Young Adults Laughing

Do I have to grow up? Part 2

I don’t want to grow up!
Being an adult seems so hard – and boring.
What if I never figure out what I want to do with my life
What if I find out I don’t have the skills I need to do what I want?
Why can’t I just live at home forever?

As I wrote about in part 1 of this series, I’ve been hearing versions of the above sentiments from my clients and elsewhere for a few years and struggled to really understand what the negativity was all about. I don’t ever remember feeling that way as a teen or young adult. As I started investigating, I quickly realized, like most things, this topic is way more complicated than meets the eye.

In this article I highlight some of the concerns young adults may have about adulthood and their origins. In Part 3, I’ll address some options parents and other adults may consider in supporting the young adults in their lives navigate this new phase of emerging adulthood.

Are these feelings common and what am I supposed to do?

If you are a young adult and you are dreading adulthood, you are in good company. So many people feel just like you do about being an adult – unprepared and not at all excited about it. The freedom part of adulthood sounds good, but the self-reliance part – no thank you. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you might feel overwhelmed then we can figure out some steps to take to feel more confident (and competent).

Ugh, I don’t want MORE responsibility

Achieving adulthood today isn’t actually much different than in the past. The broad tasks are similar: accept responsibility for one’s behavior and choices, make decisions independently, and support oneself financially. What has changed is that while simultaneously finding a job, looking for a place to live, paying bills, feeding oneself, cleaning and doing laundry, and so on, young adults are also communicating with friends, family, and professional contacts in real time via social media, texting, voice memos, and even email. It’s too much.

The link between real-time communication and feeling overwhelmed is clear. When young adults feel the pressure to manage all of these things seamlessly, it is no wonder the thought of adulthood is daunting. Feeling overwhelmed by the prospect of taking on more responsibility in relationships, work, and school in addition to keeping up socially makes sense.

The amount of mental and emotional energy spent on responding to others via technology is underestimated and needs more attention.

Young people feel pressured to respond immediately to every incoming communication while also staying current on pop culture trends. They feel obligated to be available night and day lest they be labeled irresponsible or a bad friend. The inability to navigate the tsunami of communication is particularly difficult if the young person is genetically predisposed to anxiety or depression.

When I ask young adults who complain about not getting enough sleep why they keep their phone on all night the response is always, “what if my friend needs me?” Somehow not responding right away is interpreted as not liking someone anymore or being selfish and it can lead to the end of a friendship or being excluded from a group or activity. If someone believes the quality of their social life hinges on quick responses, it’s impossible to take a break and rest.

But I’m not prepared!

For some reason, young adults have the false belief that they are supposed to know how to be an adult before entering adulthood. The reality is that young adults are not supposed to feel prepared. Nobody enters this stage of life knowing how to navigate everything that will come up. Adults continue to figure out how to do things better, faster, and more intentionally for the rest of their lives.

However, young adults enter adulthood with a range of preparedness depending on their earlier experiences. For example, many teens have not had paid employment during high school. For them there may be more to learn about navigating professional relationships and managing money than for their peers who had several years of consistent work experience. No matter what, everyone has something to learn.

Feeling unprepared isn’t a sign of being behind the curve, it’s a signal that there is something new to learn. A person’s unique experiences, personality and goals will determine how they prioritize what to focus on. Going towards the unknown requires courage. Courage is doing something even if we’re scared. Sometimes we need help finding and directing our courage.

Is this it?

As a person reaches their mid-20s and is taking steps to be independent and financially self-sufficient, their experience may feel busy, repetitive, mundane, and stressful. Add in climate change, a global pandemic, out of reach housing costs, and inflation and it’s understandable many would rather return to their childhood bedrooms. They mustered up courage and worked hard to get here and feel let down.

It’s not unusual for 20-somethings to express disappointment in the reality of their situation. Upon examination they realize that their image of adulthood was unfortunately based on fantasy. When they compare their own experience with media’s portrayals of successful young adults in shows like Sex in the City, Devil Wears Prada, and 13 going on 30, they’re mistakenly wondering where they went wrong.

The good news is that we’re not robots living life according to a formula. The perk of being an adult is that we have control of setting priorities and changing them as we grow and change. Maybe things in the adult world aren’t initially as one hopes and that’s a let-down that merits acknowledging. But individuals do have control in making their current situation a steppingstone toward something more appealing instead of the final destination.

Ultimately, there is no way to avoid challenges and disappointments. Allowing oneself to feel all the feelings will provide the necessary information to make decisions and take actions that are in one’s own best interest.

What can I do to feel better now?

  • First, take a breath and acknowledge that what you are feeling is normal.
  • Then, take some uninterrupted quiet time to reflect on what’s going well and what is hard. Next, identify what you would like to do better or differently and break them down into manageable parts. Keep track of the changes and progress, no matter how small, to remind yourself that you are more capable than you may feel sometimes.
  • Identify resources – People (family members, former teachers, coaches, etc.), books, videos, or podcasts where you can get advice or learn a skill like how to budget based on your actual take home pay, negotiate a salary, pay taxes, remove stains from upholstery, cook a few meals, etc.
  • Share your feelings with friends who will likely appreciate your honesty and feel relieved that you have insecurities too. Take the opportunity to set realistic expectations for communication during the work day or at night and set up regular times to get together in person to intentionally nurture the friendship.
  • Develop and nurture relationships with people a bit older than you so you can see how they’re navigating adulthood and learn from their experiences.
  • Ask for help.

We Are Here For You

Is the prospect of being responsible for yourself overwhelming? We can help. In therapy we ask questions to help you figure out how to get unstuck and gain the confidence to move forward in a way that is right for you. This is a judgment-free zone where no topic is off limits.
Are you worried about your young adult child? Does your child need skills or emotional support, or both? We can help you figure out the best way to support them.

To learn about how individual therapy, family therapy, or parent coaching can be helpful call us at 703-768-6240