I’ve had a hard time feeling “grown up” lately. What keeps me awake at night these days is a purely ridiculous and existential concern over whether or not I’m “mature” and live an “adult lifestyle.” It’s such a vague and ridiculous notion as to be laughable, but it feels oddly real and anxiety-provoking to me. And I can’t put my finger on why. Maybe because I don’t have anything else to feel stressed out about right now? (Could that possibly be true??)
Erik Erikson, arguably the most influential developmental psychologist that ever lived, posited in his “psychosocial model” of the life span (a direct counterargument to Freud’s “psychosexual model,” as it were) that adulthood began and adolescence ended only when an individual had discovered their true inherent identity. If this didn’t happen until someone was 36, then that person was an adolescent until they were 36. That doesn’t seem particularly radical today, I realize, but back in the 1940’s, when Erikson was working, to apply such a nebulous definition to adolescence was considered radical. Since the process of discovering identity is such a painful and soul-searching endeavor, many people wish to bypass it, Erikson claimed, by prematurely dedicating themselves to work or marriage without having a strong foundation of identity to stand, and build a life upon. The “crisis” of identity will always assert itself, though, at one time or another, hence the idea of “mid-life crisis” was born. If you’re a particularly astute observer of human nature, you might discover that people who generally spend their 20’s “discovering” themselves instead of “settling” before they’re ready, typically don’t suffer these crises of midlife.
So, more concretely, what makes one an “adult?” Marriage? A mortgage? Having a child? Does being an adult make one ready for these life stages, or do these life stages make a person mature? Which comes first? Obviously there’s not an answer, and if we are to gauge the maturity of someone’s intellect, identity or emotional life based on a baby or a mortgage, that’s a little frightening.
I’m successful, I’m halfway through graduate school, I’m actively working as a therapist, I’ve paid off my debt and am finally achieving some semblance of financial stability, I’m in a very stable, mature and gratifying relationship. Why do I still feel like such a child, even compared to some of my classmates, some of whom are close to a decade younger than myself?
I have no idea and I couldn’t even tell you what it is I actually worry about when I worry about this.
I’m gonna go buy an ipod today and not think about it anymore.