AI: Growing up? What’s that?

I turned thirty this week. I know, I know, thirty is the new twenty, blah blah blah…but it feels significant, in a way I find difficult to explain. I feel like I should be a “grown-up” now, or something, though I’m not even sure what that means, exactly. There’s this idea I had, as a kid, that at some point in my life I’d arrive at adulthood and suddenly be part of the grown-up club. It’s weird. I do pretty much all the things I imagined would make me into a grown-up, but I still don’t feel like one. I’m beginning to think that maybe what I thought defined being grown up was the shedding of uncertainty. Frankly, I’m pretty good with uncertainty. It keeps me honest, grounded, and skeptical. By that definition, I hope I never grow up.

What about you? How do you define growing up? Do you feel like a grown-up? Do you ever want to?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.

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  1. I don’t think I have ever felt like a grown-up. And honestly I hope I never do. I’m 44 and I’d always thought that by this point in my life, I’d know what it felt like to be a grown up. After all, I go to work every day, pay bills, I’m married. I should feel like a grown up.

    I still love cartoons. I love to play with my niece and nephews who are mostly under the age of five. I love toys. Granted those toys are more expensive and usually electronics of some sort, but still.

    I think it’s important to maintain at least a remnant of childhood. It keeps things interesting and fun.

  2. I think “grown up” is something we always apply to people older than we are. Kinda like how, even when you’re a senior in High School, you don’t feel as “old” as the people who were seniors when you were a freshman seemed to be.

    As far as BEING a grown-up goes, I think part of it comes from becoming responsible for more than yourself… sort of like having a job (or, gasp, a CAREER!) where what you do matters, a house or apartment to pay for, a partner or family who needs you… those sorts of responsibilities make one an “adult” in some way.

    It’s also a mark of “growing up” that you realize that you have to take care of yourself, in some ways. Like, both earning enough money to not overly rely on others, making phone calls to doctors, repair-people, etc. instead of letting others do it, and just generally doing things that are unpleasant because they simply MUST be done.

    And, I think, being an adult means having more than a vague idea of what you want out of life, and working towards that end.

    Do I feel like an adult? Well, no. I’m 27, single, have a job of no significance, and no one who depends on me aside from, as far as my share of the rent goes, my roommates. I’m barely able to take care of my own responsibilities, and still spend way too much time just goofin’ off.

    Plus, I have no freakin’ clue what I want or how I’m going to spend the nearly 60 years (on average) I can expect to have left. I’m no adult, that’s for sure! :-P

  3. I don’t feel like a grown up and I hope never do. Of course my responsibilities right now consist of me and my dog, I run my own business so I don’t have anyone to answer to but myself, so I don’t need to be a grown up.

  4. I’m 42 currently, and I often think about the things you just posted. I don’t feel too grown up, but I certainly don’t feel childish either. I notice that my thought processes are the same as they were 20 years ago. I’m definitely a little jaded, a little harder to amaze or impress, but I essentially feel like I did when I was younger. I do notice a lot of little aches and stiffness that I probably wouldn’t have put up with in my teens. Therein, I guess lies the true measure of age. My grandma always used to say that time was measured in entropy.

  5. I think one of the primary things contributing to my not feeling grown up is that many of my interests are the same as they were in high school. I still play role-playing games. I still play video games. Going to work isn’t terribly different than school, except they don’t give me homework and pay me (but most of the pay goes into bills, meaning I have about as much pocket money).

  6. I figure once you are supporting yourself and / or your family you are as grown up as you need to be. The rest is mostly just signalling anyway.

  7. All I care about is not being a minor anymore. (Only two more weeks, thank gods*.) Too goddamned many things I can’t do, and I HATE being dependent on my parents. I think I’ll be as grown up as I ever need to be when I get married.

    *I don’t actually believe in any gods.

  8. *sings*
    I won’t grow up,
    —-I won’t grow up
    I don’t want to wear a tie.
    —-I don’t want to wear a tie
    Or a serious expression
    —-Or a serious expression
    In the middle of July.
    —-In the middle of July
    And if it means I must prepare
    To shoulder burdens with a worried air,
    I’ll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
    Not me

    I always thought that I’d be all grown up when I took everything seriously, read the editorial section of the paper, and listened to nothing but classical music or smooth jazz.
    At 25, I think I’m doing pretty good. I take a few things seriously, never read the paper, and am still rocking to Nine Inch Nails. Usually I feel more like a kid than an adult.
    I work in an insurance call center so I’m always getting people calling with sewer backups or kitchen fires etc, and they always ask me what to do – should they leave the sewage there (no, dipshit, get it cleaned up), should they go to a hotel because there’s blackness on their walls. I’m always thinking “well don’t ask me, I’m just a kid.” I think once I stop thinking that, I’ll be all grown up.

