What was the defining moment that made you feel like you were finally an adult? I can't quite put my finger on mine — maybe it was the first real paycheck I received, or the first time I treated my parents to dinner, or even the first vacation I planned and paid for all on my own. All of these seem like viable, post-pubescent options worth celebrating. And yet, part of me still struggles to see myself as an adult at all. Perhaps it's imposter syndrome, or maybe, at my very core, I'm still just a 13-year-old girl, playing dress up and dreaming of one day becoming a writer.
In a 2014 Op-ed in the New York Times, psychologist Laurence Steinberg made a case for prolonged adolescence and delayed adulthood, which lasts throughout your late 20s. According to Steinberg, adolescence is a "period of heightened “plasticity” during which the brain is highly influenced by experience," while adulthood is marked by "existing brain circuits that can be tweaked, can’t be overhauled." This suggests that those who delay adulthood as much as possible might have the evolutionary advantage — so if you're in your 20s or 30s and are still wondering when you'll start feeling like a grownup, don't worry! You're doing something right.
Below, 18 people share the defining moment that made them feel like an adult, and the results are inspiring, to say the least
"I woke up mid-week and was having a hard time with adulting. Or feeling like I was an adult. So, I ate ice cream for breakfast because who can be upset when you start your day with Moose Tracks? The fact that I was allowed to do this — without anyone telling me not to— was when I realized I was an actual adult. I'm able to do what I want, within reason."
"After college I moved up to Chicago into a tiny studio apartment, and got a job a little bit out into the suburbs. My daily commute was around an hour each way. About two months into the job, I wake up one morning and my car won’t start. At this point, I would probably call my dad, or something to take a look at it, but now I was on my own. I had to have the car towed, take a cab to work, and then put the whole expense on my credit card because I didn’t have the money in my checking account to pay for the tow and the repairs. It was a quick introduction to the ‘real world’, but sometimes those things need to happen, and looking back at it, I’m glad it did, as it was a nice life lesson to learn to survive on your own."
"The defining moment that made me feel like an adult was when I was a junior at Rutgers College. I had to take loans to pay for my education. In addition to taking classes at school I had two jobs. One was working at a Molecular Biology lab on campus doing research and the other one was working as a waitress at a local restaurant. Having to juggle all these responsibilities at once at the age of 20 definitely made me feel like an adult."
"The one thing that did suddenly make me feel like an adult for the first time really was when I found out my wife was pregnant. All of the sudden I had this whole list of new responsibilities including helping to care for another human being."
"I definitely felt like an adult when I first had to deal with income taxes! By that point I'd already moved away from my parents' home, set up home in another country, and even started working by that point, but it was definitely the visit to Inland Revenue that made it feel a bit real. (I was in my mid 20s by then!)."
"When I started my first job, I was very broke for about a month, between paying my first rent check and receiving my first paycheck. I had to learn to follow a pretty strict budget in order to make ends meet. It was the first time I really felt like a grown up."
"The first time I felt like an adult was the moment I quit my first job. I was really unhappy in the position that I was in, and felt trapped. I was scared to walk away, worried there was nothing better out there. But the moment I gave my two weeks, I finally felt free. It was the best feeling."
"The moment when I finally used my own money to buy my first car, after using my parents' all throughout high school, was the first time I realized that I was growing up."
"The first time I felt like an adult was when I started my first real adult job... But it didn't really hit me, I didn't really realize it, until I had to continue going to work at said job when all of my younger friends returned back to school. That was wild!"
"When I got my first dog! There was something about having an animal rely on me to take care of him that really make me feel like an adult."
"The first time I felt like an adult was when alone in my new apartment, I dropped an entire pot of mac n' cheese and then immediately lost the same battle with a bottle of cleaning fluid."
"I feel like a lot of expenses you will get used to in college, but medical stuff — that feels super adult like. Paying the deductible on health insurance: that was the first time I felt like a grown up."
"Paying for my own cell phone bill because I was no longer a part of my family's plan. Oh, and thinking twice about getting an extra side of guac at dinner — for monetary purposes, of course."
"Having to deal with Con Ed when I moved into my first apartment. That was the worst. And definitely an adult moment."
"Taxes. Just in general. Taxes."
"I had to call a locksmith because my doorknobs in my apartment legitimately fell out of the doors. I was in a pickle, and I had to figure it out on my own."
"For me the defining moment was when I was buying my house. I was single and there was a large packet of legal documents that I needed to sign. That was my first long-term commitment (30-year mortgage) that for me was a key "adult" moment that led to other moments. I still remember when a field mouse got in the house and I called my dad to help — I can still hear him laughing on the phone saying 'you're an adult now you need to take care of it'. That was definitely a time I wanted to be a kid for my dad to kill the bugs or relocate them outside."
"I still remember my first moment of feeling like an adult. It was totally unexpected, and had nothing to do with paying bills, cooking my own dinner, or other typical milestones. In fact, I had already moved out, gotten married, and had a baby.
My moment came when my mother, a nurse, called my office to refer a client to me in my professional capacity. I was 25, and at the time I was working as a domestic violence counselor. That moment, when I was a peer and colleague to my own mom, crystallized the feeling of being a "real" adult more than any first credit card, graduation ceremony, or car loan could. Jumping through the financial hoops of adulting was expected; gaining Mom's trust as a professional was profound. Sometimes I think of this now, as I work with others as an adult educator. These days it can be hard to hit all of those financial milestones, and many people don't get the life-skills training for other adult behavior. Maybe we need to also recognize growth in intellect and compassion as being just as important as buying a first car."
Perhaps these confessions will lead you to reflect on you own revelatory moment of adulthood. Or maybe you haven't experienced that yet, which is perfectly OK! There's no "right way" to adult, and we're truly all just figuring it out, as we go along.