What To Do About The Agony Of ‘Adulting’ (At Any Age)

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I’ve been hearing about “adulting” from many people, as in, “I spent all morning at the bank, getting the car washed, and taking my mother’s emotional support animal to the vet… #adulting.”

When I saw the headline in my Sunday paper, Learning to "Adult,” I realized this “adulting” wasn’t just a passing linguistic hiccup or a joke about growing up. In fact, one of the local colleges is running a series of talks called “#Adulting,” which is all about "how to adult" — and it's not just for young adults or millennials, either!

Some people have complained about the term. They find it sexist, which hardly seems apt since men use it, too. They find it gross, but one could see it, instead, as ironically self-reflective. Like making blonde jokes when you’re blonde, it shows you don’t take yourself too seriously.

RELATED: 20 Adulting Memes,Tweets And Quotes That Perfectly Summarize Why Growing Up Sucks

There’s more to it than living away from your parents, renting an apartment, or buying a car. Even 40-somethings who have done all of the foregoing — often multiple times — use the term.

Here are 5 multifaceted, painful reasons 'adulting' really is difficult, no matter how old you are:

1. Feelings

“Adulting” reflects not only a set of adult-like behaviors but that feeling you get when you’re doing something because it’s mature and it feels like a stretch. To critics of the term, maybe it “shouldn’t” be a stretch to go to the post office and mail a package to Aunt Ruth. But it can still feel like one when you have a million other things you’d rather be doing.

Everyone matures in their own unique way. For some people, certain “adulting” tasks simply feel more difficult and draining.

Adulting also captures the overwhelmingly negative feeling accompanying a day in which you do a lot of things that you could care less about doing. When you take time to do those things, it’s a sign of maturity. You’re overcoming your FOMO on the fun stuff.

2. Responsibilities

The term may be so apt because many millennials and others are marrying or committing later. When you marry young, in the beginning, it’s kind of like playing house. It may be the first time either of you has lived away from family except for college, which doesn’t involve the myriad tasks of real, independent living.

There’s some fun to divvying up chores and responsibilities, but there are still two of you to get it all done. Instead, you may be living alone where there is no division of labor. You must pay your own bills, decide whether to buy a car and what kind of vacation you can afford, all while doing your laundry, cleaning your place and having a life — oh, yes, and working a real job.

Managing life really does involve a lot, and adulting seems like a good way to express one’s pleasure in being responsible, and displeasure at having to be. That probably accounts for the 40-somethings still complaining about adulting. Being responsible can wear you down at any age.

3. Relationships

It’s not just about chores. There are also interpersonal behaviors that say, “adulting.” These include things like confronting a co-worker with a conflict, speaking up in meetings, and breaking up face-to-face instead of ghosting someone.

Maybe attaching #adulting to the post about the dinner party you gave for eight of your partner’s co-workers is simply a way to call it what it is: It’s necessary, but a bloody bore. Dinner parties are synonymous with “adulting,” as are "things I do for my partner because I’m in an adult relationship."

RELATED: 6 Ways To Stop 'Adulting' (& Start Feeling Like A Real Grown-Up, At Last)

4. Choices

On your day off, you might choose to go to the movies, have dinner with a friend or day-trip to the beach. Fun … right? Instead, you could choose among food-shopping, cooking, cleaning, the dentist or having the oil changed in your car. Ugh … right?

Sometimes you give up the fun and the easy to do the responsible, grown-up thing, because you know it’s the right choice. Like forgoing social media time in favor of the pursuits of adulthood, it’s a challenge.

5. Behaviors

One reason you bother “adulting” is that no one will really take you seriously if you’re not doing these things, including you. Adulting is a signal to the world that you’re independent. When you’re taking care of business you get to experience a feeling of freedom.

Of course, many of these things have to be done, but why not smirk a little as you add, #adulting?

If you’re struggling, these are some things that make it easier to adult:

  • Set priorities. You may not be in school anymore, but some things, like how your health insurance works, are important and require some study. It takes a bit of extra time, but it’s well worth the effort. Figuring out how to save for retirement also falls in this bucket. It’s not all about money though. Visiting Grandma or Aunt Ruth may be priorities you want to set because they’re important to others. Being a contributing family member provides a self-esteem boost, even though the task itself may not be much fun.
  • Establish routines. Schedule a time to do dishes (maybe right after you eat?) and a day to do laundry, shopping, paying bills and the like. Use your calendar and set reminders to schedule annual medical appointments and when to have your HVAC serviced. You can even schedule the time to call Mom. Routines become effortless and feel like less of a drag. You’ll get things done efficiently, which leaves more time for you.

  • Pursue meaningful goals. Make time for things that bring meaning to your life. Although the “adulting” stuff must be done, be sure to carve out time for your passions and personal goals. It doesn’t happen automatically. If you don’t know already, you must figure out what will bring a sense of meaning to your life. Meaning is usually created by doing things that are creative or courageous, involve giving to others, or tap into our innate appreciation of love, beauty, or truth. If you’re doing things that bring you a sense of fulfillment, the “adulting” activities seem less onerous.
  • Celebrate success. Despite the exhortation by some that the term “adulting” is childish in its self-congratulatory nature, self-appreciation is a good thing. Celebrating success is a cornerstone of life coaching. Coaches not only celebrate with their clients but encourage their clients to learn to tout their own successes. When you have a day or a task that feels like a big adulting win, pat yourself on the back. Reward yourself with something if it’s really big. Tell others who will also celebrate your success. It’s nice to be recognized for accomplishments, big and small. When someone cleans the bathroom, you thank them, and we call it gratitude. If you have trouble “adulting,” and you start doing more of it, that’s a good thing — and praiseworthy.
  • Grow up. Consider the choices you make every day and where they fall along the maturity continuum from 1 (your baby brother could do this) to 10 (complete adulthood attained). Asking your mom to make an appointment for you or asking your significant other to have your car looked at fall pretty low on the maturity scale, maybe a 1 or 2. You must decide to take on these tasks to really separate from your parents, decrease reliance on others, and be a fully functioning adult. On the high end of the maturity scale, maybe a 9 or 10, are more complex behaviors, like scheduling a meeting with your manager or taking on a new, anxiety-provoking challenge and seeing a financial planner.

It feels good to take control of your destiny and act like a grown-up, whether you're a millennial or older person learning how to adult!

You may be pleasantly surprised (at any age) to be able to do a task heretofore thought to be impossible. Did I really take my dad to the emergency room and handle everything that needed to be done without collapsing in a heap on the toxic, germ-infested floor? High fives to you. It might mean you’re a lot more capable than you thought… #adulting!

RELATED: 18 Hilarious Quotes That PROVE There's No Such Thing As 'Adulting'

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Judith Tutin, PhD, ACC, is a licensed psychologist and certified life coach. Connect with her on her website, where you can request a free coaching call to bring more passion, fun, and wellness to your life.

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