You’re More Grown Up Than You Think

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.


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