How To Be An Adult


Our dreams of adulthood began at age seven. My cousin, sister, and I used to spend long afternoons after school or on the weekends, planning out our futures: The careers we would have, the people we would marry, the type of lives we planned on leading. Of course, a discussion that happened from ages seven to thirteen kind of fizzled out by the time we reached high school and the courses of all of our lives changed. Once a week, when we would get together for play dates, either at the park, or the movie theater, a trip to Starbucks was always included for the adults. There was where our futures would be shaped, or so we believed. The plan was to leave San Francisco for college, but come home afterwards, get fantastic jobs that paid us a ridiculous amount of money, and build our lives as we intended for ourselves. The Starbucks on Geary Street was always part of the plan. Even though none of us lived near that specific Starbucks, the plan was that every morning, before we would leave for our fancy, high paying jobs in our business suits, carrying our briefcases, we would meet at Starbucks for a coffee and a quick chat before we ran off into our busy lives. I’m not sure that our careers were ever discussed in detail, but we knew that they had to be high paying. How little we knew of life then, and how little we know of life now, so many years later.


There were so many things I believed that made an adult an adult.  There were things that had to be part of the picture, or else they were still considered ‘less than.’ An adult had to do any of the following (remember, I’m speaking from the perspective of a woman. Men, feel free to insert your own thoughts):

*Wear red lipstick


*Wear dark nail polish. Make sure their nails are always perfectly manicured

*Wear high heels and even bigger hair

* Have fantastic clothes that fit the way they do on every Jones New York or J. Crew model

* Have an absolutely fantastic, high paying job

* Have lots of money which they could use frivolously

* Wear a suit and tie (before JT made it cool)

* Carry a briefcase

* Have a cellphone

* Have the perfect body, tight skin, and fantastic abs

* Be able to attract the most gorgeous men, while keeping the not so gorgeous men at bay

* Have lots of friends, and never feel lonely. I’m talking about the way people see groups of friends in commercial for expensive alcoholic beverages or ads for resorts: Tall, skinny, gorgeous men and women who look like they’re medicated, but having a marvelous time

* Never admit to failure

*Never admit to being lost or confused

*Never admit defeat

Now, at age twenty-one, I do most of the things listed above. I wear the red lipstick in every shade the cosmetic stores will sell to me; The women in the nail salon know me by name, and I have a standing appointment, every Friday at 1:30pm. I have an extensive collection of high heels and use enough hair spray in my hair to burn a hole in the o-zone. I shop at expensive stores and allow the marketing companies to get a bang for their buck by trying to imitate the New York fashionistas on the cover of every high end fashion catalog. Note that I said most, not all. I don’t have a fantastic, high paying job that I love. I have a job that helps me get by, but I wouldn’t say that I love it. And the idea of having endless amount of spending money is something I lost sight of very quickly, once I realized how reality differed from the fairy tell version of life I was living in. I carry a fancy purse, does that count as a briefcase? I have far from the perfect body, though I work hard to stay in shape. My man magnet is not attracting those oh so gorgeous men that every preteen swoons over and has endless posters of in her room. 

The last four are the hardest ones. Of loneliness, I believe the best verse comes from the great Doctor himself:

I’m afraid that some times
you’ll play lonely games too.
Games you can’t win
’cause you’ll play against you.

All Alone!
Whether you like it or not,
Alone will be something
you’ll be quite a lot.

And when you’re alone, there’s a very good chance
you’ll meet things that scare you right out of your pants.
There are some, down the road between hither and yon,
that can scare you so much you won’t want to go on.


As a person who has struggled to make and keep solid, healthy friends around for most of my life, loneliness has been a big disappointment in my adult life. I somehow led myself to believe that, by the age of twenty-one, I would become one of those girls that has a tight knit, close group of friends that all go out together, every Saturday night, dressed to the nines, to a fancy restaurant where they’d order fancy drinks, which would be paid for by their fancy credit cards from their high paying jobs. I thought that having a bunch of friends would equate to a glamorous, drama free lifestyle. Even without the naive, TV style idea of friendship, adults tend to leave out the fact that you’re going to spend a lot of time on your own, no matter how many people you have in your life. Even if you have many friends, which I am lucky to say I do, I still find myself alone a lot.  Why is it that Dr. Seuss is the only one to openly tell us that, as we get older, there is a chance that we will spend more time by ourselves than not?

What of failures and defeats? As a child, I never paid attention to the faults of the adults around me. The adults in my life that I trusted and looked up to were, and continue to be my heros. Of course, there comes the day when suddenly a child is not a child anymore, and they suddenly see the faults in the people they love the most. Suddenly, they realize that the fears they had as a child, the things they worried about and expected to disappear with time, age and experience, only become worse as they age and take on more of the world on their back. They become less easy going, and more like an Atlas Shrugged. The nightmares they had as a child might disappear, but they are replaced with much harsher, more realistic fears: Getting a good education (a hash reality I am now facing), managing to pay the bills, mortgages, rent and life insurance. They stop worrying about if the popular kids will play with them on the playground during recess and start worrying about the superior at their office that bullies them. They replace the nervous feeling they’d get at the beginning of every new school year, walking into a new classroom and meeting new people, with an older, more mature fear of rejection from a person they admire. Their childhood crushes fade, and suddenly, they find themselves in real, adult relationships, like the kind they always saw in the movies and read about in books. Some last, some don’t. Some make them feel like the world is at their finger tips, and others make them feel like they’re repeatedly stabbing themselves in the gut. Life stops being about fun and games, and slowly, it becomes a race for survival.

They don’t tell you what it’s really like, the other adults. When you find yourself merging into adulthood, they warn you, they show you certain paths, but they don’t tell you everything. They can’t give away their secrets, that’s not part of the deal. You have to figure it out for yourself the same way that they did. They tell you that you’ll have to work hard to succeed, that it’s a dog eat dog world and you’re at the bottom of the chain of millions of adults that are trying to make it, just like you. They tell you that things will be great, but things will also be difficult. They don’t tell you that at a certain age, you stop noticing how beautiful life is. They don’t tell you that you have look hard for what was so clear to you as a child. The rose colored glasses are often (and too quickly) replaced with harsher, sharper lenses.  They tell you that things that are worth having in life will be hard to acquire. And then, they tell you to remember to take it easy, and don’t forget to have fun too. But, they don’t tell you what it means to be an adult.

It’s not as much about the suit and tie (though JT does a good job of convincing us that it is), the briefcase and the red lips. It’s less about the hair, the clothes or the money. I’m not really sure what it’s about, as I’m still figuring it out. I am coming to  realize that no one really knows. We’re all trying things out to see if they fit for us. If the they don’t, we find something else.  It’s really hard, isn’t it? The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. I realize that the adults I look up to are trying to figure things out just as much, if not more so. The struggle of finding where one belongs, or finding something that’ll fit nicely into their lives, is not something that goes away with time. Perhaps, though, you can learn to live with the challenges better.

Life is not always fun or easy… actually, it’s never easy. But it’s beautiful either way. Yes, things can be challenging and incredibly difficult; I feel naive and almost foolish, at this stage of my life, with all that I have accomplished, to speak of difficulty. However, I realize that age does not matter when it comes to difficulty. To each their own challenge, and to each their own way of getting through the dark times. It’s simply a matter of what you learn to do with the tools you are given. For me, the challenge has been trusting that everything will work out for the best, even if it doesn’t look or feel like the best. But then again, I may not know what ‘the best’ is because I can only see what is right in front of me.

I guess, sometimes you just have to take a step back and enjoy the ride.

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