines, and the record-scratch of the pandemic made us realize just how much responsibility we actually have. In March, the hurricane of having to uproot our lives and keep up with what was happening to our jobs, classes, plans, peers and homes came crashing down. Many of us had to retreat back to our childhood homes and stare at the paint colors we chose when we were 11. Many of us had to reflect on our place in this world. The sinking feeling we experienced when we realized the place we once called home could never really be home again, coupled with the dawning observation that it’s now our responsibility to determine what “home” means to us, leaves us in a limbo of craving belonging. Most days, I try to turn off that voice in my head nagging that I need to be doing something other than pulling the covers over my head and distracting myself by looking at memes, but that voice never seems to go away.
I know I can’t let that stop me forever, though. Even though the pressure remains ever present, for a few moments, I can look around and see some aspects of who I am now that would have made that 13-year-old proud. I see my current relationships evolve past the idealistic middle school fantasies and into more genuine, fulfilling ones. I see myself attend four back-to-back meetings and still be able to make it for happy hour with my friends. I see myself plan my days out, try new recipes for my own enjoyment and choose my outfits according to my own style. I see myself think independently, say ‘yes’ to new adventures and pick myself back up time and time again. For a moment, that feeling of accomplishment, no matter how temporary or miniscule it may be, is one of irreplaceable pride.
I used to doubt if I could qualify as an adult because of all the uncertainty I have in my life. Perhaps that in itself is an indicator of someone who is an adult: someone who acknowledges the ups and downs and in-betweens as part of this cycle. Someone who will be honest about the failures and successes. Someone who is scared of growing up but will continue to try anyway.
Illustration by Dev Kamath