  9. When I was a kid I was fascinated by a lawn sprinkler that “the old man on the block” had. It was shaped like a tiny tractor with two whirling spigots on top, and it weaved across the yard following the path dictated by the carefully placed hose. It was a mechanical marvel, clearly something that could only be owned and operated by a g’rup.

    Fast forward to about 12 years ago. I needed a sprinkler to handle a long, narrow side yard and I immediately thought of the little tractor. Much to my pleasant surprise I found they were still readily available.

    The moment that purchase was rung up I realized that I was officially grown up.

  10. Hmmm, turned 50 earlier this month, son turned 19 a day later and my daughter turns 16 tomorrow. Married 23 years, anniversary also tomorrow and have been at my job for 22 years and 16 years at the current address. Stumbling and fumbling along and trying to make family and career work seems to be the definition of grown up for me, so no doubt about it, I’m a grownup.

  11. I’m 25 and I don’t feel grown up yet, and I don’t suspect I will for a very long time. Growing up is taking on and conquering new responsibilities. Going to college, paying off student loans, getting your own place, your own car, planning your wedding, buying insurance, having children, the list goes on…and people experience these things at all different times in their life. I’ll still be “growing up” when I’m old and retired.

  12. Thirty, carr2d2? You’re a baby. I have shoes older than you moldering on the bottom of my closet. :-p

    It’s interesting that this came up now, as I’m in a quandry about my age. I’m about to be 52 in late September…but my mind likes to think I’m still 25. It feels wierd to me to realize that if I were to show up at a Skepchick event, you would all see an “old guy.” It’s like I don’t know how to update my mental self-image or something. We’re hitting our 30th wedding anniversary on September 8 – and sometimes I wonder how that can be already…

    I agree with trumpetess in a way. If we’re not growing, we’re dying. I think our “growing up” stage ends at our full physical maturity as defined by our individual genetics. The “growing” stage should never end, ideally. I see too many middle-aged and older people stop growing/learning and begin to die inside.

    MichaelCritz has a good POV,too. Part of growing up is learning and accepting that you must be responsible for yourself, then care for others, whether they are your partner, children, parents, siblings, etc. That’s a big load to take on, but we all manage it somehow.

    Noadi, it seems to me that if you’re doing all that, you’re already there. Running your own life and business successfully IS an adult life, IMHO.

    @RussellSugden: No, that’s a sign that you’re getting old, like me. ;-) OTOH, if they really bother you, you can either pull them or find the appropriate colored marking pen and have at it. Don’t forget those roots! ;-)

    @expatria: Even if you do figure out what you want out of your life, I can assure you that as you get older, it will change. I’m trying to figure out what I want to do next as we speak. I’ve been spending much of my too-short leisure time trying to figure that out. I think it’s triggered by a concept that we don’t have in English, but that we feel nonetheless. The Germans capture it perfectly in a word that I don’t recall right now. It means “The sense or feeling that doors in your life are closing forever.” Exactly right.

    It seems to me that all of us are in different life stages, as it were. When we end one stage, we need to stop and look around to see where we want to go next. I think our society sells us a bill of goods that we’ll be “grown up” and follow a path the rest of our lives. That part is true, but no one tells us that the path will not follow a stereotype or be well-plotted, but will wander considerably under the effect of our personalities and decisions.

    Now this old fart is done and will take his soapbox off to bed with him. G’nite all.

  13. We sell a button at the shop I work at from Ephemera ( that says “Being a Self-Sufficient, Well-Adjusted Adult is Highly Overrated.”

    This is currently my personal philosophy. Along with the button that they have that says, “Gods Don’t Kill People, People With Gods Kill People.”

  14. I am 34 and I am still waiting to feel grown up. I have started thinking that maybe one feels grown up when one has kids and therefore is responsible for another human being.

  15. Expatria almost gave the answer in the second post, but he got it the wrong way round.

    Look at today’s teens and young adults. Do you find them to be annoying, irresponsible, ignorant and/or fools? (Make sure to look past the stupid fashions of today.) If you answer yes, you’re grown up. If you answer no, you should grow up, you annoying, irresponsible, ignorant fool!

  16. As most everyone else has said, I never hit a point where I started feeling grown up. Pressed for time, sure. Increased responsibilities, definitely. But mostly it’s that 45-year-old, increasingly misshapen sack of chemicals that carries around my juvenile intellect that reminds me something’s up.

