This week, I bid farewell to my youth.
After many years, my old futon/couch is being retired and I’m replacing it with a new sofa.
Sofa. It just sounds grown up.
I’ve never had a new sofa. My design aesthetic has been hand-me-down chic or some-assembly required post-modern. There’s something terribly mature about furniture that hasn’t already been well used by well-meaning family or that you have to have the special Allen wrench to put together.
Of course, I’m at an age you’d think I would have come to terms with my lost youth.
When I started working at the Chronicle almost 19 years ago this summer, I was fresh out of college. Even a year or so later when I moved from the Glade Sun desk to the Chronicle’s school board beat, I was still looking decidedly younger than my 24 years. When I would go to the high school to take photos or do interviews, I would get stopped and asked for my hall pass. That hasn’t happened in a while.
Back then, I truly believed I’d have this whole “adulting” thing figured out by the time I hit 30. I looked around at the folks I knew who were that age and older, and they seemed to have everything together. They had the house, mortgage, the career, the 2.5 kids.
When I hit 30, I started to suspect maybe those folks hadn’t been quite as “together” as I had thought. After 35, I started to realize, none of them had it all figured out.
And by 40, I knew it was all a lie.
It wasn’t a bad lie. It’s good for folks to think that if they keep plugging away, one day all the pieces fall into place and — boom! — you’re a well-adjusted, healthy adult.
Until then, fake it until you make it.
Or, change what the word means.
Adulting is not going to be the same for everyone.
Once upon a time, adulting meant finishing up school or training and settling into a career and buying a home. Many people would stay in that job for the next 30 or 40 years. They’d raise a family and then retire.
The definition of adult is a bit more murky these days.
Do you have to own a home? About 65% of Americans do own their own home. It has a lot to do with that whole “American Dream” we’ve been taught for years.
But are renters somehow less adult than owners? Not necessarily. Many people enjoy the freedom that comes with renting — like having someone to call when you come home and the water heater is spewing water all over the floor or a tree crashes through the roof. If you’re an owner, you own the chaos of homeownership, too.
What about kids? The U.S. had only 60.2 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age in 2017. That’s a record low. We’re no longer a nation of 2.5 kids like when I was growing up. It’s more like 1.8 kids. And that’s below the level considered necessary to keep our population steady.
The reasons ranged from economic insecurity to worries about parenting ability to simply not wanting to have children.
What about people sticking with a career or company for 30 or more years? The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found young baby boomers, born from 1957 to 1964, held an average of 11.7 jobs from age 18 to 48. And, the average worker’s tenure with their current employer is only 4.2 years.
I’m an anomaly. I’ve had two full-time jobs since graduating from college, with about 19 years with the same company. I work next door to the office I started in when I was 22.
But staying with this career in this town with this company hasn’t been because I thought I had to do that to be an adult, or because I thought I couldn’t do anything else. I’ve explored other career options through the years. I even left for a little while. But I like what I do and I like where I do it. And it’s hard to put a price tag on that.
I don’t fit the ideal of “adulting” I had when I was younger. But through the years, what I consider to be “adult” has changed.
I’m responsible — I take care of my work and personal obligations. I give back to my community through volunteer service. I take care of my loved ones when they need me. I stay informed of important local issues (and not just because I am required to do so by my job. I actually like knowing what’s happening in my community). I pay my taxes and I vote.
So if I sometimes have a moment where I want to turn the radio up real loud and sing along with some old ‘90s rock, that doesn’t make me any less of an adult.
It just makes me young at heart.