Are you an adult, yet?

August 20, 2010

I read Robin Marantz Henig’s “What Is It About 20 somethings?” in the August 18 online edition of the New York Times Magazine with much interest.

Henig reports on various studies and hypotheses, most prominently Jeffrey Jensen Arnett‘s, who calls the 20s the “stage of emerging adulthood.”

Henig observes that:

One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever.

She notes further:

Among the cultural changes he [Arnett] points to that have led to “emerging adulthood” are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.

And the whole notion of what sociologists are calling “the changing timetable for adulthood” is seemingly not just a “temporary aberration” with the economy being the way it is and our relaxed socio-cultural expectations, but a “true life stage.”

So, according to the experts, people in their 20s today are taking longer to explore their passions, embark on a path of self-discovery, and in general taking their own sweet time to “settle down” — whatever that means.

I find it interesting because I am no longer in my 20s and I’m sure I still haven’t discovered myself or my potential fully.

Growing up, my parents always encouraged me to seek out activities that fueled my passion and ignited my curiosity.

They gave me a platform from which to exercise intellectual inquiry and allowed me, despite being a girl in India, the opportunity to spread my wings.

They tried their best to guide me, unlike their own parents, and didn’t really want me to be a grown up as soon as I hit my 20s.

Maybe it was, as Henig writes, their need to “hold on to a reassuring connection” with me, their only child.

But that’s not where my exploration ended.

The 20s came and went, and although I was able to discover what I am truly passionate about — writing — it didn’t mean that I, all of a sudden, had a strategy for the rest of my life.

No — I’m still working on it.

And it makes me wonder if I am in a perpetual state of emerging adulthood or if this so-called life stage is just something of a theory with wobbly practical legs.

In the 1940s, Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, said that “people can pursue more elevated goals only after their basic needs of food, shelter and sex have been met.”

Henig asks:

What if the brain has its own hierarchy of needs? When people are forced to adopt adult responsibilities early, maybe they just do what they have to do, whether or not their brains are ready. Maybe it’s only now, when young people are allowed to forestall adult obligations without fear of public censure, that the rate of societal maturation can finally fall into better sync with the maturation of the brain.

And I agree.

But I’d also add that there is a distinct difference between age and maturity. Just because one has physically grown into the body of an adult doesn’t mean their brains have matured at the same rate.

There are always some people who could be compared to a teenager, given their life decisions, even in their late 40s.

So, what’s to say that for some the coming out of the cocoon, the blooming phase, the aha-moment come a tad late than what’s sociologically been defined as a life stage of emerging adulthood?

Henig recounts Arnett’s admission that

It’s rare in the developing world, where people have to grow up fast, and it’s often skipped in the industrialized world by the people who marry early, by teenage mothers forced to grow up, by young men or women who go straight from high school to whatever job is available without a chance to dabble until they find the perfect fit. Indeed, the majority of humankind would seem to not go through it at all.

But I propose another perspective — maybe we don’t skip it; we just arrive at it when we can.

For some it may be a matter of having enough money before they can do what they really want to; for others it may be a stage of self-realization and actualization; and for yet others, it may be a matter of right timing.

To say that we’re supposed to have figured out our entire lives in our 20s or even in our 30s — given that life expectancy is 80 years — is, in my opinion, asking for a bit much.Introspection21 Are you an adult, yet?

I don’t think emerging adulthood is a life stage that can be attached to any one decade of one’s life.

I don’t just see it as gaining independence from one’s parents, or finding a life partner, or making enough money to pay off your mortgage, or even having kids. I don’t just see it as taking on various worldly responsibilities.

I see it as an exploratory developmental stage that allows individuals to investigate a variety of possible life directions culminating in realizing one’s true potential whenever one has the ability and opportunity to — could be when they’re 16; could be when they’re 65.

I see it as an emerging of the self.

So, my questions to you are:

  1. Have you reached or passed your exploratory developmental stage?
  2. If forming a sense of identity is a true representation of being an adult, then are you one?
  3. And, more important, are you happy with who/where you are?

16081BD1A60533E0F1173D28DE4F0D3F Are you an adult, yet?

dp seal trans 16x16 Are you an adult, yet?Copyright secured by Digiprove © 2010 Mansi Bhatia

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4 Responses to Are you an adult, yet?

  1. LalitNo Gravatar on August 21, 2010 at 1:30 am

    Very thoughtful. The learnings from the past makes people rigid in their beliefs, so the cycle of development is never on a clean slate, it is built on the past learnings. Personally I doubt people care to think so much about the three questions you asked. Which means they are happy with the way things are.

  2. Abhid-DNo Gravatar on August 22, 2010 at 10:24 am

    I agree with your opinion. However, I think that constant learning is all about being human itself, and less about being a kid, although its true that kids have a greater explorationary streak than do adults.

    I consider myself a boy in college. I don’t want to "grow up" ever, because I don’t want to lose the boyish way of exploring things. The boy in college who can challenge Microsoft’s new strategy, or who can attend a Greenpeace dharna. A suited-booted corporate adult can’t contemplate these things. Why ?

    Because the grown-up way of thinking is definitely inhibited by a sense of ego, societal standing, formality, etc. Basically, the "log kya kahenge" mentality. A boy is not inhibited by these. However, an adult also knows the "harsh reality of life", and in THAT sense, he is being mature and responsible.

    I try to maintain a balance between the two. I want to be responsible andmature, and yet be like a boy in my thoughts.

    Thank you.

  3. MansiNo Gravatar on August 24, 2010 at 4:06 pm

    I agree. People don’t necessarily think of status quos in terms of happiness. It is the way it is mentality tends to cause a lot of stagnation in one’s life and with it comes acceptance. Where there’s acceptance, there’s no scope for probing questions. And hence the mirage of happiness.

  4. MansiNo Gravatar on August 24, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    Wonderful thoughts, Abhi. Thanks for taking the time to type them out. Extremes never work — finding balance is always the key and I’m glad you’ve learned how to (and continue to strive to) do that.


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