Are you an adult yet? How will you know?

By Caitlin Kelly

Toilet paper Español: Papel higiénico
Toilet paper . Yes, you actually have to go to a store and buy it! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Are you an adult?

Here’s a new book, with 468 tips from a 28-year-old, about how to become one:

Ms. Brown, a 28-year-old advertising
copywriter in Portland, Ore., has set out to become a kind of Dear
Abby/Martha Stewart/Yoda for millennials.

Her new book, “Adulting: How to Become a Grown-up in 468 Easy (ish)
Steps” (Grand Central Publishing), is meant to help her peers navigate
the rocky shoals of maturity, to guide those 20-somethings who are just
figuring out that radio silence is not an acceptable breakup technique,
and food does not spontaneously manifest itself in the refrigerator.

“One of the most jolting days of adulthood comes the first time you run
out of toilet paper,” Ms. Brown said. “Toilet paper, up until this
point, always just existed.”

The idea for “Adulting” (which has just been optioned for television by
J. J. Abrams, executive producer of the “Lost” series) was refined when
Ms. Brown worked as a reporter for the Statesman Journal in Salem, Ore.,
consulting her Facebook friends for a column about what skills or
possessions they should have by the age of 30.

It’s an interesting progression, this growing up thing. I know some people in their 60s and beyond who still don’t have a very good grip on maturity while I recently met a 21-year-old, deeply serious, who worries terribly about others — and felt like someone a decade older in this respect.

I moved out of my father’s house in the first semester of my second year of university and found a tiny apartment.

Living alone there, I learned how to shop for clothes and food on a minusucle budget. Who to bring home and what would likely happen if I did. I learned to do my own laundry, find freelance clients for my writing and photos, how to haggle with cheap-o landlords and landladies.

As a freelancer, even then, I learned how to juggle the competing needs of my professors and my clients — not surprisingly, perhaps, the clients usually won!

When my mother, traveling alone, had health problems alone in places like Germany, Italy and India and ended up in trouble, I had to field calls from the Canadian and American consulates there asking me what to do with her.

So, truthfully, I have limited patience for people who find adulthood or independence frightening or overwhelming, who can’t understand the need to buy toilet paper or cook a meal or know how to figure stuff out.

And yet, here’s another new book that describes the very real struggles that working-class young adults are having as they try to gain traction in this crummy economy:

In a working-class neighborhood in Lowell, Mass., in early 2009, I sat across the table from Diana, then 24, in the kitchen of her mother’s house. Diana had planned to graduate from college, marry, buy a home in the suburbs and have kids, a dog and a cat by the time she was 30. But she had recently dropped out of a nearby private university after two years of study and with nearly $80,000 in student loans. Now she worked at Dunkin’ Donuts.

“With college,” she explained, “I would have had to wait five years to get a degree, and once I get that, who knows if I will be working and if I would find something I wanted to do. I don’t want to be a cop or anything. I don’t know what to do with it. My manager says some people are born to make coffee, and I guess I was born to make coffee.”

Young working-class men and women like Diana are trying to figure out what it means to be an adult in a world of disappearing jobs, soaring education costs and shrinking social support networks. Today, only 20 percent of men and women between 18 and 29 are married. They live at home longer, spend more years in college, change jobs more frequently and start families later.

The markers of adulthood to me aren’t then the usual: college-grad-school-marry-procreate-own real estate-get a job-get-another-job.

Not everyone has those dreams. Or can afford them.

They’re things we all can do, even in our teens — like writing thank-you notes on paper; bringing a gift when you stay with someone; going to a funeral for someone you didn’t know to show respect for their family, which you do.

Knowing how to cook a healthy, affordable meal and serve it to others, lovingly and gracefully.

Understanding the importance of volunteering your skills and mentoring others when you can.

Knowing how to handle your own money intelligently and responsibly — your credit score, low-interest credit card (singular), your taxes and savings.

Helping someone prepare for major surgery and helping them heal after it. Going to chemo with them or helping them choose a wig when their hair falls out.

In an economy when one-third of us are working for ourselves anyway, defining ourselves as an adult by “getting a job” is an outdated metric.

