You’re More Grown Up Than You Think

Rachel Zuckerman | August 18, 2015

500 words on why your career trajectory does not define your coming into adulthood


Mid-Cheerio consumption in my parents’ kitchen during a recent visit home, I noticed that my cereal bowl — the same one I’d always eaten from — looked like it shrank. Did it? Or had I just grown up? I certainly don’t remember doing that.

Here’s one of the weird things about getting older: we don’t notice we’re doing it. The world around us isn’t mutating, we are. But sometimes it feels like the only barometer of our progression as adults is what we’ve accomplished professionally, and if we’re not exactly where we thought we’d be at our current stage in life, we not only don’t feel “grown up,” we feel…immature.

Millennials entered the work force in an economy that diverted many of us away from the traditional corporate structure, which makes it unrealistic to compare our professional trajectories not just to those of our parents and older siblings, but to the aspirational “when I grow up” goals set by our former selves. We’re not just talking apples and oranges. We’re talking about trying to compare the entire produce section.

So don’t.

Your status as an adult rides on a whole lot more than your place on an HR reporting ladder.

You’ve gone from peeling your partially inebriated body out of bed on a Friday morning and barely making it through your 10:00 am lecture to only hitting snooze once every morning and getting yourself to work on time. Every. Single. Day. You’re no longer taking notes in class, you’re part of decisions in an office. And yes: you’re making a difference. No matter how “small.”

Recall that time last week when you did a nice thing for a pal without expecting anything in return, or when you phoned your grandmother just to say “hi.” Maybe you actually put your dad’s birthday card in the mail this year so that it arrives before his next one. We’re people who actually do these things now. That’s something.

We’ve learned how to be there for other people in a real way. We don’t just listen to our friends talk, we hear what they say. We ask them to listen when we need to talk, too– even if the conversation’s an uncomfortable one. And we take responsibility for our shitty actions instead of finding ways to justify them.

We can acknowledge our own strengths and achievements without having to be praised for them.

We may not go to the gym every day, but we know how to take care of ourselves. We eat vegetables. We pay rent!

We used to be these itty-bitty creatures both in mind and stature, attempting to navigate this great big world like an ant trying to use a giant spoon. Now look at us: we’re growing up.

So the next time you swap business cards at a young professionals event, don’t let yourself spiral when you run into that girl from your graduating class who’s already vice president at some firm with seven names. Remember, you took out the trash this morning instead of tossing your banana peel on top of the heap. You ate cereal from a bowl instead of straight out of the box. In celebration of that, I invite every single one of you to share a one of the mature things you’ve done today, no matter how minor.

You’re a grown up. I promise. It’s not the bowl. It’s you who has changed.

Eloise and Weenie by Hilary Knight; Cereal Bowl by Ray Young Chu.


  • All of this is SO true. I think a lot of us focus so much on our professional lives and our growth there that we overlook all the personal growth we make on a daily basis.

    Josh | The Kentucky Gent

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  • AlexaJuno

    It’s hard to feel grown up when this sundress I’m wearing is making me feel like a giant baby on Easter. And not in a cool, Chloe Sevigny way.

    • AlexaJuno

      Editor’s note: Sundress notwithstanding, I did cook a meal that was not chicken cutlets the other night and it was 100% edible.

      • Leandra Medine

        Pic plz

        • AlexaJuno

          Well, the dress is really a 13-dollar H&M number I picked up in haste when I realized I didn’t pack enough clothes to stay with my manzzz this week but also didn’t care to spend that much money rectifying the situation. It’s cotton, paisley, currently worn with white sneakers, and will probably live the rest of its days as a bathing suit cover up.

        • AlexaJuno

          The alfredo, on the other handddddd.

          Said boyfriend took the pic, but is an Instagram novice and effed up my plating before posting.

          • Lua Jane

            The alfredo looks totally edible. 🙂

          • AlexaJuno

            I celebrated like it was my gift to humanity. Not much of a cooker, but watching ingredients become sauce was an amazing thing. Like Breaking Bad, but with macaroni.

  • nanji_marina

    It’s all so true. Being a freelancer since for ever, it is easy for me to compare myself with people in other fields thinking I’m just not doing as good as they are. But, guess what, I have a son I’ve managed to keep alive and healthy, I pay rent, I even eat vegetables and don’t ever drink on “work nights”!

  • Jaclyn Levy

    My grown up moment today: nursing a baby.

    • Mae


  • Leandra Medine

    I, for one, woke up at 6:30 in order to make it to a 7:15 fitness class so that I could be on time for my 9 a.m. doctor’s appointment.

