Chapter 46: Being an adult – more than candles on a cake

How can you tell that you have become an adult?

This question was posted as a writing pitch for the student magazine where I occasionally get featured in. The pitch caught my attention and I pondered over how I would address it.

Many complex, intertwined facets are stacked behind the question – too many to construct a good answer on the spot. What do you think? What does adulthood mean to you?

Perhaps plunging into independence?

Claiming a certain age?

Queuing for a salary?

Assigning age as the commander over adulthood would guarantee a straightforward division between adults and minors. In favour of recruiting the classifier age votes the law. Legal books employ age as a judge to rule whether one is adult enough to drink, drive, and to be fully accountable for one’s actions. According to the law, anybody who can evidence that they possess a certain age may title themselves as adult. This legal definition is based upon precedence of the cognitive development in humans. Several studies have proven that our mind evolves from fickle short-sightedness to an increasing capability to reason responsibly.

Say we agreed on age as the classifier for adulthood, at which threshold value would we stake out adult territory though? The boundary could be declared at seventeen, twenty, twenty-one, twenty-six, or any other arbitrary number within the human lifespan. In theory, we cultivate more and more prudence as we grow up until we reach our cognitive peak at around 30-40 years of age, but in reality this cultivation is not perfectly identical for everyone. I have witnessed barely-twenty-olds whose astonishingly mature sensibility checkmated the wits of some over-thirty-year-olds. From my own experiences, I can attest that some people age only on paper while their minds never leave infancy.

The concept of adulthood is consequently too fluid to be seized by plain age. However, one prior notion is worth to be inspected further – the notion that adulthood is tied to a specific state of mind which steers thoughts, words, and actions. The thoughts speeding through an adult’s mind clearly race on a different dimension than a child’s thoughts. Similarly, the typical adult routine – which includes hustling from nine-to-five, providing for a family, and autonomously sustaining oneself – is set apart from the layout of adolescence and childhood. This implies that adulthood means to think and act like an adult. The problem with this conceptualisation is that every single possible human action and thought would have to be sifted through in order to cull the behaviours and mentalities that strictly attire adults alone. Such a task would even cripple the highest advanced computational forces.

Let me paint the seal of adulthood in another shade for you. Comparable to the former proposition about the meaning of adulthood, my own hypothesis relates to the mental faculties of thought and action too. Opposed to the former proposition however, my idea rephrases this duo by strapping both thoughts and actions together, linking them in one cognitive process: decision-making. Each action orbits around a decision which emanates from the sphere of our thoughts. Some of our decisions just operate our actions so automatically that the underlying decision-making process stays unnoticed.

I argue that you can tell how adult you are by your manner of making decisions.

Decision-making effectively equals choosing from a pool of given options. This could be the choice between closing the window or leaving it open, brewing an afternoon coffee or drinking some water, going to the bathroom versus holding it in a little longer. It could also be the choice between long-term security or ongoing risk, chasing a career or cherishing a comfort, personal gain or common weal.

The first listed examples represent swift, routinely decisions that switch on specific actions without considerable reasoning behind them. Trickier, momentous decisions like the second instances on the other hand convene thoughts to a congress where all possible alternatives must be critically evaluated.

In my opinion, our pattern of responding to a tough decision reflects how adult we have become. When every option bears heavy consequences, including personal sacrifices, immaturity is inevitably unmasked during the decision-making process. At the stage where the pros of each option are weighed up against their cons, a more mature person will rely on a vaster repertoire of information and previously compiled subject knowledge. More adult individuals will additionally have an enhanced holistic perspective and realistic clairvoyance, as well as less biased principles counselling them in their decisions. Lastly, the more of an adult we become, the less pronouncedly will the limbo of indecisiveness char our decision-making.

How can you tell that you have become an adult?

You are an adult when you make decisions wisely, foresightedly, effectively, consciously, and considerately.

I realise that my suggested answer to the question is also not spared from limitations. Among others, one’s decision-making process is a spaceflight more difficult to grasp and measure than one’s age. But since the word adult clothes an abstract, human-invented concept to begin with, it can mean as many different things as there are humans promenading on the planet. What it means to be an adult is surely open to interpretation, so, why don’t you give it a go and find your own answer to adulthood. I would be curious to hear your opinion.

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