As graduation time comes, many graduates will be making major decisions about their future. They must decide how to pursue their careers with the diplomas they have. They must transition from the more carefree student life to that of one in the workforce. Finally, paraphrasing Shakespeare, they must decide whether to adult or not to adult. That is a fundamental question.
“To adult” is a new verb that is circulating these days. It sounds strange because “adult” is a noun, not a verb. Moreover, “adult” usually defines a state of being not one of becoming. But in today’s fluid postmodern world, there is no noun that cannot be verbed. No one can be surprised if one can now “adult.”
Thus, “to adult” means to do something grown-up or hold responsibilities common to those of elders. A young man “adults” well when he appears on time for work or is well groomed. The word does not necessarily mean that he has abandoned his childish ways but only that he did something adult-like at one point in time.
For this reason, so many young people adult today. They do not grow up but rather live in a state of eternal adolescence. Adulting facilitates this world by allowing these young people to act like adolescents most of the time while pretending to be adults part of the time.
And so to answer the question of to adult or not to adult, here are five pieces of advice for graduates that may prove helpful.
- Don’t adult. If you understand the term to mean simply doing adult things without abandoning childish things, then it is better not to adult. The temptation of adopting a murky middle ground between adolescence and adulthood merely prolongs the first and ruins the second.
- Don’t adult. Leave your childhood behind. Be only an adult. Put away the things of a child or teenager. Understand that milestones like graduations, whether high school or college, are rites of passage from which there is no return. There are certain things that adults do not do. They do not play child (or video) games. They do not treat life as a big party. They should not spend countless hours on social media. They should get rid of their toys.
- Don’t adult. Assume the great responsibilities of your adult life. Understand that the decisions of where you live, what you eat and how your family survives now belong entirely to you, and to no one else. You have only to gain by accepting your duties. Being childish about your obligations will lead to a miserable life of resentment, entitlement and blaming others.
- Don’t adult. Ponder in your mind what it means to be an adult. Know what you want to be. Spend some time plotting out your future. Take some time out now to ponder alone and in silence those essential life questions about your purpose in life. Pray and listen to the voice of God who calls everything to know, love and serve Him. Being an adult means establishing a relationship with God to aid you in the challenges of the path that you need to choose now.
- Don’t adult. Prepare yourself for the misfortunes and sufferings that are part of being an adult. When you were a child, you were shielded from many of these misfortunes. That shield is no longer there, and you deceive yourself if you think the contrary. Everyone must face tragedy and suffering. Now the time has come for you to embrace your crosses along the road of life. When faced with Christian resignation, these hardships even become a source of satisfaction and accomplishment.
These are five counsels for this year’s graduates that reflect the common sense of living in the real world.
However, today’s postmodern world has a contrary set of counsels. People are told instead to avoid definition and embrace contradiction. One should not develop a stable character but rather self-identify to whatever fantasy one happens to create. Life is all about freedom to do whatever one wants even when this “freedom” often has consequences that enslave (as in the case of substance abuse).
The tragic result of this worldview is an immense throng of young people who cannot find their way as adults. They live at home and depend on parents for housing, living expenses or spending money. In fact, adults between 18 to 34 are now slightly more likely to be living with parents than a spouse (or other) in their own household. Nearly sixty percent of parents provide some financial support to their adult children.
That is why many such children prefer to adult. That is, to make forays into the adult world without living in it. They prefer to live a life oriented toward fun and infantile pleasure and detached from meaning and purpose.
The best time to prevent these adulting forays is well before graduation. Parents need to understand that childhood is a preparation for adulthood, not a permanent state. Being an adult is the final goal of development not a mere option among many. Parents must instill in their children a strong sense of purpose in life—and a great concern for their eternal destiny in the afterlife. Only then will they be able to develop good habits and strong character to confront the difficulties of later life. In this way the transition to adulthood is not abrupt but seamless. One adapts. One matures. One does not adult.
Until saner times prevail, however, many will condemn themselves to adult in a world that is ever more childish.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.