And, again from The New York Times, the putative value of getting an English degree — which arguably will never get you a decent job:

STUDYING the humanities should be like standing among colleagues and students on the open deck of a ship moving along the endless coastline of human experience. Instead, now it feels as though people have retreated to tiny cabins in the bowels of the ship, from which they peep out on a small fragment of what may be a coastline or a fog bank or the back of a spouting whale.

I was an English major, a choice I don’t regret. But I graduated with no debt.

Has that choice helped me as a writer? Frankly, no. I didn’t enjoy college much. I found it impersonal and bureaucratic and have never gone back for a graduate degree as a result.

What being an English major did teach me, by attending a ferociously demanding school, University of Toronto, was how to think, how to frame an argument, how to discuss ideas with passion and focus out loud with other smart, determined people.

So, those are life skills I’ve been using ever since. Chaucer and 16th. century drama? Not so much.

When, how and where did you learn your life skills?

What do you consider the markers or milestones of adulthood?

Does it ever get (much) easier?

By Caitlin Kelly

I think there’s a comforting fantasy that being “successful” = easy.

As in, life suddenly smooths out into something calm, cool, stress-free.

Awesome! Sign me the hell up!

While in Tucson, I’ve gotten to know some of the Institute students, as well as some of the Times and Boston Globe staffers here working with them. In a long and personal conversation with one local student, a 21-year-old man who is already well-launched in journalism, he wondered why I still struggle.

Aren’t I successful?

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see “success” as a specific and final destination, and if it is, I wonder if that’s really the best way to look at it.

He asked me to define success. (No pressure!) My answer was very different from what it would have been in my 20s (career!), 30s (marriage!), 40s (finding a new partner/husband). As readers of this blog well know, I tend to be driven, ambitious and obsessive.

But success for me today looks quite different. It’s the hard-earned blend of a healthy retirement fund, a lovely second husband, good friends, health, a nice home and — oh, yeah — work! That order surprised me even as I wrote it, but the sub-conscious is a powerful little thing, isn’t it?

Maybe it’s being Canadian or being a Baby Boomer or having lived in five countries or being a journalist whose industry is “in disruption” — (fucking total chaos is more like it!) But I never expect life to be easy.

I wish it were easier, certainly. Struggle is wearying and distracting. Struggle without any visible, measurable progress is deeply dispiriting.

But just because something is difficult — your friendships, marriage, school, work, workouts — doesn’t mean it’s not worth pursuing.

It doesn’t mean you’re not succeeding.

I suspect that most of us rarely publicly admit to struggle; it’s not sexy or slick and it can make us appear ill-prepared or incompetent or dis-organized.

I call bullshit.

Life is sometime just really damn hard. The more we’re willing to be, (optimistically, resourcefully), candid about this with one another, the easier it gets, because then people with wisdom can help (some of them) and our struggle diminishes.

Not everyone is kind or compassionate, of course. But the people who sneer at the notion of struggle, glibly insisting that their path to glory has been 100 percent smooth, are usually lying — or their path is short, flat and well-paved, if not well-funded by others.

Ignore them.

One of the editors here said something to me at breakfast I found helpful and comforting. When I told her how many of us in this industry, certainly those over 40, are scrambling to “reinvent” ourselves, she suggested that this struggle, and it really is a struggle, is something attractive, not repellent.

Not if you’re about to lose your home and plunge into destitution, but having to figure stuff out, no matter if you’re 21 or 71, keeps us alive and attentive and connected and paying attention.

I generally enjoy the challenges of my work and life. I’m easily bored. I like to grow and acquire new skills. I like to test myself and see how many new things I can cram into my head.

As soon as I can easily clear one bar — (the high jump kind, not the alcoholic kind!) — I usually raise it by finding something new and tough to learn and potentially get better at. A life spent coasting, happily resting on one’s laurels, is just not very appealing to me.

(This might be something that runs in my family; my Dad turns 84 in a few weeks and plans to go sky-diving to celebrate.)

How about you?

Does struggle invigorate or annoy you?

NOTE: I leave today — computer-free! — for five days travel and into the Grand Canyon. So if your comments go unanswered until Friday, please don’t despair.

Jose may post a pre-written few things in my absence, or offer a guest blog of his own.

Play nice!