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How to be a Grown Up

Updated on April 3, 2015

The title of this hub is one I have always dreamed of coming across. I would love if there was a sure-fire way being a grown-up, getting it together, moving forward. Over the past year or so, I have come to the slow realisation that there are no guidelines to becoming a grown-up, and that it takes a long time to get there. So rather than a guide to growing up, this is an account of the lesson I learned, and I hope it will help other people who are struggling with the same thing.

Playing grown-ups is a game that never gets old. Two girls playing grown-ups in the 1890s
Playing grown-ups is a game that never gets old. Two girls playing grown-ups in the 1890s | Source

Playing Grown-ups vs. Being Grown Up

When I was little I was under the impression that I would have it all sorted by the time I hit my twenties. In fact, I distinctly remember playing ‘families’ with my big sister; a game in which we pretended to be twelve year olds with children and nice houses. Funnily enough, it never occurred to us to conjure up husbands. Independent women from a young age...

On the eve of my twentieth birthday I sat up in a friend’s apartment drinking rum and bemoaning my lack of ‘grown-up-edness’. I lived at home, and I was still in college with no clear vision of where I was headed...that’s the downside of doing an arts degree. Of course, I was not the only one on this position. No twenty-year old has it sorted. But it was strange to remember the 20-year old me that my childhood self had imagined, and compare it with the reality. Over the next two years I floated in and out of pleasure and panic as I enjoyed my college years, and worried about what would become of me afterwards. Nobody had ever told me it would take this long to grow up. When I thought of growing up I imagined adolescence, yet here I was with no idea about who I was or what I wanted out of life.

So I pushed the ‘grown-up’ line back. I decided my last year of college would be when I would ‘grow-up’. I would have a dissertation to do, exams and assignments that really mattered, and a life to plan. I wouldn’t worry about it until then. But, time flew as it always does, and ‘then’ became ‘now’, and boy did I worry.

‘Should I get an internship? But how will I survive with no pay? Maybe I should start a theatre company, but I don’t know if I even want to do theatre anymore....Oh why did I do THIS degree? No...I have no regrets and I've learned a lot of valuable skills, it will be ok....but what am I going to do....!’

This thought process went around my head for many months, as it did with all of my friends, many of whom were doing degrees like engineering and science, degrees with a much clearer path forward than mine. We all panicked together. The question ‘So what are you going to do next year?’ was forbidden, under no circumstances were you to ask that of anybody. But, we all figured something out in the end, and we all calmed down, finished out the year and went our separate ways.

And that’s where the growing up really began.

Network of university friends.
Network of university friends.

But...It's Lonely.

Nobody had ever told us that adulthood could be so lonely. We had all rushed so fast to get there, only to realise we were on our own now. My network of friends disappeared. I went to Florida, my best friend stayed home in Dublin, another went to New York, and some to England. We’re all over the place, and contacting each other involves a complex mechanism of microphones, webcams, and time differences.

How do grown-ups make friends? This is a question we constantly ask each other. It’s so easy in university; everyone is around the same age and the people in your course tend to share common interests. There are clubs and societies for absolutely everything, and organised parties and events almost every night. It’s easy. Now, we work from home, or in offices with diverse age-groups. Many of our co-workers are married with children, and have neither the time nor the inclination to hang out with the new twenty-something intern.

The people I work with are very lovely, but they are not my friends yet. It has been two months since I have hung out with a real friend. It’s lonely. I spoke to my boyfriend about it last week, and he said something that made perfect sense to me. He said that this loneliness is a part of growing-up. It happens to everybody. Nobody gets to keep the same network of friends around them forever, and it gets harder and harder to make new ones. Funnily enough, once he had said this I felt a lot less lonely. I realised he had gone through this the year before, as had all of his friends. I realised that everyone goes through this at some point, that it’s just part of the process. I still had my friends, they were just a phone-call or an e-mail away, but in the meantime I had to learn to stand on my own two feet. It made sense.

Adults like to play too!
Adults like to play too!

In work I try to seem as grown-up as possible. I walked into a conference room the other week and was awed by the beautiful view, the leather chairs, the little notebooks and pens all neatly laid out, the complimentary drinks and cakes. But I just sat down like everyone else, asked for nothing more than water, and got down to business, making furious notes to e-mail ALL of my friends about how fancy it was when I got home.

When we left the conference room, some of my co-workers came up to be, and started raving about how nice the room was, how FANCY they felt...I was shocked. These people were over the age of forty. I had pegged them as grown-ups without a second thought. I hadn’t wanted to come-off as immature by gawking at the pretty room, and there they were doing the exact same thing. It was then that I remembered something my mother said to me a long time ago. I asked her when a person grows up, and she told me they never really do.

Adults make mistakes, they mess things up, they are delighted by fancy things, they like to kick of their shoes and dance, they giggle, they snigger, they go to the beach and forget to put lotion on. Nobody has it all sorted. Nobody knows where they’re going.

I was in a labyrinth the other day, and it reminded me a lot of life; you don’t know where you’re going but you can’t get lost. We’re all headed in the same direction, and what I need to do is relax and go with the flow. I need to stop trying to grow up and just be myself because that’s the best that anybody can do.

These are the things I have learned in the past year, and learning them has been difficult at times. I hope I have shared some insights by sharing my story.

© 2012 Emer Kelly


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    • profile image

      Julie K Henderson 

      6 years ago

      What a wonderful post! I agree that loneliness is part of becoming an adult. Thank you for sharing.

    • heidimedina profile image

      Heidi Dawn Medina 

      9 years ago from Denver, CO

      You have written an awesome piece. When we are young, it seems like we are all just worrying about growing up. Try living in the moment and letting life take its course. Stop and take the time to smell the roses and enjoy life and don't forget to take the adventures. So many people spend their lives trying to "get ahead" of their neighbors and to buy stuff they don't really need that they forget to enjoy what they have and then look back when they are older wishing they could do it all over again. Don't pass up those wonderful moments and you'll never have regrets :)

    • annerivendell profile image


      9 years ago from Dublin, Ireland

      Wow, what a great Hub! You have grown up-while your were worrying about growing up. And it doesn't feel that different, does it? You're right, few adults have it all sorted. I think most of us drift from adolescence to adulthood to old age without any sort of grand plan. I'm 53 years old, I've co-reared two fantastic people, which is the greatest achievement of my life. There's not much to top that-but I'm still living life to the full and looking to the future. No idea though what I'll be doing in 2, 3 or even 10 years time. Yep, relax, go with the flow. Plans are good, but be flexible and don't worry so much. xx

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 

      9 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      This is really nice. I think you have arrived. At least as much as most of us!


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