Last night I assembled a shoe rack by myself. Never mind that it doesn’t stand on all four pegs, and that some of the pieces are turned the wrong way; I was proud of the fruit of my 20-minute labor. At one point, I proudly claimed the word “adulting.” For those of you who are unfamiliar, adulting is the act of doing responsible things, like vacuuming, buying gas for your car or putting money in your savings. It is a word that actual adults do not use, but one that gives us the sense of progress and maturity.
Here’s the thing though — as long as I’m living in the dorm room allotted to me by Stanford, eating the food provided to me by Stanford, I’m not really being an adult. I did not have to find this housing, I did not have to furnish my room, I do not clean the bathroom, I do not need to grocery shop or cook my own meals, I do not have bills to pay (aside from the monthly Spotify and Hulu charges) and I do not have the standard 9-to-5 job. Compared to my friends at other universities or to those who didn’t go to college, I am far behind in the process of adulting, as they do most — if not all — of these things.
In the past few months I’ve found this to be a weird position. First of all, I am incredibly grateful that I don’t have to face most of these responsibilities quite yet, as ignorance is bliss. But I’m also 21. I am legally allowed to do pretty much anything except for renting a car. It’s strange that I can go to a bar and drink without much difficulty, but at the same time I only eat meals that are prepared for me, ordering in when that’s not available. While other people my age are married with kids, I’m living nearly as dependent now as when I was a teenager.
When speaking to friends and family from back home, I am continually struck by how much more life they have lived by the age of 21. I am referred to as lucky and spoiled for having most of these adulting needs taken care of by my university. While at Stanford, I am surrounded by levels of privilege, meaning that some of these responsibilities will never be concerns for a few of my peers — though they are often held to higher standards of expectation and success.
So how do I reconcile this desire to be more independent and responsible with the gratitude for being at a place like Stanford, where I do not have to continually worry about these responsibilities? How am I expected to behave like an adult without any opportunity to be an adult? I think it all comes down to continual progress — not allowing yourself to develop a case of arrested development due to stagnancy. No matter where we are in the process of adulting, we keep moving forward, and maybe we’ll turn out alright.
Contact Arianna Lombard at ariannal ‘at’ stanford.edu.