For The Failing, Faking, And Phony Adults

Updated: Jun 10, 2021

This was a struggle to write.

Normally my articles progress at a steady-enough clip, with perhaps a couple of stalls, but this one was different. It refused to write itself, making some false starts, causing a lot of blank staring, and resulting in too much goofing off on video calls.

It was frustrating.

It took me a while to realise that even as I was writing about how I had cracked the code of what it means to be an adult, I didn’t really have a good fit-it-into-three-words handle on the puzzlement. I still didn’t truly understand what it means to be an adult, which was an issue considering that’s what I had set out to solve in writing this article in the first place.

I really did try to figure it out though. Truly. First I went the old-fashioned route and googled “what does it mean to be an adult.” Pathetic? Maybe. Helpful? Kinda. At least it gave me a starting point and aforesaid starting point showed that being an adult could be about two things: hard skills or soft skills. I pressed on for some Unbound thoughts on the matter. Using a survey, I got over thirty opinions on what it means to be an adult. It was fascinating and fun, but also overwhelming and confusing. The results were even somewhat disheartening because by some of the definitions given, I didn’t qualify as an adult. Yay for existential crises. Full disclosure: the whole point of researching the subject was to prove to myself I didn’t need to feel like an imposter adult. It was to give myself some confidence that at some point along the way, I grew up and reached the vaunted halls of adulthood. Thus far my research wasn’t assuaging my fears of phoniness, so I went a bit further and talked to an expert: my mother. We discussed the conundrum, hashed out the survey results, and delved into personal examples. After that discussion, I finally felt like I had figured out what it really means to be an adult.

Except apparently I hadn’t because this article still refused to be written.

It took aimlessly perusing the survey results, writing a few paragraphs, deleting them all, perusing the results again, writing more paragraphs, mentally discarding them, and a hot shower to finally reach something of an epiphany.

Two epiphanies actually.

The first was that I needed to change the direction of this post. I needed to start by explaining that it was a struggle to write and why. The second was about what it really means to be an adult. It was two words that jumped out at me after I mentally distilled all the research, discussion, frustration, and questions.


Yeah, that’s it. Just own it.

In my Unbound survey, many people mentioned age as a reason to be counted as an adult. That’s reasonable. A ten-year-old certainly isn’t an adult. But even those who cited an age between 16 and 21 usually offered the caveat that being an adult seemed to have more relation to maturity level than physical age.

Age wasn’t really the answer then. At least, it certainly wasn’t a good, all-encompassing, reliable answer. The maturity caveat was too great and anyway, if it were simply a matter of age, “adulting” and the entire concept of feeling like a child masquerading as an adult wouldn’t be a thing. Becoming an adult would simply be a matter of hitting a specific birthday.

If only it were that simple.

Others claimed adulthood meant being able to support yourself financially. While noble and commendable, especially while living with your parents, sometimes that simply isn’t possible. If you’re in between jobs, too sick to pay your bills alone, or studying full time, does that mean you have to surrender your adult status? Pretty sure that isn’t how it works. So financial prowess isn’t the key either.

Maturity was another suggestion, as mentioned. But that’s an abstract, obscure concept - impossible to pin down and reach a universal consensus on. (And truly, how many people do you know are always mature, no matter the situation? I’d venture not many.) What about owning a house? Not everyone does. Family and kids? You can’t control that. Knowing how to fold a fitted sheet? Let’s not kid ourselves - most of us aren’t anywhere near Martha Stewart level. Keeping plants alive? Not everyone is blessed with a green thumb or a memory that includes plant watering schedules. Managing a budget? That would be nice, but have you read the news lately? Organisations are forever blowing their budgets and if the government consists of kids, we’re in deep trouble.

Survey respondents provided even more such answers as to what qualifies as an adult, most of which likely appear in a The Art of Manliness post, but this isn’t The Art of Manliness and I don’t have as many words available to me. Anyway, you don’t need a long list of adult-like qualities - you need a definition, a way to distil everything everyone said into what truly makes someone an adult.