I didn’t know how to grow up till around 21 years-old.
Those closest to me would likely say it was more like 24, or 25. Or, that I still act like an immature kid to this day.
Even by my estimate, 21 years is a long time on this planet. It’s certainly long enough to have developed some form of maturity and a sense of direction. But what can I say: mentally, I was a bit of a late bloomer.
During my teenage years, my focus was on everything but finding direction; my focus was on skateboarding, playing in bands, trying to look cool in front of girls, and drinking vodka mixed with cheap energy drinks. Not much changed when I set off to university, except that I could now legally drink in bars and nightclubs rather than the skatepark. My time was still focused on skateboarding, playing in bands, my girlfriend, and drinking.
My ‘future’ was still the least of my concerns.
This undirected, purposeless behavior lasted well into my third year of university, before a few flashes of wisdom finally started to appear as I approached my 21st birthday.
I changed who I hung out with, and my drinking became more casual than the previous daily rituals of vomit-inducing drinking games in dingy student flats and staying out till 5 am at nightclubs. I ditched the skateboard, and soon after, the band fell apart too. Though they were good hobbies, I realized the scenes associated with them were not always the best influences on me. To top it all off, I finally start to put a bit of dedication into my coursework.
I wouldn’t say I became an adult in these moments — that was a while away yet — but tangible progress had finally been made in my journey to grow up.
My graduation should have been the defining moment. It was my opportunity to take that transitional step from being a pretend adult to becoming a real adult. To become somebody with goals, aspirations, and a vision of what lies ahead.
Unfortunately, I missed that step and chose to stumble around some more first. I got a job in a hotel that was meant to be temporary (read: it lasted three years) and had to lodge in my girlfriend’s flat for months because I had no money to get a place of my own.
One day, it was made clear to me, in no uncertain terms, that I either buck up my ideas or get the fuck out. I chose to buck up, albeit slowly. Perhaps that was the moment where things changed. I got my own flat, started my own business, and quit that hotel job on my three-year anniversary. My fiancee and I eventually got a place together, before moving to another city and buying a flat. And since then, I feel I’ve finally grown up. I’ve become someone who has the respect of others, who has his shit together and understands the way forward. More than that, I’ve embraced it.
But the question remains, why did I, and so many others, take so long to grow up?
Get Comfortable With Scary
The biggest reason of all was fear.
Everything about adulthood put me on edge. The thought of responsibilities brought cold sweats out in me. I lacked the self-confidence and self-belief that I would be a ‘good’ adult. More than that, what about being a good parent? I was worried about my prospects about money, about long-term security. I was anxious that my life of uncertain and sporadic choices would catch up with me and culminate in me fading out with a whimper.
To cope with the mounting pressure, I decided to be the happy-go-lucky guy who would ‘figure it out later.’ I always put on my best ‘customer face’ and acted without a care in the world.
I can see now that everyone is scared to grow up, and that it’s entirely normal. It’s full of unknowns, and no one can be ready for it. Take comfort in that thought. If you’re struggling with the realities of ‘adulting,’ or what lies ahead, don’t be afraid to open up to someone. Talk to your friends, and you’ll it’ll become very apparent that you’re all in the same boat.
You don’t have to grow up alone.
You Need to Find Direction
I was always hoping life would figure itself out, and it was only just ‘a matter of time.’
It took me a long time to realize that if you wait on life to work itself out, you’re going to be waiting a long time. Those who achieve success of any kind go out and make it happen. You can’t shy away from responsibility and making hard choices forever unless you want to settle for a life of mediocrity.
And, although I was dithering, I knew that I didn’t want beige.
In life, you need direction, and if it isn’t forthcoming, and you need to make it happen yourself.
I made the decision to start a business when I finally realized life was going to sort itself out, by itself. This decision was huge for me. It finally gave me a sense of purpose and something to strive for. It forced me to start future-planning and make decisions based on where I wanted to be, not on where I was right that second. Taking on the responsibility of running a business was the wake-up call I needed in my life. It finally presented me with a direction to move in.
If life isn’t presenting you the opportunities you need, go out and make your own.
Find Role-Models, ASAP
Entering the world of writing was another big step. It helped me gain confidence and self-belief in myself and my capabilities, and putting my thoughts and opinions out there for the world to see helped me break down that barrier.
But the bigger impact of this, has been the people I’ve met.
I began to network with people in the writing world who were older and wiser than me. I then started to befriend a whole host of people younger than me who had already figured out how to grow up and was making admirable progress. These people, and their achievements, inspired me to step up, take control, and wise the fuck up.
It’s vital to find these mentor-like and inspirational figures for us who don’t go into traditional career paths and work among peers and the management structure. You need role-models in your life, and, from my experience, you need to find these people as soon as possible.
At 28, I can look back on my early 20s and see them as my growing years. I’m fortunate enough to have been in a position where I could afford to mess around and spend time trying to ‘find myself.’
I don’t regret spending them so aimlessly. But I do wish I had thought to put some building blocks in place for my future a lot sooner. It has been a long-winded journey to adulthood, full of twists, turns, and falls from grace, but in the end, I made it by the skin of my teeth.
If you can take anything from my story, it’s this. Everyone’s life is on a different lane, and we all take various lengths of time to find which lane works best for us.