Life Style

How to Cope With Not Feeling ‘Adult’ Enough

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Photo: Denis Moskvinov (Shutterstock)

Do you “feel” like your age? Our culture, families, and friends help us create an idea of what “being 25” or “being 40” or “being 60” should look like, but the truth is, there is no one way to define what a person should have accomplished by a given age. Still, you might feel uncomfortable if your perception of yourself doesn’t align with your idea of what being an adult of a certain age should look like—but there are steps you can take to help manage those expectations and focus on your reality.

Here are some things to consider when you don’t really feel like an adult.

Definitions of adulthood are shifting

What are the milestones that traditionally signify you’ve become an adult? Moving out of your parents’ house, perhaps. Finishing college, getting married, having kids, buying a home. But circumstances like an uncertain economy and a global pandemic have made those achievements harder to pull off. At the height of COVID-19 lockdowns, over 52% of young adults lived with one or more of their parents, breaking a record set during the Great Depression. It’s not as easy as it once was to hit these benchmarks of adulthood—to say nothing of the fact you might not even want to (more on that later).

Researchers have taken notice of these changing norms. Psychologist Jeffrey Jensen Arnett has gone as far as to suggest that the period from age 18 to 29 should be considered “emerging adulthood,” something he proposed in a paper released in way back in 2000.

“Life statuses are fluid,” explained psychologist and therapist Dr. Barbara Greenberg. “They’re changing all the time…In over three decades of working with people, I can tell you the one thing you can count on is change in people’s lives.”

Define your own adulthood

There is no right or wrong way to be the age you are. If you are feeling overwhelmed by images of people who are your age but on a different life path, unfollow or mute them on social media, and focus on determining what your own personal idea of adulthood looks and feels like, and how close you are to achieving it. Here are some ways to go about that:

  • Make a list of the accomplishments you thought you’d have made by this age, or the ones you think a person your age “should” have made.
  • Make a separate list of your actual accomplishments—and be generous to yourself; no achievement is too small. Maybe you don’t own a home, but you have been paying your rent for years, for example. Focus on that list instead.
  • Make a list of what you want to accomplish in the next five or 10 years—as important as what you have already done is whether or not you’re on a path to meet your future goals. Keeping your goals in mind as you make decisions can give you self-assurance that you are continually persuing your own path to adult success.

This list-making advice can be useful any time you’re experiencing self-doubt or personal paralysis—whether you’re stressed about your job performance or feel you’re underachieving in your personal life. Make an effort to always keep your wins and your goals top-of-mind, whether that’s making a career change, or committing to meeting more potential mates, or buying property, or going back to school. Taking control of the direction your life is going is the most mature thing you can do.

Just be sure the goals you’re chasing are the ones you want. Caving to pressure because you feel like you’re supposed to do something isn’t exactly mature.

Don’t let other people pressure you

Some of the stress you’re experiencing over your perception of your own adulthood (or lack thereof) is internal, but it’s probably influenced by outside sources. Work to identify the forces in your life that are making you feel inadequate based on your age and accomplishments, whether it’s your family, your social media feeds, or your friends. Remind yourself of the steps you carried out above, and focus on your list of accomplishments and goals, rather than your perception of theirs.

“Lean into yourself and be more self-compassionate,” Greenberg said. “Things will happen as they should organically. There’s no reason to feel defensive, because life is full of surprises and things are always shifting.”


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