On Becoming an Adult

By Tina Wolf

“That horrifying moment when you are looking for an adult, but you realise you are an adult. So you look around for an older adult. An adultier adult. Someone better at adulting than you.” (Internet meme, author unknown)

When I was a child, I believed that by the time they turned 30, people had their lives sorted out. At 30, you were a proper adult. Now that I have just turned 40, I know this to be untrue. It is in fact a complete and utter lie. I still look around and think, there are “real adults” and then there is me. Real adults have all their paperwork neatly sorted in different folders marked “insurance” “taxes” or “bills”. I have a big box full of paperwork that gets sorted out just before I have to file my taxes. Real adults track their expenses. I have never done that even though deep down I know I probably should. Real adults dress their age. I most definitely do not – and believe me when I say I have tried! But even in a pinstripe suit, I constantly get asked whether I am the new intern rather than the English teacher when I encounter a new group of serious, besuited German businesspeople at a new company I am meant to teach a course of business English. So I might as well not bother. “Smart casual” is probably as close as it gets.

This is not to say that I cannot be a responsible adult when I need to be. Over ten years of being mostly self-employed have taught me how to be organised (most of the time) and have my paperwork in order – albeit only at the last minute when the Finanzamt starts sending out stern reminders regarding deadlines for tax returns. I had to learn a few painful and expensive lessons along the way though.

Being a mature, competent, functioning adult is not an inborn ability. It must be learned. I learned it by leaving home when I was 18, going to university and living in a shared flat with other students. My parents had given me a solid foundation by teaching me basic survival skills such as cooking, budgeting for life’s necessities and how to sort laundry. I was lucky in this respect; a lot of my fellow first-semester students did not come equipped with those skills. I am sure one incident involving a raw egg in its shell exploding in the microwave could have been avoided, had the person in question come to university with even rudimentary cooking skills. So, should “how to adult” be part of the school curriculum? And what exactly does this involve? Here is my own, by no means exhaustive list of things one should be able to do to survive at university and beyond. One should

  1. have learned to cook a few basic meals and know where to shop for ingredients
  2. be able to manage with the money available (a tough one, I have to admit, especially when there are all these bookshops around with their tempting displays of the latest novels!)
  3. be aware that taxes and health insurance exist and know which other insurances might be useful
  4. know how to do laundry and take care of your clothes
  5. be able to read a pay slip
  6. know how to file taxes
  7. at university: be aware of your course requirements; when entering the workforce: know the do’s and don’ts of job applications.

I am sure there are many more, but these are a few of the basics and should leave you well-equipped for life. Some of these could and should be taught at schools. If I were in charge of curriculum design, I would include life skills alongside Maths, Sciences, Modern Languages, Literature and all the other subjects, possibly as part of a “Home Economics” course.

As I said earlier, as a child I thought all the adults I was surrounded by had their lives sorted out and knew what they were doing. Now I know better. “Fake it till you make it” is definitely a brilliant tactic to employ. This is not to say that we should be stuck in some sort of Peter Pan life of never growing up. At some point, we all need to grow up and take charge of our own lives. Being a student at university is perfect for testing the waters, taking first steps towards complete independence without having full adult responsibilities. There is no-one to tell you to hand in your homework or go to bed at a sensible time and it is up to you to learn what does and does not work. But overall, the consequences are not quite as catastrophic as missing mortgage payments or not going to work. That said, there is still room for indulging your inner child even as an adult. The trick is to know when this is appropriate and when it is not. As an adult, I can still enjoy Disney movies or watch Die Sendung Mit Der Maus. I can still wear a band t-shirt, just not to the office (though I have to refer to my earlier point re: pinstripe suits here.) It is entirely possible to jump in puddles and file your taxes on the same day. As C. S. Lewis put it: “When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.”1Lewis, C. S.. “On Three Ways of Writing for Children.” On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. Harvest Books 2002

As an adult, you do not have to have it together all the time. Let’s be honest here: nobody does. But you should have your life together at least most of the time. Having health insurance and being in control of one’s finances are two vital skills one should have. Being able to cook and keep a reasonably clean house are a further two – being able to conduct microbiological studies in your fridge is probably not something one should aim for. Keep those in the lab where they belong. But other than that, enjoy being an adult whilst rocking that pinstripe combined with Converse, just like David Tennant in his role as the 10th Doctor! “There’s no point being grown-up if you can’t be childish sometimes,”2„Robot“. Doctor Who. Performance by Tom Baker. Season 12. Episode 12.1 BBC 1974/75 after all.

  • 1
    Lewis, C. S.. “On Three Ways of Writing for Children.” On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. Harvest Books 2002
  • 2
    „Robot“. Doctor Who. Performance by Tom Baker. Season 12. Episode 12.1 BBC 1974/75

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