Illustration by Lois Wright for Varsity

When I think of the first time I truly felt like an adult, I can think of a few dry runs. When, at 16, I received my first (and only, and since unused, and utterly pointless) cheque book, courtesy of Santander. Its absolute uselessness in my hands rendered this incident failure to adult number one.

When, at 17, I passed my driving test and realised the relative freedom this granted me from my field-encompassed home. The novelty soon wore off though as I started having to pay for petrol and realised that I was, in fact, still very much a child — albeit one with permission to hurtle along the motorway.

When, at 18, I got my first boyfriend (shout-out to you Pete, hope you’re doing well since you unfriended me on Facebook) and when, at 21, I ended my first relationship.

But my most grinding-halt-of-a-realisation occurred only recently, as I stood in my small rented room, setting up a rickety Argos ironing board and a questionably spitting iron, and proceeded to iron my suit trousers for work.

I felt genuinely nauseated at the state of my existence.. Ironing out the creases in my trousers. Taking the time to hang up my shirts on real hangers, not just the back of my chair (or my floor). Meticulously folding clothes. Pressing my garments in staunch silence.

In that moment I nearly astrally-projected into a future realm: 20 years had passed, and I was doing exactly the same thing. I was still alone. I was still in a rented apartment. It frankly shook me to my very core.

When I think about it, ‘adulthood’ has always meant three things to me. Financial independence, living in my own space, and admitting total responsibility for my life — mistakes, idiocy, downright fuck-ups and all. By these measures, I’m at least two-thirds of an adult: I pay bills and I live away from my family home. But I don’t think I’ve quite nailed the third — and probably most important — part.

Admitting and claiming responsibility for my life asks me to acknowledge that, more often than not, my downfalls are my own. They aren’t transferable or to be blamed on someone else, nor are they a product of my horoscope or the fault of a toxic friend. They are a product of my behaviours, my choices and my attitudes — and that’s not simple to digest.

20 years had passed, and I was doing exactly the same thing. I was still alone. 

Of course there’s nuance to this — it does, as the saying goes, take two to tango. Some relationships whether platonic or romantic are just not beneficial or healthy. Some hardships and difficulties are inflicted, whether by an individual, or by society. And certainly, some downfalls are just bad luck, timing or error of judgement.

But being an adult means admitting responsibility for the aspects of life over which I have some control.

So when I screwed up at work this week, there was no mitigating personal tutor or sympathetic director of studies to hand. I had to put my big girl pants on, admit my embarrassing mistake, make some uncomfortable calls (and have a good cry afterwards).

And beyond this admission of guilt, this consistent taking of responsibility, I’ve found there’s the need to commit to motivation. If I am an adult when I can take responsibility for my life, I’m also an adult when I can motivate myself to do the right things for myself, change the things I dislike, which impact me negatively or which affect my well-being.

My dry runs show that the times I willed myself into ‘achieving’ adulthood were clear indicators that I was not an adult at all. Adulthood is something far more silent, and continual.


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Mountain View

Journaling isn’t just about making something beautiful

When time isn’t segmented into eight week terms and week five blues and three year university courses, bookended by matriculation and graduation, it suddenly feels very sprawling and overwhelming. I could stay in the same job until I retire. I could live in the same flat until it’s demolished. The world of ‘coulds’ and possibility is my daunting play-space. When the passage of time isn’t demarcated by timetabled deadlines, it relies singularly on my own motivation to create change, and claiming responsibility for my own happiness. That’s what being an adult is about - and that’s really frightening.

So perhaps I’m at least 80 percent an adult. I do my chores and I turn up to work, and I even own up to my failures. I find calling my doctor a pain, I iron my shirts and I pay council tax. But I still find myself a little directionless, dizzied by the trickiness of post-graduation life and all the new things it’s brought. I long for the structure I found in education, and I’m scared what the future might hold. But I’m also excited, and I’m working on that last 20 percent. Isn’t everyone?

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