I had an amazing time visiting my sister in college and seeing her ‘in her element.’ And, I finally understood that I am an adult. As I walked around the beautiful college campus, I heard students commiserate on the stress of an impending exam, worry about what internships they’d be able to get based on their major choices and grades, and gush about the latest drama in their friend group. I couldn’t help but want to respond to respond with “It’s is a learning experience. Do your best, and you’ll be okay.” Or in other cases, “Bro, you’re fine. I never took an accounting class, let alone passed an accounting class, and they still hired me.”
I went through similar obstacles, had similar worries, and managed to turn out just fine. Within the next 5 years, many of the students around me will have similar professional responsibility that I have, and they will succeed – or at least keep their head above water. I related more to the adults in Wawa than students (outside of my sister’s friends). Maybe it’s the fact that on some level, I know things will turn out just fine. Or maybe it’s that I support myself and make my own decisions. I choose my own priorities, rather than being obligated by expensive tuition to prioritize school above all else. I’m guilted into taking breaks from work, rather than being guilted into studying. I look forward to spending time with my parents instead of being obligated.
I’ve been semi-joking for the last year that I’m not an adult until I have kids of my own. As it turns out, I’ve been a fully functioning adult, at least since beginning my final rotation of the post-grad program. I held onto the idea of being a kid for so long, because it gave me a reason to justify continuous learning and developing, and not having all the answers. I understand now that I should never stop learning, and won’t ever have all the answers. I’m probably lying to myself if I say that I do. At the end of the day, we are all human. We’re responsible for taking care of ourselves, each other, and advancing society. If we don’t, then who well?
Truly understanding that each person has a unique set of strengths, weaknesses, and motivations gives me newfound respect for how the world functions, just as much as it helps me to understand why the world is so flawed. I always knew that ‘adults’ make the world go-round, but I didn’t think I knew what it meant to be a contributing adult. I have a new outlook on how fragile the human species is, knowing that people look to me for guidance just as much as I look to others. I have as many weaknesses and biases as strengths, so I assume that others must be similar… The ‘adults’ running the world are not exactly the superheroes I imagined as children. They’re just… kids with life experience. Applying this outlook to everyday interactions such as at the grocery store, gym or nail salon, I understand so much more. When you ask the grocery clerk where the blueberries are, or why they don’t look fresh, you have no idea if they’re having the best day or the worst day, and how that affects their answer and performance. They might be in the mood to help, or just want to go home as quickly as possible. Same thing with anyone else doing a job. To me, this highlights the importance of human connection. If I ask the grocery clerk how they are, and genuinely try to improve their day, they’re more likely to help me improve mine in return.
My child-like sense of humor is one of my favorite qualities about myself. Call me immature, but life is so much more fun doing pistol squats in the grocery store and cracking coconuts on the beach in Hawaii. I didn’t want to accept that I was an adult before, because I thought it meant that I had to stop doing those things. I’ve often said that I hope to could the “intern” mentality throughout my career: Having a great attitude and learning as much as possible from all angles. I’ve heard that most people lose this twinkle in their eye as they navigate challenge after challenge at work and in life. I’m choosing to naively hope that I can keep this quality.
When I was 8, I used to say that nobody is old until they’re dead. When you die, you’re old. Adults tend to get self-conscious about their age, so this was my ingenious attempt at making them feel better. Poke holes in the logic all you want, but modifying this framework so that you’re not old as long as you continue choosing to learn– If I don’t want to get ‘old,’ then I have to keep learning.