  • Hannah

    I’m 24 and torture myself by comparing myself to what I perceive others have on the outside as broadcasted on social media. Since graduating 2 years ago, it’s been a rocky journey, but I have learned a lot about how to adapt and be an “adult”. I’ve been getting better at sticking to a budget and making short term sacrifices, not instant gratification! I was let go from my job last year and found a new job with benefits in a week and a half after bein let go. I cook and clean up after myself immediately, as opposed to waiting to clean up the next day. I pay my own rent which is sooo expensive and my friends still have their parents paying rent for them! Also, when I needed someone to talk to, I was able to find a therapist and address these issues. I think these are the kind of achievements the author is talking about that have allowed me to grow up. Thank you for writing about this!

  • karen ermili

    I got my shit together and caught up with all my laundry, tidying up, emails, and returned things that I borrowed! Yeah!

  • Rayne Leonard

    I cooked a dish last night that was French and something that I can’t pronounce, but delicious; and this morning I called for a successful meeting with my boss. I may have counteracted that by crawling back into bed with a bag of chips and MR, but hey, baby steps.

  • This was so inspiring and uplifting. I’ve never really taken the time to “reflect” on what I actually accomplished in my career and life in general. This put a smile on my face as I mentally checked off a list of goals I’ve accomplished while reading. It’s hard to not to forget how far you’ve come when you constantly feel like your always in the thick of things, but I suppose every now and then we all have our moments of surreal thinking, this was mine. Thanks for that Rachel.

    <3 from Texas

  • parkzark

    I made it to work.

  • Ariana Estrello

    I bought a house over the summer and I am currently in the process of renovating it. Oh and I turned 25 today. #FeelinMyself

    • tonikali

      Happy Birthday!!!!! Go you!!!

  • Cameron Rhyne

    I relate to this post a lot. 9 months ago I had it all figured out. After a couple of starter jobs, I had been working in State Government for over two years and had been promoted to a position that I really enjoyed. I had a wonderful boss, we were making a lot of progress… and then my boss quit and took me with her to another job. Nine months later we are moving on to another job.
    I told myself that I would not be a quitter and that I would be career oriented when I hit the workforce… so much for that! I feel like I’m in a bit of a backwards trend in that I haven’t settled down. My father, who has had the same steady job his whole life + side jobs, has also expressed concern. I just had to let go of the anxiety associated with a linear career path because I realized it’s just not the path I am meant to follow.
    Now I am holding on tightly to the tail of my boss’ kite and letting it take me where it will! If you could meet this wonderful woman that I work for you would understand why I keep quitting my job to follow her around. She’s an absolute blessing in my life and I will do anything she asks me to. She is so encouraging and supportive and I have learned so much from her and am lucky to have the opportunity to learn more!
    As for my personal life. I actually have one because of my boss. She has encouraged me to be more present with my family and friends, to enjoy the time I share with others, and to remember important events in the lives of close ones.
    I’m adulting on a whole new level these days!

  • Adulting101

    I canned green beans from my garden.

    • Lua Jane

      Now that’s impressive! You both grew them and canned them.

  • V.

    That was beautiful!

    I’m married. That’s kind of a grown up thing to do/be, no?

  • Thank you for this! It’s so easy to compare ourselves to other people and overlook our own accomplishments.

  • I got past my squeamish issues with whole chickens and made Beer Can Chicken for dinner. It tasted AMAZING!

    Oh, and I bought a birthday card for my sister, and plan to mail it tomorrow – so it will hopefully make its way from WA to OH in less than 2 weeks. Seriously, mail – why you so slow?

  • Noelia Cárdenas

    I still eat cereal straight out of the box

  • My grown up moment today: reading your 500 Words on why my career trajectory does not define my coming into Adulthood.
    Greetings from Austria (Vienna) Nesli…

  • Jennifer Suzanne Skornik

    Had an adult discussion about my net worth. Made adult plans to support an adult friend who’s having adult health issues. Ate my adult breakfast. Smooshed my adult boyfriend’s face while he was half asleep.

  • erin

    Last night, I ground leftover eggshells (from eggs I got from my CSA) into the soil of my herb garden (my parsley needs more calcium in its life) and practiced piano while it poured rain outside. Whoever this person is, it is definitely not the 17-year-old version of me!

