Society defines an adult as someone who has reached the age of majority. For myself that was less than a year ago. My nineteenth birthday won’t be until August. To a lot of people I’m still not an adult. A young-adult/teenager blend that doesn’t really classify as an adult, but still needs to shave. I don’t see the world this way.
I believe that you are an adult when you take responsibility for your own life. What, other than age, separates a child from an adult? Knowledge? Probably not. There are some exceptionally smart ten year olds that could easily surpass the intelligence and knowledge of a particularly dull person approaching middle age.
Is it independence? Well as much as you would like to believe you are independent, that is really just a myth you’ve perpetuated to bolster your self-esteem. You rely on the government to protect you. You rely on the grocery store to prepare your food and you rely on every other person in society to function effectively. Most people if left stranded to fend for themselves in the wilderness would simply die. Few of us have lived a day of entire independence from society nor should we need to. Humans were designed to function together.
Is it your level of financial stability? My father once told me that you aren’t an adult until you pay your own bills. Coming from a middle-class household and attending University means that my own income only accounts for two thirds of my expenses, but my family helps with the rest. But although this argument is a good one, plenty of adults are deep in debt or rely on the financial support of others to survive.
You are an adult to the degree to which you take responsibility for your life and the world around you. Being an adult means that the buck stops with you. You are responsible for the well-being of your life and indirectly responsible in the well-being of the world around you.
Responsibility is an easy thing to say and a very difficult thing to accept. It is a belief system that many people preach but few actually live. Very few people have fully matured into adulthood. I’m certainly not there yet, but I strive to be. Many of the people I’ve seen throughout my life are still children. Children wearing suits, going to work and still avoiding responsibility for their reality.
When I started this website over a year ago, I had several people look at a few practice articles I had written to gauge their thoughts. Most of these people were kind, but hardly motivating. My own mother, bless her, told me that she thought it was good, but people might not want to hear from someone who at the time was still in high-school. I told her that maybe that was just a risk I’d have to take.
Two hundred articles and close to a thousand inspiring comments from readers later I’m glad I took responsibility for my own path. Life isn’t going to provide you with certainty, you need to take responsibility for it yourself.
Responsibility doesn’t mean control. Few things in life are under your direct control. Your mind and life may be in complete disarray, far removed from the area of your power. But that doesn’t deprive you of responsibility. You can always abdicate control, but never responsibility. If your dog ran off and bit someone, in many places you would be held accountable. The dog isn’t under your direct control in that instant but you are still responsible. In the end, anything in your life is your responsibility, whether or not it is under your control.
This is a deeply unsatisfying concept to most people. One that they shy away from their whole life. It is very uncomfortable to feel responsible for something you don’t also feel immediate control. But few of these people realize that this initial uncomfortable feeling, this idea that you are responsible for what is currently outside your control, is the start to greater control.
Parity with the Universe
I have a little sister. Like many young children, we expected everything to be completely fair and equal between us. If one of us felt like we were doing more chores than the other, it wouldn’t go silent. If one of us got a gift the other one expected a comparable donation. There needed to be a sense of parity between us at all times or there it was a greatly perceived injustice.
That attitude exemplifies what it means to be a child, the opposite of an adult. A child always expects that the world should be fair, when in reality it rarely is. In reality things are going to occur in your life that you have little control over. But your responsibility never diminishes. A child sits and whines because it isn’t fair. An adult takes responsibility and moves forward.
So you don’t have the right background, resources or enough time. So what? Just because you are dealt a bad hand doesn’t mean life won’t extract a cost. You are the only person who will suffer. You are shouting into an empty room with no reply. The universe is quite indifferent to your perceived suffering.
I’ve had this conversation with many people before. People who are often deeply unhappy with their life but do little more than complain about it. Many of the time these “adults” will look at me and in a condescending tone point out that I don’t know what I’m talking about. That I don’t have the life experience to understand the underlying reality. Status is an easy crutch to use when trying to win an argument, but it doesn’t make you correct.
Get up and take responsibility for your world. This responsibility is universal and absolute. You can abdicate control, but never ultimate responsibility. Exercising your responsibility is the key to gaining control. Where you don’t perceive responsibility you are impotent, where you do there lies the capacity for growth. Take responsibility. Be an adult.