Adulting. It’s the term we millennials have coined in a feeble attempt to cushion the blows of being forced to accept adulthood. As if throwing a new title on it can comfort us as we stumble and fall into this inevitable stage of life.
I have come to the conclusion that in learning how to “properly” adult in the decade of our twenties that we get before sh*t gets real (Hello 30! Always creepin’…) we go through several stages–much like the stages of grief we experience in moments of true sadness. Growing up in our twenties is a mourning period of good and bad jobs, fancy dinners and too much take out, and classy nights out that turn into messy mornings where you can’t find your other 4 inch Steve Madden pump, you’ve lost the falsies on your left eye, you’re mysteriously covered in glitter and your head is pounding, reminding you that you’re divorcing champagne…again.
It is with the legs of a newborn giraffe that we walk of shame home early in the morning (hopefully with both stilettos on the correct feet), walk to jobs that teach us lessons in paper cutting and salary misfortunes, walk into dimly lit bars and nightclubs hoping to leave with our dignity intact at 2am. Our clumsiness in these “adulting” years is hard-earned and the struggle is real–so don’t fret, you are not alone! In case you’re looking for an explanation or some real comfort as to why you’re feeling this way, or why your hangover now lasts 3 days instead of 3 hours, here are some insights to make you feel a little less crazy.
The 5 Stages of Adulting
Stage 1. Denial and Isolation
After you leave the textbooks behind or decide to enter the workforce, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. Life is no longer as simple as throwing on clothes and getting to class on time to take a copious amount of notes, refrain from talking about the past weekend’s epic party or making sure you have something more sustainable than Top Ramen for dinner. It’s normal to go on the defense when life gets hard. We block out the real world in order to feel better and hide ourselves from the facts. When we first enter our twenties and have to adult, we’re in denial. I don’t know about you, but for awhile, I was laying in bed binge watching Weeds and eating way too many Sour Patch Kids while job hunting. This phase passes and you will be able to get out of bed again and run off those sugar fixes like a boss.
Stage 2. Anger
The anger is real. As our feelings of denial and isolation fade away, reality begins to creep in.The pain of your current age and the pressures it brings come to the surface and it’s perfectly okay that you’re steaming mad about it. You’re still not ready. You’re still YOUNG and WILD and FREE! Why are people telling you it’s time to grow up? Why are they trying to convince you that you should use that degree you spent all those late nights studying to earn? Don’t they understand you at all?! The intense emotion of anger is an important one. As we adult, we realize that glaring at our kitchen sink feels good when life isn’t quite the way you thought it would be, that screaming and crying in the shower after another day of zero calls or profitable emails back on your impressive resume is perfectly acceptable and actually quite healthy. Unfortunately, there’s really no one to blame for your anger or for the fact that you’re moving into adulthood. You absolutely cannot blame your mom and dad. Those are the amazing humans who gave you life. And so, the anger stage is good for punching pillows and drinking one too many glasses of cheap wine you can actually afford and for calling your parents and crying to them so they can feel important and then laugh at your ridiculous childish behavior when you say your goodbyes. Own this stage. It’s ALL yours.
Stage 3. Bargaining
I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I woke up one morning at age 24 and found that I had legitimate crow’s feet and bags under my eyes, I looked in the mirror and thought I was looking at someone else, then I whispered so my roommate couldn’t hear me, “I demand a refund!” When we’re feeling helpless and like time is slipping away from us, naturally we are vulnerable and need to get some control back. You start asking yourself all these questions that you’ll likely never find real answers to. “How did I get here?” “Why am I still making only $15 an hour after 2 years?” “When will things get easier?” The bargaining comes in when you start to answer them, seeking comfort. Trust me, it doesn’t work like that. “Maybe I should have moved home before starting out on my own.” “I should have taken that other job offer.” “I should just meet a rich man/woman, that’ll make life easier.” No. Just, no. This line of defense doesn’t actually work. There is no fairy Godmother to save you from the throes of adulting and you have to provide yourself with your own fabulous dress to wear to the ball (after you’ve properly budgeted for your student loan payments and groceries). You’re trying to postpone the inevitable by thinking there is an easy solution, like making a blanket fort and coloring outside the lines while you watch Cinderella. So while you’re in there, la-di-dah’ing, realize this: it’s a temporary fix. Luckily, what is also temporary is this stage.
Stage 4. Depression
Becoming an adult is hard. Like really, really insanely, crazy hard. And it’s different for all of us. Basically, you’re experiencing a loss and it’s a big one. You’re saying goodbye to the child and adolescent versions of yourself, acknowledging that you’ve grown up to the point where you have to wear big girl/guy pants, and it’s terrifying. Sadness is something that can stick around for awhile. During this stage of your grief, just exist and take it all in. Just BE, in those moments when you’re fighting for your childhood to come back, to have someone take care of you when you’re home sick with the flu and haven’t done laundry for a week, fighting to survive the adulthood that keeps slamming down on your hunched shoulders. Feel your feelings and power through your process, because this stage is a key chapter in your story and you’re getting closer to the good stuff.
Stage 5. Acceptance
After the tears have been shed, the Crayolas have been stashed away, your socks are beginning to match and your Carlo Rossi tastes of freshman year have developed into a fine Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon appreciation, you’ll feel ready. Ready to accept and allow the mourning to pass and embrace the changes that you’ve conquered and all the ones that are still to come. You’ll realize that despite its ups and downs, its pain and suffering, all its beauty and madness, being an adult is actually really great. You will finally come to an acceptance that as you approach a new decade, you’ve been through some serious life sh*t and you’re that much stronger for it. And if you ever want to dust off the old Etch-A-Sketch or sport some mismatched socks, you’re an adult and no one is there to judge you…as long as you wait until your roommate isn’t home.
Being an adult is hard, but it’s also really rewarding to know that we’re never experiencing these clumsy years alone. There are plenty of other baby giraffes out there stumbling and navigating through the storm of their twenties, laughing and crying, drinking and sobering, working their way up the ladder of the business world, breathing life into their dreams…and it’s not a stage we would ever want to skip.
Typically found singing loudly into her hairbrush microphone, Hallie O'Reilly doesn't take herself too seriously. She enjoys leaping into one-way ticket adventures, blazing trail and beach in her running shoes, writing about her twenty (almost thirty) something life over at little talks //, plotting a new lifestyle blog and other writing opportunities as well as tapping into her creativity by way of a camera lens. Follow her on Instagram @hallielauren.