When I was in my 20s, I thought maybe once I reached 30 some kind of magical adult switch would get flipped and then I’d have it all together. When I reached 30 and that didn’t happen, I thought maybe it would happen at 35. At 36, still having trouble with the whole adulting thing, I thought, surely, it must be 40. Everybody figures out how to adult by the time they’re 40. Right?
I turned 41 on Sunday, and if you’re wondering if 40 is indeed the magic number, I’m sorry to tell you that it is not. While I have more days where I’m able to pull myself together and get stuff done than I did ten years ago, those days are still outnumbered by the days wherein just brushing my teeth feels like a monumental responsibility that I’m just not sure I can handle.
I’m beginning to suspect that there is no switch. There is no magic number. And as cohorts show the same signs of struggling I do, I’m also beginning to suspect that the entire idea that there is this achievable level called “adulthood” where one levels up and gets some sort of power pack that causes things to come easily like organization and punctuality and meeting responsibilities and obligations and having a perfect home and always knowing what’s up and never flailing about wondering if one should thaw something out for dinner or maybe just eat ice cream and you need to do laundry and yard work and work work and you’re not sure which should come first but really you just want to lie down or watch TV because that’s about all you have energy for and hey who needs pants if you don’t plan to leave the house anyway? That idea, I’m fairly certain, is a myth.
I’m beginning instead to suspect that what learning how to adult really means is to give yourself grace and accept that there will always be areas of struggle in your life. That being an adult is really about having your priorities straight and being able to get the things done that really need to be done and to let go of worrying or feeling guilty about the things that don’t really matter. To accept that you might never be a perfect housekeeper and your home will never look like it should be featured in Better Homes and Gardens, but as long as you can keep it from looking like it should be on Clean House or Hoarders then you’re doing okay. Or to make peace with the fact that you’ll never be a time management or organizational whiz, but you’ve got your system that works for you most of the time and who cares if nobody will ever want to feature it on Lifehacker as long as you manage to meet your deadlines.
If that’s what it really means to be an adult, then I think I might have finally unlocked that achievement.