  17. I’ve been pondering that question a lot the past few years. I long felt like “the kid” at my office because I was the youngest engineer there. But now I’m a tick over 40, still the youngest engineer but for one. In a way I still feel like I’m “the kid”, but somehow along the way I’ve become professionally licensed and have established myself with a reputation in my field. (What kind of reputation, I dare not ask.)

    I also have a youngish face, am in good health, stay fit hiking, and fool myself into thinking that yeah, if I wasn’t happily married I could probably bag a hiker chick in her late 20’s if I didn’t admit to how old I actually am.

    But yeah, 40, and then my mother died this year. I think that, as much as anything else, has me feeling like I *must be* a grownup, even though mentally I just find that hard to believe.

  18. I remember when I felt “grown up”, it was when I realized that my parents were just people and not always as rational or as “adult” as I was and I knew I could only rely on myself to make right decisions.

    For my dad it was when my mom had a near death experience and was in the ICU for weeks (she had lost 21 pints of blood, then a record at the hospital she was at). She had some personality changes, but pretty much recovered. The change in my dad was greater. He had never been particularly religious, but he became a lot more right afterward. I never asked him about it, but it seemed to me he had “prayed”, and his prayers had been “answered”, so he became more religious as a quid pro quo. I was about 14.

    For my mom it was about 12 years later when I was talking with her about a boss I had who was an idiot and didn’t know the first things about a technical field where I was an expert. My mother expressed disbelief in my assessment of things just from my description of the events. This was after I had graduated from MIT and was a member of tau beta pi. She had no knowledge of the technical field, she was simply predisposed to think that I was wrong about it.

    I have a blog post about a related topic, what it means to be “old”.

    Being old is a state of mind. If you can’t think about new ideas, then you are old. If you can’t abandon old ideas that are wrong, then you are old and stupid and if in a position of power, dangerous.

  19. It’s good to hear that people much older than me also don’t feel “grown up”. I’m 30 and recently started teaching. It’s weird because suddenly, I’m an authority that is supposed to have all the answers and be able to tell 30 teenagers what to do. I don’t feel grown up (and don’t have kids of my own) so it’s a strange role for me to play. When you’re in 9th grade, you don’t really stop to think that the teacher is just as nervous on the first day of school as you are.

  20. I think you can feel young at heart no matter how old you are. Your body is just aging in the process. I will always be a kid at heart because i like to have fun and be goofy. I just turned 25 and it does feel much older than 24 for some strange reason, but i find that i don’t feel bad if i just don’t focus on my age.

  21. I can truly say that I ‘felt’ grown-up around the age of forty. Everything just came together for me. When I had to make a decision the answer was crystal clear to me. I no longer had to consult friends and families to see what they thought or liked best. I felt very comfortable and confident “in my skin.” I have since read brain research that supports a final maturation of the frontal cortex at around 40. Life just makes sense now and I guess this is the wisdom I waited for so long. Now I totally understand that age old adage, ” If only I had known then what I know now.”

  22. I’ve felt like I was an adult since I was about 15. That’s the age where I truly believe I could have managed a life independent of my parents if I could have somehow managed to magically have a college degree and was legally allowed to have a career and independence. I was responsible enough to wake up and get myself ready, and I could have managed my own household (paying bills on time, taking out the trash, taking care of my cat, doing laundry, making sure doors are locked at night, etc.) When I was 19 and moved into my own apartment and had my first internship, that’s when I really felt like an adult, and it was so fulfilling because it’s what I had craved for 4 years but just couldn’t practically have.

    I don’t think being “grown-up” means you reach a point where your opinions never change on important matters, because then no one would ever be grown up. When people say that I’m not really grown-up at 24 because they had some political view when they were 24 that changed later in life, it makes me think that they’re still not grown-up according to their own definition, because they might change their mind again later. I think it’s a pretty bad definition.

  23. I can’t believe this AI got this far without the appropriate reference:

    Him: Hey, I was wondering if you had plans for — holy crap, what happened to your apartment?

    Her: I filled it with playpen balls!

    Him: I…. What? Why?

    Her: Because we’re grown-ups now, and it’s our turn to decide what that means.

    Him: … <3

  24. I think “grown-up” is something our parents threaten us with when we are kids (“when you are grown-up you have to pay the bills, blah, blah,blah…”) and something we aspire to when we are kids (“when I’m grown-up up I’ll leave home and show you blah, blah, blah..” usually followed with “and then you’ll be sorry”). I don’t think it really exists, even as a state of mind. I think we can feel “mature” and “wiser” but “grown-up”? Nah, it’s shelved next to the Velveteen Rabbit and Madeline stories.

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