Most kids just can’t wait to grow up. They look to the older kids around them, waiting for the days they’ll be in high school or college. And then comes being a grown up and it seems like the whole world will be at your finger tips. At least that’s what I thought. Growing up in the 90s, it seemed like the theme that was pumped out to the youth was, “you can be whatever you want to be”. I was personally very lucky to have a family that shielded me from a lot of the day-to-day hardships of being an adult. I never knew about credit card debt and bills or making ends meet.
But now I’m an adult. I’m 31. I went to college, got a job and I still live at home paying back my student loans. Wait….What? Where was this talk when I was growing up? Oh, there’s going to be an economic disaster in the 2000s. Well, way to shatter my notion of adulthood! Oh, you go to college, get a job and are still barely able to get by? Hmmm, I thought I could be whatever I wanted to be? No? I have to settle in ways in order to survive? Well, that sucks.
Sarcasm aside, I’ve been struggling lately with the notion of adulthood. Like I said, I’m 31, but I still live at home and have very little in my savings account. I actually know people who don’t have savings accounts. I have friends who have multiple credit cards just in order to get by. They are married or living on their own, so they do what they have to do to live. Are they the real adults because they are on their own? But they’re struggling to do it, deferring on their student loans and racking up credit card debt. Now, I come from an Italian background, so it’s not uncommon to live at home until you get married (if you choose to). I’m not actually “weird” in my community, but I feel like I’m not a real adult. I pay my own bills, pay for food, etc., but I still feel like a stunted adult for not living on my own. I am paying back my student loans and slowly building a savings so does that actually make me an adult for being responsible?
I went to a networking event about a year ago and I vividly remember someone asking our group where we all lived. These people who I just met went around and said things like, “I just moved into an apartment in Tremont”, another said, “I rent a house in Cleveland Heights”. I was terrified to say where I lived, so I naturally blurted out “Oh, I’m the loser that lives at home”. The looks that I got were not what I expected. Every person in that group looked at me and said, “stay as long as you can!” and “I wish I still lived at home”. I was pleasantly surprised, but I felt like they were saying those things just to make me feel better.
What is it? What makes us adults? And does it have anything to do with material things, like homes, apartments or credit scores?
Maybe it’s because I idealize everything, but being an adult is not all that it’s cracked up to be. Okay, so I’ll go and get an apartment if I want to be an adult. Well, then I’ll have to get a second job in order to have any savings. In order to feel like an adult, I would have to get a second job just in order to pay for an apartment that I would never actually be at. I know where I’m at is where I should be, but why did I never get this memo that being an adult is nothing like they show on TV? Or maybe I fell asleep the day at school when they talked about how stressful money is.
What I love (heavy on the sarcasm) is when an older person looks at you and says, “Oh, when I was your age I had a house and two kids and we would travel…”. Alright, Gladys, we get the picture! Seeing the generations before us achieve things by certain ages has no weight in today’s society anymore. It wasn’t always so important to go to college, a lot of people just went straight into the work force. They didn’t have the mountains of debt that my generation does. Products were also not as expensive, neither were homes. So what do we get? We get student loan debt and get put into a work force where people are not hiring and not including benefits. We very rarely get hired in the fields that we got our degrees in. Wages are not on the rise, but everything we buy is. So, no offense, Gladys, but we really don’t want to hear about your multiple European vacations, okay?!
But remember, you can be anything you want to be. Except what you actually want to be because that doesn’t pay the bills or include health insurance.
Who else is in this funk and how do we get out of it?
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I just turned 50. I came from the generation that was also told we could be anything we wanted to be and so we should go for that, put everything we’ve got into that. Not only were we told that but all of our friends were incredibly successful during the roaring 90s. Rather than be jealous of their success, I thought I can do that too. I went to grad school, got a dual Masters degree, racked up a 6 figure student loan debt then graduated a year after the market went to hell. Despite all of that I still managed to pull myself up into the career I wanted. I even got the chance to work in investment banking in a great boutique in San Francisco, then the market went to hell again. I took the time with no work as an opportunity to pursue becoming a Chartered Financial Analyst, a professional designation that is extremely difficult to achieve in my field. While I’ve passed level 2, the most difficult level, I’ve struggled with getting back into my field and really just keeping a roof over my head. My parents ended up paying for my 6 figure student loan debt because I couldn’t. I managed to keep my head above water until the last 2 years when I tried to start a practice as a Financial Advisor while waiting tables to pay rent in the mean time. If I had family still in Cleveland, I would have high tailed it back there a long time ago, unfortunately I was the last person in my family to leave Cleveland. My parents had been living in small condos in Florida. They now live in a small house and I could move back in with them but I finally got a really good job as a Waitress and some stability in my life and so now I’m not sure what I should do. There aren’t going to be many great jobs waiting for me in finance in Ft Myers Beach Florida. Also, it’s not like I can move home with my parents and move out again into this apartment in the best neighborhood in San Francisco again. I’ll simply never be a blessing to come back here again.
What does it take to be an adult? It used to bother me that people, (maybe it was actually just my mother) thought I wasn’t an adult until I got married and had children. Being a female over 21 that took care of myself still did not qualify me as an adult.
The definition of an adult in our culture is anyone who is 21 years old or older. I think actually being an adult is someone who is being responsible. Living at home and paying your bills is being an adult even if it doesn’t feel like it because you don’t have all of the independence that comes with living on your own. In fact, you might be more of an adult than people who have their own apartment but are getting into debt to do so.
I can’t speak for the people in that room the night you had to say to a group that you were living with your family but I will say that I am really jealous of alum I know that have families living in the Bay area they can move back home with any time they want and pay off student loans and save money. I am not just saying that to make you feel better. That really is the truth.
I hope that helps, your post certainly helped me to know that I’m not the only one with these problems.
Thanks so much for sharing your story, too! I’m glad this post resonated with you!