When you’re a child, becoming an adult seems like this grand metamorphosis. You go from having your entire life planned out for you to suddenly being able to make all the rules and set the standards. You get to choose the food, you get to drive the fast car, and you get money to buy whatever you want when you need it.
Becoming an adult means gaining power.
But for all of the perks of growing up, at what age do you actually cross that threshold from childhood into adulthood? Is it when you graduate highschool? Is it when you turn 21? Is it when hair starts to grow on your face and … other regions?
The average life of a child is a simple one: you wake up and eat the food you are given. You learn, both through a formal education and play. You make friends, you make enemies, and you go home to eventually sleep and repeat the process. You don’t have to worry about buying your clothes, you’re too small to cook your own food, and for the most part you have the luxury of life being on auto-pilot. You can even get away with peeing on yourself and being a complete ass in the first few years of your life and everyone who isn’t your mother/father thinks you’re adorable for it!
Growing older, becoming a teenager is a bit different. You’re starting to wonder about your purpose, people are starting to expect things from you now. Your culture will start to dictate how to walk, how to talk, and how to fit in. If you don’t fit in, you risk the painful punishment of alienation.. You’re beginning to dream about life on your own, and your personality will no-doubt begin to clash with people who you never had a problem with before. Odds are, at this point you haven’t yet realized that not all of your thoughts and opinions are always correct… So if someone doesn’t agree with you, what the hell is their problem, right?
Highschool, like all good-ish things, must come to an end. Nobody told you that almost ALL of the drama you endured those longest four-ish years of your life won’t even matter 3 days after graduating. People may have told you to go to college, but many aren’t going to tell you that your odds of success in college will depend solely on your own drive. In fact…
Everything in life now will depend on you.
The fact is that there is no special bar in life when you suddenly trade Saturday morning cartoons for the nightly news. There’s no point where you wake up and you suddenly have bills, taxes, a job and a child to take care of. Our thoughts slowly change overtime, and our beliefs begin to differ, but many people are largely unaware of what caused their personality to change from a child to an adult.
They laugh less.
They stress more.
Stress is an interesting ingredient to adulthood. The word itself was coined by Hans Selye in 1936, who defined stress as “the non-specific response of the body to any demand for change.” Selye had noted in numerous experiments that laboratory animals subjected to different noxious physical and emotional stimuli ( irritating things like blaring lights, deafening noises, extremes of heat or cold, and anything else you could think of to ruin a little sibling’s life.) all exhibited the same pathological changes of stomach ulcerations, shrinkage of lymphoid tissue and enlargement of the adrenals. He later demonstrated that persistent stress could cause these animals to develop various diseases similar to those seen in humans, such as heart attacks, stroke, kidney disease and rheumatoid arthritis. (Source – American Institute of Stress) Its easy to fall into a cycle of carrying our stress with us day by day, aware in the back of our minds that stress breaks down our bodies but too stressed out to do anything about it. (Sounds like a win-win for any pharmaceutical business.)
Having obnoxious family members, having to leave your home, figuring out how you’re going to make enough money to not go hungry, pregnancy! The one thing that’s reliable about life is that it’s consistently changing, and often in ways that we cannot control or expect. It is human nature to try to envision our future, to create a tangible goal that we can work towards. It is also human nature to try to improve oneself even if it means ruining the next man’s life… ESPECIALLY if they’ll never see or hear from the person who’s lives they’re ruining. EVEN if it’s a small child being born in a part of the world starved for resources because of developed nation’s overexcessive need for wealth and luxury (and no, I’m not talking about the 1%. I’m talking about everyone who throws more food away than they’ll ever eat and bathes in more clean water than they’ll ever need. )
On top of that Nature’s nature is ever-shifting, always unlocking new paradigms and opening new possibilities. Mother Earth didn’t sweep away the dinosaurs specifically for our sake. Often times, she’s at work trying to sweep us from a hot mess into something tidy too. Earthquakes rumble out from our drilling, tsunamis emerge from us trying to manipulate the weather and many other catastrophes result from someone’s ambition to shape the world as they see fit. To hell with the consequences if it doesn’t directly affect them, even if somewhere along the line it may affect us! With all these and other factors that are out of our control involved in our life, it’s nearly impossible to predict our futures and easy to lose ourselves under the pressure of situations we never saw coming.
So there isn’t a transformation point where your personality begins to fade along with your hair, your teeth look yellower in the mirror, and you begin justifying your addiction to coffee/cigarettes/weed/Xantax/alcohol/Nyquil. You don’t suddenly stop caring about videogames or iceskating. There isn’t a moment suddenly where you stop giggling at fart jokes or lose most of your imagination.
Instead, there are times in your life where you have to put all of that aside in the face of responsibility.
There are so many times I hear people say “I’d like to do what I used to, but I don’t have the time. I have to work and support my family.” I’d call this the point at which you’ve become an official “adult.” You’ve sacrificed most of your creativity, ambition, and joy, in order to become little more than an organic provider for the next generation. What was once a thriving imagination has been buried under stress and responsibility and the most consistent thrill in your life is the next paycheck. You’ve stopped looking up, stopped wondering about the world around you, and stopped caring about learning and experiencing new things. Of course, you don’t think that consciously, but your day-to-day into year-to-year routines would say otherwise.
“So… What? I just ignore my family and my job and go back to eating candy and watching cartoons?”
I’d argue to ask yourself if that’s even what you want. What DO you want? What are you curious about? If you could, what parts of the world would you explore? Did watching Star Wars as a kid make you interested in other planets? Somewhere deep down could you envision yourself as a swordsman? A huntress? What is the last movie you watched that really opened your imagination to all the things you’d like to try if you could? Odds are that beneath all the stress and responsibility, you’ve got ambitions buried inside of you that are still waiting to be dug up. The curiosity and imagination you had as a child are some of the main things that make you YOU rather than some faceless drone.
Adulthood isn’t a transformation. It’s a mental switch that gets turned on more and more as responsibilities and the restrictions of age begin to limit us. Keeping that switch on is just as dangerous as never having it on, as either way you miss out on an important part of life. We’re all still learning and growing, always, and sometimes a bit of childish enthusiasm is good for both the mind and body.