  • Cassandra Baker

    Ate a banana for breakfast. Put on work clothes. Took the train to my office. Stopped for coffee. (Bought shoes online.) Made it to my lunch meeting on-time. Contributed to said lunch meeting. (Facebook-stalked some peeps I went to college with.) Created an editorial calendar for the next six months. And tonight, I’m cooking dinner for my boyfriend. Whew. #AdultSoHard

  • Leena

    I threw some spinach on my plate to help digest my amy’s frozen burrito. And I oil-pulled, dental hygiene, a real thing.

  • Linda Kenyon

    It’s my birthday. For the past few years I decided it would not be all Queen Linda’s (my brother’s nickname for me) Day. So I do the usual chores and errands, and try to make someone else’s day better. I’m 59, so I’m not such a quick study!

  • Kirsty

    I have had a urine-soaked towel stewing in a plastic bag on my bench for 24+ hours and I feel I need to sort at least this element of my shit out before I can experience my own revelation of maturity. I do however take solace in the fact that is my cat’s urine and not my own.

  • Kimberly

    Needed this right at this moment today.
    I recently turned 35 and have lived all over and done so many different things in life. I’ve been stuck at this soul sucking job for a few years now just aching to get out, but have felt like I needed to stick around for some stability of some sort.
    Thing is – my mental well being and confidence are not stable with this job. Even my health is affected by the stress. I’m so miserable that my relationship even failed (not entirely work’s fault, but you get it)
    I may be on the latter cusp of the millennial sort, but I identify with every statement you have written and feel empowered that the decision I am now making to find a new job (even if it is not a “career”) and continue my part time gig working for a RAD music festival on the side is OKAY. Even at 35. I am not my parents. I am not my 40 something year old brother. I am awesome and I love vegetables and pay my rent and EVEN HAVE MY OWN HOME INTERNET and I do this all on my own as a boss ass single 35 yo female with no kids but a cute dog.


  • Tra

    I made my bed this morning.

  • Marina d’Amico

    What made me realise I’m now a grown up is when I watch high school or college movies, where the characters used to be someone to look up to and related to my future self…now I see them as kids..and I feel like I understand what they’re going through, because in one way or the other I went through something similar..and it’s awkawrd it makes me feel old(er) or maybe just more mature

  • Absy

    It also depends on who you hang with. I have one friend who always manages to make me feel like a grown up because, despite now being over 30, he still doesn’t manage to grown up things like eat off proper plates and have a routine. Managing those, as well as having enough clean underwear, makes me feel pretty grown up.

    However, it has been undone previously when I had to use a debit card to pay £2.50. Not having even that amount in cash made me feel like I’d failed as an adult

  • Even though everybody say that I’m really young, I woke up my boyfriend and made him breakfast (yeah, like his mother), I went to work on time (when my boss is on holiday) and I’m negotiating the rent of my future super apartment… 😀 OFC I’M PROUD!


  • @grownupdreamer

    Be in love with ‘the right one’

  • claire bear

    I didn’t gripe about anything this morning. Nothing notable any who.

  • chocolate chip

    This week, I entered into treatment for an eating disorder. For so long I’ve held onto the idea that it’s weak to ask for help, thinking I could do it all on my own. This is the most adult thing I’ve done yet. And it truly is taking care of myself rather than using other’s ideas of self-care that haven’t worked for me.

    • gail.

      That’s incredibly adult in immeasurably brave. Best wishes on this new chapter.

      • chocolate chip

        Thanks, gail.! I’m humbled by how supportive people have been 🙂

  • tontytonty
  • Anna

    I drove home to have some quality time with my parents only to find out they are having a hangover x)

  • Noemi Cordova

    The grown up thing I did today was order a bookshelf vs ordering shoes

  • kellymcd

    I signed up for the email newsletter The Skimm recently and all of sudden I’m into current events and I’m like “fuck ya! Adulthood!”

  • Claudia Marzotto

    I love the part when u say: u run.. Into that girl … who is already vice president… ! Lol
    Claudia @

  • corinne

    Thanks for this <3

  • RobHeathers

    Grown-up thing I did today:

    I helped a friend chop wood to stock up during the upcoming winter.

    More importantly, we used MATH to determine how much to chop compared to how cold it was last winter versus the standard and maximum amounts used–and kept going as a safety to have enough just in case we have three straight weeks of -10F weather.

    Bring it on, winter!!

  • Jen

    The older I get, the more I realize no adults are grown ups. We’re just meeting some of the requirements in different ways, and faking the rest of it to the rest of the world. Last night I had cheeze-its for dinner. Today I was at work on time and already halfway through my daily water intake goal. Making it all work is what an adult is, because as much as the internet would love to lie to us, no one has it all together.