Dana and I are constantly scheming about our “Next Big Adventure.” We discuss selling our tiny home, and spending a year driving through South America. We flirt with the idea of quitting our “real” jobs and becoming ski bums or bartenders, or hiking thousands of miles on the PCT. Dana daydreams about traversing the country on his bike, while I look at Westfalias the way many 24-year-old girls look at newborn babies and diamond rings. We obsess about the endless things we could be making, doing, and seeing.
Recently, I listened to a podcast about how our generation of Millennials is afraid to “grow up”. The theory was that we are attempting to put off adulthood with our clichéd European backpacking trips and our vagabond lifestyles. That behind every picture of someone posing victoriously on top of a mountain, or taking a selfie on the Eiffel Tower, is someone hiding from their fears. They suggested that while on these quarter-life crisis trips to “find ourselves,” we eventually come back to the “real world” to find that we are behind on major life milestones.
This sentiment may be true if we believe “growing up” is defined by those traditional milestones; if we consider the only way to grow up is to settle down, buy a house, get married, and have kids. If we prioritize stability, reliability, and comfort over adventure and uncertainty. And I don’t want to downplay the fact that for many people, this version of growing up is right for them.
But if the only way to be an adult is to stop daring and dreaming and discovering, then maybe some of us should be running away. And if growing up includes the actual act of growing, then aren’t those who travel and push boundaries and explore new ideas actually doing a pretty great job of it? A generation with a passion for lifelong learning, and a spirit for adventure, will become a generation that changes the world. It is a generation that will have more knowledge, more experience, and more compassion than ever before. Maybe one day, we’ll stop telling young dreamers to “grow up” and accept “reality.” Because this is a reality; one of pursuing passions and challenging social norms. We aren’t running from the real world, we are running to a different one.
So, let’s rewrite the definition of adulthood. Let’s decide that being a “grown up” is any and all of these things:
- Finding and pursuing a passion. Maybe you’re passionate about your career or your family or volunteering. Maybe you’re passionate about writing, painting or underwater basket weaving. Follow those passions, people.
- Committing. Commit to your marriage, or commit to your lifelong dream of sailing the world. Whatever it is, stick to it.
- Prioritizing. Prioritize your job. Prioritize your kids. Prioritize saving money to buy your dream house or visit Greece. Choose what is important to you and give it your everything. Let go of the rest.
- Creating meaningful relationships. With your friends, family, coworkers. But mostly with yourself.
- Making thoughtful decisions. Whether spontaneously or after months of sleepless nights, consider the consequences that will affect you and others.
- Bettering yourself. Be a better friend or parent. Go back to school. Visit a new place. Do something for others. Be a lifelong learner.
- Other things. Things I haven’t thought of yet because I’m only 24, dammit.
And being a grown up is NOT:
- Doing things because you think you “should,” or because society has pressured you to.
- Judging others for making different life choices.
So right now, staying in our professional, safe, and reliable careers sometimes feels like losing. It sometimes feels like giving up before we’ve even started. Like giving into the pressures of the “real world.” The truth is, Dana and I may never quit our “real jobs.” We may never sell our belongings for the promise of adventure. One day we might even wake up and feel that a house, corporate jobs, and 2.5 children are exactly what we want. And if that does happen, we will pursue those goals. But we will do those things because they bring us happiness and spark passion within us, not because our family, friends, or society as a whole are pressuring us to do them. But for right now, we’re going to keep daydreaming and scheming about our “Next Big Adventure.” Because if being a “grown up” means I have to stop growing, I’ll never truly be one.