Adulting: It Gets Better As You Get Older

by Amy Shaw on September 28

Adulting2One of the constant struggles I face as a twenty-something is “adulting.” “Adulting,” if you haven’t heard the term, basically means doing the things adults do: tasks like house chores, cooking, paying bills on time, going grocery shopping, and basically any sort of life task that tends to be tedious but vital for functioning, working adults.

The popular narrative is that you become an adult when you go to college. It’s the first time you’re “off on your own”—or so the story goes—but that’s not exactly true for everyone. Half a college dorm room is a lot easier to clean than a whole apartment, and being on the school meal plan isn’t exactly “cooking for yourself” (oh, how I miss pizza and chicken fingers at midnight!). At that point in my life, I had no “bills” to speak of besides rent, which I paid from my student loan and scholarship money, and the occasional school fee. What a life!

For me, adulthood started around the age of 24, when I went away to college for the second time. I remember getting home from grad school at night, completely ravenous, to find a whole lot of nothing in my fridge. Or, there would be food in my fridge, but I would be way too hungry to cook any of it. Week after week, food would get thrown away, the laundry would pile up on my floor (only to have it sit wrinkled in the basket after finally washing it), and my room was always a disaster zone.

These days, I work three jobs, play in a band, edit and write for a blog, and attempt to have a social life. Yet as I sit here, I feel pretty content knowing that today, I got 5 loads of laundry done, cleaned the apartment with my boyfriend, planned a tentative schedule of meals for the next few days, and edited a few articles for the blog.

What’s my secret? I got older.

Getting Older Means Getting Better

No, I don’t mean that I woke up one day and had suddenly “grown up,” that I had magically acquired productive abilities once I reached a certain age. It doesn’t work that way, but for some reason, we all think it does.

Adulthood hasn’t been like that for me. On the contrary, growing up has been a messy, recursive sort of process: one step forward, two steps back, and then another one forward, and so on. One week, I’d be really on top of my grocery game; the next, I’d be resorting to takeout again.

It’s important to realize that managing our lives as adults can be extremely challenging. It’s not something that ever could happen overnight, so we should stop expecting it to. I had to get an embarrassing amount of late fees on bills before I finally realized I should probably set up automatic reminders for myself. And then I had to realize that when I saw the notification pop up, I had to go pay it in that moment or else I’d forget about that, too. It takes time and repetition (and apparently punishment) to integrate better habits into our lives.

One aspect of adulting that this is particularly true for is cooking. You can’t cook continuously for four years without getting better at it; I just don’t think it’s possible. I can’t remember a specific moment when my meals started tasting really good, but I know they’re a lot better than they were several years ago. I know now—and I had to learn it the hard way—that you can’t eat fish that has been thawed and re-frozen, and that chicken drumsticks take a lot longer to cook than chicken breasts. These are lessons that only time and experience (and horrible food) can teach.

Let Go of “Being a Good Adult”

Paradoxically, I think the real change in maturity started to happen when I let go of “trying to be a good adult.” I’d constantly criticize myself for not getting enough done, or not being on a “normal schedule.” I would experience genuine self-loathing over my lack of productivity, as I scrolled through snazzy Instagram photos of people’s lunches neatly packed in Tupperware (for the record, I think Tupperware leftovers for the week are kind of gross, and I don’t aspire to that, but you get the idea).

At some point, I cut the self-judgment out. I told myself that I’m doing the best I can, that I have a lot of responsibilities to manage, and that I need to accept myself no matter what. Gradually, I started to.

When you’re feeling good about yourself, it’s a lot easier to get up off your ass and do some dishes, instead of sitting there wallowing in what a failure you are for not doing the dishes. When you give yourself credit for what you have done—even if it’s something as small as taking the garbage out—it gets easier to build the motivation to do more.

You Can Practice All the Time, However You Want

There’s never a moment when you’re not living your adult life, so there is always room for improvement. Sometimes, personal development encourages us to externalize the concept of “productivity.” What I mean is that productivity is seen as something “out there,” a skill we have to “acquire.” We’ve all seen those articles that happily encourage us to make to-do lists, to sync our calendars with our email, to take up any number of tasks in addition to the tasks we already have to do—all in the name of being “more productive.”

Now, you’re telling me I’m supposed to accomplish additional tasks in order to help me with my existing tasks? Yeah, that never worked for me. I had to find an efficient way to be productive that synced up with my own personal rhythms.

Luckily, I get the opportunity to do that every single day, and so do you. Woke up later than you wanted to? Good thing you have every remaining day of your life to do better. And that’s how it’s been for me—a little better than yesterday, sometimes worse than yesterday but generally, a forward momentum. The sun won’t stop setting, and bills won’t stop arriving, so you always have the chance to do better next time.

Everyone’s on Different Paths

Finally, growing up means relinquishing the need for social validation. In other words, it’s not helpful to compare yourself with your peers or other adults. Everyone has different responsibilities, different schedules, and different needs. There’s no one out there keeping score of who is the most productive or who has the most regular schedule. Besides, can you think of anything more boring than being the most organized, most prepared person out there?

Adulting does often mean taking care of monotonous tasks, but we can’t let our need for productivity to take away from being spontaneous, either. Life tends to be fun when our routines are interrupted, so it’s important to realize the value of letting go once in awhile. We all need a break from it anyway, so order that pizza without remorse.

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Amy Shaw

Amy is a part-time teacher, part-time freelance writer and editor, and full-time building a life out of her passions. Always seeking new, fresh ways to improve herself, Amy's approach to personal development has shifted over time: she has been influenced by everything from Tibetan Buddhism, to New Age spirituality, to Mark Manson's "slap you in the face" style of self-help. She claims no status of guru-ship, but she hopes that you can find yourself in her down-to-earth, reflective writing. Amy is Spiraling Up's editor, and she can also be found at Fiction Edit. She loves cooking meals from scratch, drinks espresso multiple times a day, and plays in a rock band called Dr. Martino.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim September 30, 2015 at 9:07 pm

I think most of us have peaks and valleys in our “adulting” lives. Sometimes, I’m an unstoppable force. I take out the trash without being asked, the laundry seems to fold itself, and I search the house for chores to do.

Then suddenly, I’m an immovable object. The trash sits outside for the neighborhood cats to tear apart, the laundry piles up until my wife gets fed up and folds it, and the chores remain in a perpetual state of “good enough”.

When I hit those valleys, your idea of always looking to do better is handy. I often tell myself that tomorrow simply has to be better than today, even by a 1% margin. I quickly build momentum, and I’m back to a socially acceptable standard.

Ironically, the hardest part for me is seeing the work that needs to be done. It’s like my mind glosses right over it. Anyone else have this?

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Amy Shaw October 2, 2015 at 3:58 am

YES, all the time, Tim. Sometimes I completely forget about important tasks. I’ve started to gradually improve this just by repeating to myself mentally, when I first think of it, “ok this is really important.” Then I’ll think about when I can get it done, and usually I remember to do it. Occasionally I make to do lists on whatever scrap of paper is available at the time… often writing a list achieves the purpose by itself without having to look at the list again. The act of Writing it down helps me remember.

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