I tend to write about adulthood a lot because I never had anyone teach me how to become an adult. Or, more importantly, how to handle it when it blindsided me 15 years later than expected. And the thing is, I don't think that's unique to me by any means. The hit counters on those articles I linked combine for 3 million views, so people obviously have questions and are looking for answers.
The truth is, adulthood doesn't pour down on you like a pop-up thunderstorm. It's more like walking through a slow drizzle, the mist gradually building up on your clothes until you suddenly realize "Holy shit, I'm soaked. When did that happen?" It's all about perspective. A change so gradual that you won't even notice it until it's sticking to your old, wrinkled ass like a pair of hot-yoga pants.
#5. You Become Embarrassed of Your Past Self (And Then You Let It Go)
When you've been out of school for about five years, there's a small, superficial switch that gets flipped, and you look back on those yearbook pictures with sort of a giggling embarrassment. "Oh my God, I can't believe I used to dress like that! Look at my hair! I can't believe I ever thought a sideways mohawk was a good idea." After you get a few more years of life and work under your belt, another switch gets flipped -- this one much deeper to your core, and there is no giggling about it.
That's when you start to really examine the way you acted and the beliefs that you awkwardly farted out during a time when you were still just learning the most basic education that school systems have to offer. You think of your old worldviews and philosophies, backed by exactly zero experience, and you cringe. What you wouldn't give to travel back in time and spank your own ass, screaming, "Eat my hate-spank, past me!" until you were dumped, cackling with mad laughter, into a padded room. In 20 years, you'll do the same when you think about your current self. Don't freak out -- that's a good thing. It means you're growing.
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That's what happens when you store your old goth poetry online, Mom.
The problem that I (and many other people) have is that we tend to hold on to those ridiculous, embarrassing times and beat ourselves up over it. That's not healthy. If we don't let go of that, it can eventually decline into full-blown depression, and even further: self-hate. Unfortunately, letting go of the past isn't something that you can do by making a conscious decision, any more than Elvis can decide to stop being dead.
Now don't get me wrong. If there's some sort of psychological benefit to telling yourself "I'm no longer going to let my past stress me out," then by all means do that. But for most of us, letting go just sort of happens as you make peace with the fact that, yes, you used to be the type of person you'd personally throw rocks at. But not anymore.
No, seriously, let's sit down with our past selves and discuss politics and religion. It'll be fun!
That doesn't mean that you forget the past. Far from it. Remembering those mistakes and embarrassments is a huge part in keeping your current self from slipping back into "dumb douchebag" mode. You just stop letting it dictate how you feel today. Because the longer you stew on that shit, the harder it is to get control of the reins and steer life the way you want it to go, and occasionally stop to feed it hay because life is a horse.
#4. You Start Double Thinking Your Actions
Saying "You start double thinking your actions" sounds a little weird at first because you learn to weigh consequences at a pretty young age. "If I touch the stove, it will burn me. If I punch Dad in the dick, I'll get a Tombstone Pile Driver." The difference between a child and an adult doing this, though, is that as a kid, the consequences are generally pointed inward. What happens to me if I shit on the teacher's desk?
You know you've made a huge step toward adulthood when you start regularly thinking about how your words and actions affect other people. Especially when dealing with anger.
No, you're probably not going to master this because you're not Gandhi, and there are going to be situations that are well beyond your means to control. But under most circumstances, we're able to see in advance how our actions are going to make the situation better or worse because our experiences have taught us enough about human nature to fairly accurately predict the next step in the Clusterfuck Dance.
"You put your fuck you in -- you put your fuck you out ..."
That's why I know 50-year-old people who I'll never label as adults. Those are the ones who know the steps and outcomes, but they use that knowledge as a weapon. You've met plenty of them -- people who know exactly what button to push in order to suck you into a full-blown, rage-fueled argument. They use their experiences for aggression, to get that adrenaline fix that comes with anger and confrontation. Those aren't the actions of an adult. They're the actions of a temperamental, selfish child. And they must be spanked accordingly.
That's why it's up to you as an adult to learn how to let certain things go. Like smartass remarks that serve no other purpose than to goad you into a confrontation. Some dumbass trying to argue with you about something you have 100 times more knowledge and experience with. Someone trying to move in on your clearly marked gang territory.
"Blue Squiggly Things for life, bitch!"
Of course, you could take that a step further if you go the opposite direction: knowing that your actions, while having no benefit to you, will help someone else. Giving a couple of dollars to a good charity. Helping an old lady with her groceries. Having pity sex with that same old lady. It's still double thinking, just in a way that non-adults aren't normally known for. "This day sucked. All I want to do is go home and shoot up some sweet, sweet heroin. Wait, that person obviously needs some assistance. The dragon can wait a few more minutes."
#3. You Stop Following Through on the Desire to Break Shit
Ladies, you'll have to pardon me for a second on this one, because I see this far more frequently in guys. At the very least, it might help you understand why some dude in your life is an aggressive, destructive cockface.
On a physical scale, there's a phase that boys go through where they get destructive urges, like vandalism. Maybe it's nothing big, like soaping windows on Halloween or smashing toys with hammers. Maybe it's something sociopathic, like throwing bricks through windows or smashing dogs with hammers. But the urge is there, and mastering that urge is a learned process. In those real-world cases, the kid has parents, teachers, police, and peers to step in and put a stop to it. They're taught consequences, and they eventually shape those lessons into engrained morals ... if we're lucky. If not, just get used to the idea of addressing letters to your son using a state-issued set of ID numbers.
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"Dear AJF-9144-B16 ..."
The more common and potentially dangerous problem I see today is in trolling and griefing online. No, it's not the same as physically breaking something, but that's kind of the problem. It seems like a victimless crime to the person doing the trolling. But put the right troll in the right message board or comment section and he can completely destroy any chance of discussion -- he has effectively broken the system for no other reason than personal amusement. It's ego masturbation. It happened so much at Popular Science that they shut down their comment section. It was as if a thousand voices cried out the word "fag" and were suddenly silenced.
Since it takes place online and the kid is safely hidden behind a nickname, there is no face for him to look at -- no means of building empathy or regret. To him, a person is just text on a screen. There's no adult to punish him ... no personal, respected peers to step up and discourage him with face punching and the threat of impending wedgies. Hell, if anything, trolling is often rewarded by other people hitting a "like" button on whatever "here's a picture of my lunch" site they might be on. Because of that, it becomes totally up to the individual to realize all on his own that the behavior is horseshit.
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That's right, Douchey Doucherton. Drink it all in. That smile will be gone in a minute.
How long does that take? I'm 39, and I still do it (albeit to corporate Twitter accounts).
Trolling just happens to be a good example, not the point. What I'm saying is that there has to be a point where you get control over those destructive urges, no matter what form they take. We give children more slack in this department because they're just kids and don't know any better. But if you don't get a handle on it by the time you get out into the real world, your excuse evaporates and we start putting motherfuckers in jail.