Maybe it's because of my own insecurities, or perhaps it's my critical attitude and judgmental mindset. I like to think it's because of ice cold logic and maturity (fat chance). Whatever the reason, there is a new word going around the internet, and it just plain makes me angry. Perhaps you've seen it: "Adulting." When someone uses it in jest, I find it tolerable. When someone uses it in sincerity, to describe the normal activities of life, I get angry. But when someone says “adulting” to describe my normal life activities, I find it downright loathsome. Yeah, it's probably pride. But that's not the point – I think the word reveals some disturbing trends in our society.
For those of you who aren't familiar with the word, do a little google search, or just look at some of these tweets I found with the hashtag “adulting" (I left the spelling as I found it):
"You know when you're #Adulting when you check your emails first before facebook."
"I’ve had a phone since I was 9 & I just now set up a voicemail.. #adulting"
"im already tired for tomorrow... #adulting"
"When you can’t help but list all your expenses on a notebook and try to see how to budget everything for a single month. #Adulting"
"Just took the plunge and signed up to Internet for me and Erik's flat. And made a lasagne. #adulting"
"I want to go home and play video games but I am going to go food shopping then play . #adulting"
"It’s sad when I can’t go out with my friends on a weeknight because I have to grade papers :’( #adulting"
"Bought my first vehicle all on my own today. #adulting"
"today I baked banana bread, drank two cups of water, checked my email, and glanced at my school portal all before 12 PM ... come find me #adulting"
"Adulting" is a word used by those who don't realize that some things should just be done but not spoken about. They forget the first rule of fight club: Don't talk about fight club.
Even Urban Dictionary recognizes that fact: "[adulting is a word] exclusively used by those who adult less than 50% of the time."
You get the idea. Apparently “adulting” means nothing more than doing mundane, responsible life activities. i.e. errands and chores. You know, the kind of thing every responsible human has been doing since the dawn of time. Pretty special, right?
"But it's just a silly word!" you say. Well, it's a butchered word, actually – a verb-i-fied noun. But it's more than a word. It's thousands and thousands of my generation thinking it's special to do “grown-up” things. Here's the problem though – there is nothing special about doing grown-up things, if you are a grown-up. You just do them, and you don't brag about them.
My five year old is allowed to brag about washing dishes – for now. When she is 10, she's not allowed to be proud of doing dishes anymore, at least not in the I-accomplished-something-special sense. It won't be special, it won't be hard, it won't be new. In 5 years she will be an experienced dish-washer, expected to do her part to keep up our home, and not feel special because of it. In the same way, I have no business bragging about going to work every day. It's normal. It's expected. It's so expected and normal, in fact, that should I fail to show up to work, I could be fired.
What's the root issue?
My theory is this: when we talk about being responsible as if it were special or unique, it gives us a glimpse into one of the great problems destroying our culture today. If we think being responsible (especially in the mundane tasks of life) is special, we betray a much more dangerous belief: being irresponsible is the norm.
I tell my kids "good job," and make a big deal, when they do something new, or hard, or special. Yesterday my five-year-old guided me as I backed up my pickup to hook up the trailer. She did a great job, and told me to stop at just the right time. I gave her high-fives, and told her she did a great job, I was proud of her, etc. She thought it was awesome. Why? Because my five year old did something special. She did something previously beyond her reach. She carried a weight of responsibility normally beyond her – and she succeeded. We made a big deal of it because it was not normal. Is that really what doing dishes is like for my generation? Abnormally responsible? Above the expected level of maturity and diligence? Again, from Twitter:
"Took all my clothes from “the chair” and did laundry. It was a great day. #adulting"
“Guys, I cleaned my vacuum today ! #adulting”
Now, please don't misunderstand me. I'm glad my generation is folding laundry. I'm glad they are going shopping, paying bills, whatever. My worry is that it's cool to brag about it. I mean culturally cool – big-picture cool. I'm worried that America in general has such low expectations of my generation, that we think it's special when a 24 year old finally pays car insurance for himself.
Please don't take this as a personal attack against individuals, but rather as a critique of a big-picture trend, and the underlying problem it reveals. I think that's why I get so angry if someone says that I am adulting. What I am really thinking is: “do you really think so little of me, that I impressed you by going to the DMV?” It's a bit patronizing, isn't it? Do we want a society run by half-grown children? Of course not. So please, let's not create a new word propagating such a low view of adulthood. I feel ashamed for my generation, and ashamed for my country, when someone tells me I'm adulting because I pay renter's insurance. I'm not adulting, I'm living a normal life as a decent human being over 17 years old.
