There is, perhaps, no greater push into adulthood than college graduation, and despite the current — and often mistaken — narrative that the new generation is reluctant to grow up, I’ve known plenty of Peter Pans who disappeared at the turn of a mortarboard tassel.
True, the milestones that ushered us into the land of maturity and responsibility used to be a lot more clear-cut. My friends checked off these markers at different ages, but we eventually settled in and settled down, with varying degrees of success. Even for those who never married or never had children, two events believed to confer gravitas on a life, these signed-sealed-and-delivered adults established careers, bought homes and went to the dentist regularly. They forged paths that once were considered unusual but are now more commonplace.
With graduation season upon us, I like to muse about the life trajectory these newly minted diploma-holders will take. Much has been written about how Millennials refuse to grow up. About how many are living in their parents’ spare room, cobbling together part-time jobs without benefits, delaying marriage and children, and stalling in their steps to stability. But should we expect any different from a generation hobbled by student loan debt and out-of-control housing prices, weaned on a dysfunctional political system and a volatile economy?
Yet, once you grab that Holy Grail of adulthood — let’s just say it’s financial independence, for the sake of this argument and as a nod to changing times— few milestones feel as significant or as apparent. The rest of grown-up life has no clear demarcations, no passages that trumpet transition, no celebrations, aside from birthdays, that earn us attagirls and dinner. Only in hindsight do we acknowledge, with regret or pride, "Oh, this was when I…"
To remedy this, I propose five landmark moments that clearly signal you’ve become a full-fledged grown-up, maybe even mastered that tricky, scary role with dogged determination and practice.
1 - You ask your mother or father for advice. Remember that first time? I do, and it was more than a quarter century ago. The very same people who annoyed me, who spouted proverbs I had never heard and clung to ridiculously old-fashioned ideas, those know-nothing people suddenly acquired a patina of prudence and insight. Turns out they had enough experience to provide perspective. Who would’ve thought, huh.
2 - You forgive your parents for being themselves. For not allowing you to go away to college. For divorcing. For being financially irresponsible. For re-marrying — or not. For refusing to act their age. For being overbearing or opinionated or self-absorbed or playing the martyr card. For being too human. At some point, you discover absolution and it’s so dang liberating.
3 - You discuss your body pains, your meds, your doctors and your worries when you’re out with friends —and then you still manage to laugh about it.
4 - You accept the fact that the window to making partner, to owning a beach house, to writing a hit song, to publishing the Great American Novel, to performing at Carnegie Hall, to inventing the next big thing or climbing the corporate ladder is closing. (Oh, yeah, and there’s a cold draft blowing in through that narrow gap, too.)You’re neither rich nor famous, which may not be a bad thing if you’re saving in your 401(k). And you don’t even drive your dream car. So you give yourself a pity party, then allow resignation and regret to be replaced with a sudden swell of gratitude for what you do have and what you’ve managed to accomplish.
5 - You rather go home to sleep than close down the party.