Over the weekend, I read a great story on Clutch, “Help, I’m Stuck in My 20s.” Writer Alisha Tillery lamented that at 31 she was “well past the age of being a bona fide adult,” but somehow didn’t feel very grown up.
“Yes, by society’s standards, I am an adult,” she wrote. “I work… I pay all of my bills independently. I take my trash out every week, contribute to charities… But in my mind, sometimes I’m still that oblivious 23-year-old looking for the next good time.”
It’s a conundrum I’ve found myself in on a few occasions. In my early twenties, I had perhaps a misguided definition of what “real” adulthood is. From my perspective everyone over 30 was pulled together, mature and focused. So you can imagine that when I hit 30, I wondered, “What is wrong with me?” I’d accomplished several goals and was on my way to accomplishing more, but somehow I didn’t have that got-it-all-together feeling that I’d perceived in others. I was 30 and still happily hitting (and enjoying) the club, wasting weekends at boozy brunches and having water balloon fights in parks. I was city (and continent) hopping and sleeping past noon, just like I did in college. My apartment — not house — still wasn’t (and isn’t) fully furnished. I wasn’t married, nor was I looking to be. I couldn’t pass up a good party. I still daydreamed at my desk about what I’d do when I grew up.
I was fully grown by nearly all standards, but when I talked to my friends in their early twenties, I noticed that while I may have had less drama than some, our lifestyles were nearly identical. On paper, I was 30; in my mind I was closer to 23, maybe 25 on a responsible day. This wasn’t how things were supposed to play out.
At 22, I’d imagined myself as a homeowner, perhaps a business owner too. I didn’t think I’d find myself in important meetings with a fit of the giggles that I had to (badly) disguise as a cough and excuse myself to get water. I was supposed to be serious. I was supposed to be disciplined enough to know when to say when every time, and focused enough to not procrastinate on my writing deadlines.
Shortly after I turned 30, I found myself in tears on the phone with my mother, having one of those existential crises typical of a 20-year-old — wondering what was wrong with me and why I couldn’t pull it together and be a grownup. She laughed at me, one of those deep-down-from-the-gut guffaws, the type I’d had in that edit meeting.
“There is no one way to be ‘grown,’” she said, when she finally collected herself. Mum said she feels about 35, even if her driver’s license reveals a different number. “If you have goals, figure out a way to meet them. If you want to be different, then change,” she said. “And if the way you’re living isn’t harming you or anyone else, then don’t worry — be happy and enjoy life. That’s what I do.”
I tried her advice. Three years later, I do own that business, I’m currently condo-hunting for my dream duplex, and I just booked another international trip. The boozy brunches are more frequent (sometimes two a day), and my Super Soaker is unlocked and loaded for the next showdown. I still feel about 25, except when doing that last mile around the park, and I’m unquestionably grown and happier than ever too.
Demetria L. Lucas is the author of A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life (Atria), in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk