Be­ing a grown-up no longer means lin­ear pro­gres­sion

Hav­ing a ca­reer or a fam­ily th­ese days is not an ab­so­lute; nor is a life filled with a pre-or­dained se­quence of events

Gulf News - - Opinion -

o you re­call the mo­ment you en­tered “full adult­hood”? I should, ap­par­ently, hav­ing turned 26 three weeks ago. It is at this age, a new study re­ports, that young­sters can lay claim to be­ing Real-Life Adults (RLA), with plant main­te­nance, do­ing your own wash­ing and re­mem­ber­ing your par­ents’ birth­days rank­ing as chief sig­ni­fiers. Be­ing crush­ingly dull didn’t seem to make the list, though one as­sumes it was im­plied.

Half a cen­tury ago, pro­vid­ing for chil­dren and pay­ing off a mort­gage were more likely to trou­ble those who had just passed the mid-20s mark, but not to­day. Our no­tion of what con­sti­tutes adult­hood is wildly off the mark. Can twenty-some­things re­ally be con­sid­ered “child­ish” for not own­ing a house spawn­ing a few sprogs be­fore the (once-dreaded) Three? Oh? Or is be­ing a grown-up in 2017 best de­fined not by bills with your name on and a bank bal­ance that’s not per­ma­nently in the red, but rather by how well you fend for your­self in a world in which the pa­ram­e­ters are in con­stant flux?

For all the crit­i­cism heaped upon my gen­er­a­tion, and our af­fec­tion for re­con­sti­tuted av­o­ca­dos and over­priced cof­fee beans hand-reared by eth­i­cal farm­ers (well worth the dosh), the idea that we’re me­an­der­ing in a per­ma­nent state of self-in­dul­gent in­fancy is mis­guided. I have, by most ac­counts, a grown-up job (read: I sit at a desk for a size­able chunk of a day, book-ended by el­bow wars with fel­low com­muters). Some­times, like to­day, it is a job I do in £4 (Dh20) shoes, bleary-eyed from late-night Skype chats with prospec­tive room­mates I “met” via an app.

I have never paid a bill late, though I have also never cooked a meal for more than three guests. The soli­tary Ikea pan I bought at univer­sity couldn’t take the strain. Do any of th­ese things make me more or less of an adult? Or are they symp­to­matic of the fact that things are no longer so cut and dried?

We are in an era of change that moves at an un­prece­dented pace; with that, our per­cep­tions of, well, every­thing must change, too. Hav­ing a ca­reer or a fam­ily th­ese days is not an ab­so­lute; nor is a lin­ear life filled with a pre-or­dained se­quence of events — school, job, mar­riage, house pur­chase — that oc­cur once and then tum­ble on­wards un­til one’s fi­nal breath.

They are now things that can hap­pen many times over, in a jum­bled or­der — some­thing that does not make them any less mo­men­tous, nor any less “adult”. Go­ing back to school, re­train­ing for a new pro­fes­sion and find­ing your­self with a se­cond fam­ily aren’t signs of a #adult­fail as they once might have been, but a more hon­est un­der­stand­ing of how be­ing “grownup” doesn’t mean any­thing in par­tic­u­lar any more when we are liv­ing so long and adult­hood is likely to last three quar­ters of a cen­tury. This brings less sta­bil­ity, more pos­si­bil­i­ties.

Is it so wrong to find that ex­cit­ing? To ac­knowl­edge the long­time mark­ers of be­ing grown up and not worry that I will not have ticked them off by 30, and may not tick them off at all? Is that not an at­ti­tude that is, in it­self, rather grown-up? Char­lotte Lyt­ton is com­mis­sion­ing ed­i­tor at the Daily Tele­graph.

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