I see at least two things that we have to change.
First: my generation has got to stop being irresponsible, lazy, thoughtless, and helpless. Eventually, millennials must take the mantle of leadership for the whole world. We will be running things, solving problems, and making real decisions with real consequences! And we're whining about working on our birthday, as if that is a hard thing, and a sign of next-level maturity?
Twitter: "I got to spend my birthday at work today... #adulting"
We have to start pushing ourselves to take up responsibility – I mean more and more responsibility, because someday, mom and dad are going to die. In fact, all the moms and dads will die, and we will be the old people. We have got to learn to be responsible, because someday, nobody else will be around. So, make your bed and get your oil changed. Move out and get a job, and learn to take care of yourself, because someday soon you will be called on to take care of others.
Therefore, if you are somewhere between childhood and adulthood, please, hear my exhortation. You need to see yourself as responsible. Responsible for doing your dishes and paying your bills. I mean responsible to vote, pay taxes, and fire bad leadership. I mean responsible to ask the hard questions, the deep questions, the good questions. You need to write books worth reading, invent machines worth using, and produce goods worth buying. You need to be an employee worth hiring – or perhaps an employer worth working for. Take up the burden of leadership for your own life, and press into challenges. Stop looking to others to solve your problems. And above all, do not let yourself feel special for doing your God-given duty as a human. Everybody, since the dawn of time, has been expected to grow up. Congratulations, you are the same as all of them (well, you should be anyway).
Second: Our society needs to stop tolerating this bologna. We shouldn't allow a word like “adulting” to gain traction. More than that, we shouldn't allow a context to exist where such a word might gain traction. If I brag about cleaning my car, at age 27, I should be mocked. If I fail to clean my car, at age 27, I should be mocked. Why? Because that is a travesty of what adulthood is about. We need to produce a culture where physically mature humans are expected to be responsible humans.
I am a construction foreman. Most of my guys are in their early to mid twenties. When I delegate a job to one of them, I expect them to feel responsible for the project I assign. When I return to the job, they have to give an account for the state of the project, and the progress of the work. When they fail in some way, that's totally fine – we grow and learn together. But if they shirk responsibility, or act like the weight of responsibility is too great, or make excuses, they will not soon be given autonomy again. I will relegate them to the realm of too-immature-to-be-given-responsibility-laborers, aka children, and they will feel ashamed. Rightly so.
Our workplace culture is one of responsibility and competition for skilled-work. When someone doesn't have those urges, they don't make it on our crew. In other words, childish people just aren't cut out to work there. Therefore, it's not special to do the small things at work. Quite the opposite – when the small things get neglected, people get in trouble. Nobody brags about taking responsibility for the job-site. It's expected. We cannot tolerate anything else. That's what the real world is like, and it's the way it's supposed to be. So, I say, in those institutions we can influence, let's stop insulating young people from responsibility. I'm thinking about the family, the workplace, the school, the church.
I won't pretend to have a loud voice in our society, or to be a real cultural power-broker. I don't have a million Twitter followers. I doubt you do, either. So what can we do? We can change our mindset, our language, and the sub-cultures we participate in. In other words, we can influence the dozens of people each of us engages regularly. Perhaps we should start by thinking about how we understand adulthood in our small but critical institutions.
At the risk of ending this post early, and leaving it to sit merely as a "rant," I am not going to offer specific examples of application. Each of us must consider well our role in the lives of young adults, and we should think how to inspire responsibility and diligence. We should do some soul-searching, and some examination of our own language, to see where we allow (or even encourage) an entitled, irresponsible, and childish culture. I am not claiming to be perfect - not as a millennial, not as a supervisor, and certainly not as a parent. But I do want to think well, and speak and act with purpose. I do want to be a part of changing our culture for the better. I hope you do as well.
Perhaps the question our culture needs to ask is this: Excluding biology and age, what does it mean to be an adult?
Twitter offers an answer:
"Is being an adult just stressing about rent, being intimidated by teenagers and letting all the veg in the fridge go off due to laziness because that’s all I’m getting so far. #adulting"
Are you satisfied with that?