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PAUL: Adulthood involves more than just turning 18

Caroline Paul

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caroline-paul-headshotAs the clock struck midnight on Aug. 18, 2011, a magical beam of light came down from the sky and illuminated me. It had finally happened. I was finally 18. I could finally legally consume alcohol in Canada, buy cigarettes and get a tattoo without parental consent.

So in the eyes of the law, my age marked me as an adult. But I didn’t feel like an adult. Three and a half years have passed, and I still don’t feel like a grown up. What is adult-ing? Have I ever successfully done it? Do any of my friends know how to be adults?

I’m inclined to say that most of us don’t really know how to be adults. Maybe it’s because we’re millennials, and we think we’re special just for showing up. It’s because the same system that gave us consolation prizes for everything we ever did has also never held us responsible for knowing how to be adults.

This is the same system that mandates a college education to get a good job. So we go to college, and we get down to the business of learning. But outside of the classroom, we don’t seem to be learning much that is practical.

Sure, we’re growing and learning more about ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we’re always learning more about how the world really works. College has basically become an additional four years to be children, albeit children with a license to party.

This is both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, after graduation I will be thrust in the world with limited (read: nonexistent) knowledge of how to file my taxes, how insurance forms work or how to triage a plumbing emergency.

Those are all things my parents know how to do. And at this point in my life, it seems it’s still socially acceptable for me to call my mom in a panic and ask her how to file my tax returns. But someday I’m going to have to cut the cord and do it myself. And that transition to self-sufficiency will be unpleasant.

But on the other hand, at least we’re having fun. College’s explicit purpose might be education, but it’s also for fun and self-discovery. If you’re not worrying about how mortgages work (unless it’s for a class), it’s easier for you to figure out what kind of things you like and what’s important to you. Those are also important influences on the rest of your life.

So even though we’re not learning those little practicalities in college, at least we’re taking some time to have fun in way that we might not be able to once in “the real world.”

It’s not a perfect system. No one teaches us to do things, then we’re mocked for not knowing how to do those things. But our parents can still help us out. The Internet usually has some humorous, if not accurate advice. And at the end of the day, we’ll figure it out.

Millennials have not caused civilization to crumble with our lack of general life knowledge. We’re winging it, and so far we seem to be doing fine. We also seem to be having fun while we do it.

That is not to say applicable life skills and knowledge aren’t important. You just don’t need to have the whole deck of life skills trading cards before you move out into the real world. Just last week I got my “how to get chewing gum out of your ear canal” card. I still haven’t gotten my “how to know when cantaloupe is ripe” or “how to spackle dry wall” cards, but I have full faith that I will get there someday.

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