When I turned eighteen, I didn’t think it was a big deal. Legally I was an adult, but what does that mean anyway? I was still at university. I didn’t have to worry about big things like taxes, a mortgage, or who ran the country. It was about me and my books and my friends, and how should I make the most of this very exciting time of my life.
But as I got older, and the birthdays become less extravagant, and I spent less time playing computer games and more time angry about politicians, I realized that growing up is something that sneaks on you day to day rather than happening all at once. I still don’t have nearly as many responsibilities as an adult, but I’m getting there. And that really scares me.
Childhood isn’t just a time when fart jokes were funny or you can eat candy all day and not get fat. Childhood is about being carefree. Because nothing you do has real life consequences. The worst that you could do is get your parents cross or have a fight with your friend. It’s a simple time. But as you age, you start taking on more and more responsibilities. First it’s small things, like remembering to collect in the newspapers (and somehow failing that). Then it’s on to doing well in your studies so that you can go to a good university. And then studying hard in that university so that you can get a good job. You start seeing more of the ‘real world’, whatever that means. The world that exists outside of school and home, where bad things and good things happen to everyone for no reason. Where hopes and dreams are made and crushed, sometimes in the same day. Education is about preparing someone for this real world, so that they’ll survive it, at least until the end of the day where you can throw off your socks and stream the iPlayer. In many ways, growing up is a story about your childhood dying, and you replacing it with the realities of the plain, boring world.
But somewhere along this growing up process, as we bury our childhood, we’re also supposed to decide what we’re going to do in this real world. A doctor? An engineer? A professional acrobat performer? Many of us just aren’t sure. We’re just kids, after all. The same kids who watch Saturday morning cartoons and fail to get the newspaper, only now we’re expected to think about what road are we going to take for the rest of our lives. And don’t even get me started on marriage.
This is where the Quarter Life Crisis of the twentysomething emerges. We’re supposed to decide where our lives are headed and we don’t know how. How do we decide on the rest of our lives when we don’t know what the consequences will be? I could move to America to train, it might be the most amazing experience on my life. Or I might be lonely, overworked and miserable. I can’t possibly know for sure, and yet I must make this decision, and many others, uninformed. And it’s not like I can pause time and think about it. I have to make these life-changing decisions soon, or else wave goodbye to that opportunity forever.
In the end though, I think part of growing up and being an adult involves rolling the dices and hoping for the best. I’ve begun to realise that in the real world, people make uninformed decisions all the time, and adults go by luck and feel very much more often than pros and cons. Maybe growing up is also about learning to let go – and ironically, to be more carefree and less worried about where life takes you, just like a child. So maybe our inner child doesn’t die; maybe we’re all still that dumb kid who ate too much candy or touched the kettle because it was shiny. We still make uninformed choices, but they can lead to good places too. Because in the end, who the hell knows? Definitely not the adults telling me what the right choice is.