I think that we’re all more or less aware of the sort of reactions that one gets upon graduating from university. The plethoras of “congratulations” and “I’m so proud of you’s” that one seems to get. Yet, upon my own graduation, there was one response that I received that I’ve sort of been puzzling over ever since.
“Now it’s time to get serious.”
I found this an odd sort of statement to make. I didn’t bring it up at the time, I just sort of smiled and accepted the comment, but ever since, I’ve sort of been asking myself the question, why? What does that even mean?
And don’t get me wrong, I’m aware of what was intended by it. The sentence was packed with too much cultural resonance not to: what she was saying was that now that my imaginary years of boozing, partying, and staying up passed midnight eating Cheetos out of a saucepan are behind me, it’s now time to grow up. It’s time to become what society thinks of as An Adult.
So what does that mean? I mean, I already was an adult, wasn’t I? I did what society asked me to do to qualify, I survived my eighteenth birthday, right? Doesn’t that mean that I already did the thing, four years before the comment was even made to me?
Well, no; according to society, there are a certain set of standard actions and behaviours that I need to follow in order to fully qualify as what we tend to think of as An Adult, including but not limited to: getting rid of my Mohawk and adopting a more subdued, more culturally acceptable haircut, quitting my retail job as well as my dreams of becoming the next J.R.R. Tolkien and instead going out to find a more practical way of making money, overcoming my childish trust issues and finding a husband, accepting that my biological clock must be ticking and creating a few screaming, pooping life forms of my very own, and last but not least, giving up everything in my life that gives me joy but that could be misconstrued as being ‘childish’ or ‘frivolous’.
In other words, “getting serious”.
And why would I do all of this, you might ask? Doesn’t it all sound like a horrendously boring way to live, or at the very least, like a very prescribed way of living with no personal influence from myself or my own likes, opinions, and personality? Well, yes, but it’s also the only way to be taken seriously as what society likes for all of us over a certain age to be: An Adult.
Except for the fact that, as practical as society likes to pretend capital-a Adulthood is, it isn’t really. All that capital-a Adulthood really is is another attempt from society to tell us what the appropriate way to be is, and it is a standard that is very difficult to live up to, if not impossible. After all, we all need to be happy, and sometimes the most juvenile things give us happiness. With all the constant pressure of adult life, sometimes it’s nice to just wind down with a Disney movie, or a fluffy superhero comic book. Sometimes we find that the only accurate way to express ourselves in the moment is by shaving our hair, or dying it a bright and funky colour, or by playing around with make-up that ‘isn’t practical’. Sometimes we can even build perfectly non-practical but completely fulfilling jobs from things that society tells us ‘aren’t serious’, like cosplaying, performing, writing, etc., etc. Heck, even the greatest, most respected astronaut could have began his or her studies out of a passion for Star Trek!
In fact, have you ever noticed that a lot of our ways of exploring our identity and our creativity aren’t covered under the narrow definition of how to be capital-a Adult?
So allow me a chance to decree that we should all say “screw it” to capital-a Adulthood, or anything that tries to tell us how we should and should not live our lives. We don’t need to suppress parts of ourselves or ‘get serious’ to make it in the adult world, we just need to find a way of living that makes us happy at the end of the day, regardless of what that means or how hard we have to work for it. After all, as long as we are not starving to death, we have a roof over our heads, we aren’t hurting anyone, and we are not horrendously depressed and disappointed with our lives, isn’t that enough?