Problems of Adulthood

Life was simpler when we were children. I’m pretty sure many, if not all, of us adults have at some point heard that same thought echo in our heads, while wistfully reminiscing bygone days when our biggest problems were fitting our huge sticker collection into one sticker book and convincing our parents to give us five more minutes on the Nintendo.

Three decades, I’ve been on this Earth. While that may sound like enough time to have gotten a handle on things by now, this I submit to you: Most days I still feel like a headless chicken trying to navigate an obstacle course. I don’t know how many other adults feel like this. But I, for one, continually find myself in a mesh of thoughts and questions, trying to figure out how to traverse the labyrinth they call adulthood.

One of the major challenges in adulthood is the freedom of choice that comes with it. When I was a child, I had a pretty straightforward view of what being an adult entailed: Get a job, start a family—done and done. Little did I know that once I got to the threshold of adulthood, I would have to make choices on so many other intricate details of life. Somehow, each choice tends to branch off into tinier and tinier segments of choice—Get a job, but which job? Which company? Which country? Can I switch jobs? Should I switch jobs? Remain single, or get married? If get married, to whom? Have children? If have children, how many? If don’t have children, how to answer people’s question: Y u no child? I could go on, but you get it.

“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” ~ Sylvia Plath

Another tricky conundrum in adult life is navigating human relationships. Oh, the horror. Being highly introverted, I once considered the feasibility of a plan in which I spend the whole of my adult life under a rock. But as such has proven impossible, I have since had to learn how to deal with hoomans in a way that would both appease them and keep me out of prison. It’s hard work. Whether it’s with family, friends, romantic partners, colleagues and superiors at work, acquaintances, and other networks you may have, each relationship has its own challenges. Each has its own pleasures, too, yes. Nonetheless, adulthood demands a certain level of skill in dealing with people, preferably in a way that would allow one to get through hard days without stabbing someone with a fork.

“All men are made one for another: either then teach them better or bear with them.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

Finally, adulthood presents the ever-difficult task of balancing multiple aspects of life—family, career, finances, friendship, romance, social responsibility, health and self-care. The sad thing is that the latter two are often at the mercy of the rest. As an example, for me it’s easier to stay up late finishing a work report rather than put in 20 minutes of my day to exercise. It’s shameful to admit that, but I know that such is the story of many other adults. I keep saying something has got to change with the way I prioritize things in my life, but I still keep slipping.

“When juggling as much as you are, remember some balls are glass and some are rubber. You can’t drop the glass balls.” ~ Nora Roberts

One of the wisest persons I know once said, “We were so much more when we were children. As adults, we all become the same. We all become anxious. We just hide our anxiety in different ways. And we call it character.”

When I look around, it’s easy to assume that the rest of the world has got their shit together and I’m here just pretending I also do but actually don’t. Or maybe we’re all just pretending. Maybe deep inside we’re all just anxious, knotted-up balls of yarn that are never fully confident in our ability to handle the problems of adulthood with a satisfactory level of skill and ease each time.

But then again, maybe adulthood is less about defending a blind confidence and more about developing a discerning doubt.

Maybe adulthood is less about the satisfaction of arriving at one answer and more about the tenacity of a constant questioning, along with the patience to daily deal anew with problems big and small. ♦

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9 thoughts on “Problems of Adulthood

  1. Oh to be the adult who learns to be a child. Better yet, to be the child who never grows up.

    I like the fig tree analogy. I’ve unfortunately come to the point where I know the fig tree must itself die. All fig trees, in fact. So the quandary of choosing one fig, or many along a path, no longer befuddles me. In the end the choices mean nothing.

    Living with the choices… Now that is the challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a perfect post, for this year but also for adjusting the outlook of life a bit. Beautifully written, but it is the questions and thoughts you ask that leave my head spinning a bit. Life sure was simpler when we were children, and then every decision made pushed us onto a path and we just keep going down this road faster and faster 🙂

    At some point if we do not slow down and try to understand what it is we are doing, or ask the bigger question of why, I think we just continue to run towards whatever it is we think is expected of us. I say this due to your idea that most everyone is all pretending, and deep inside we’re all just anxious, and not confident in our ability as adults. When perhaps in reality we are never suppose to be confident adults, but still children with a bit more experience in life 🙂

    One of the great tenants of Daoism is to never lose the mind of a child, which as we become adults we seem to shed a quickly as we can 🙂 Thank you for this piece, perfect for this year as well when I think a lot of people become a bit more introspective. I hope all is well ~ and enjoy the final days of summer.


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