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The path of life is full of changes and strange ups and downs; even in death, you become a badass skeleton that, incidentally, you should totally remember to set up with cool armor and medieval weaponry for the inevitable Army Of Darkness scenario somewhere down the line. However, before we get to the cool "being revived by the Book Of The Dead to fight Bruce Campbell" part, we're going to have to trudge through a lot of bullshit. Take the strange, frightening disease called "becoming an adult." We all carry a strand of that plague, and we all have to go through a very specific series of symptoms on our way to full adulthood that no doctor or teacher or tribal elder will warn us about in advance.

Luckily, they don't need to, because that's what wildly irresponsible comedy writers are for:

The First Time Someone Refers To You As An Adult

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The first time someone refers to you with adult nouns invariably happens at a grocery store. Some kid starts staring at you, or kicking your ankle, or doing some other bullshit thing bored children do to pass the time before the candy aisle. Before he actually starts pelting you with the contents of the shopping cart he's slowly but surely staining with poop, the brat's annoyed mother tells him off: "Chad, stop harassing that nice [man/woman]." Boom! Just like that, you're an adult in the eyes of random people.

If you're anything like me, this is a double-edged sword. On one hand, you're proud of your newfound status as "person some lady thinks is an adult," much like you cherish the first time you can buy beer without getting carded. Then again, once the whole "that guy's a man now" dam breaks, it'll flood all over and there's no coming back. Those new adult terms soon start hovering around you in an ever-tightening orbit until they slam on your face like a bola made of social expectations. Through no fault of your own, the "sirs" or "madams" you're getting in customer service situations soon start to seem a lot less ironic. The world has now decided that you're adult enough, dammit. And soon only condescending fuckers refer to you as a boy or girl, which is actually handy because it gives you an extra way to recognize and preemptively spin-kick those tools at the earliest opportunity.

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What, did you think "kicking against the pricks" was just a figure of speech?

Sure, some people might still guess your age wrong. It doesn't matter. I'm a bearded mid-30s guy with bags under my eyes that rival Droopy's, and I still get carded sometimes because some people are just shit at age estimation. What matters is that the world's general attitude toward you has shifted. Sorry, kid. You can subsist on Cheetos, cartoons, and PlayStation all you like. Yet on a small but extremely meaningful level, the universe has finally noticed you and mentally assigned your ass an adult haircut and sensible shoes.

The Moment You Realize "Not Keeping Up With Everyone" Works Both Ways

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I once wrote about the time when I first realized that there are people who will never like me, no matter what I do (spoiler: I got my ass kicked by a fat Boy Scout) and how important that realization was in making me slightly less of an asshole than I otherwise might have turned into. Today, I'd like to discuss a Bizarro version of that life lesson.

No, I don't mean that you should beat up a Boy Scout. I'm talking about learning that you don't have to please everyone. Put that kid down right now. Jesus.

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Besides, you don't want to pick a fight with one of these guys. Trust me, I know.

One notorious sign of becoming an adult is when the hodgepodge of acquaintances you've picked up along the way starts to shape into the pool of people you actually keep in contact with. Maybe you become famous and wind up with a new, more superficial circle of friends. Maybe you join a cult and don't have time for anyone who's not into summoning the Great Old Ones as much as you are. Or maybe you just move to another city, get married, have a kid or two, and are too exhausted to keep in touch with everyone. You'll lose contact with a whole bunch of people. It's natural and inevitable.

That part, most people can understand. The trick is to remember that this works both ways. Friends who you're technically on great terms with just drift away, as their interests and life situations lead them down a different path from you. Before you know it, your best friend from four years ago barely remembers to post a quick "happy birthday" on your Facebook wall -- and if he/she does, it's lowercase and unpunctuated, the lowest form of Facebook birthday wishing. It sounds obvious, but it's surprising how many people have reached this stage of life and have serious trouble accepting that part of the deal, and they spiral into a fit of attention-whoring, passive-aggressiveness, and outright drama whenever someone they met three times in 1992 doesn't immediately "like" their wacky cat post.

On a related note, stop fucking tagging people in your cat posts. There's no way that won't end with a set of rapidly incoming brass knuckles.

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The First Time You Reach A Life Goal You Didn't Know You Had

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Growing up into something approaching a halfway decent adult is a lot like leveling up; you get better at shit by hacking through your problems, trudging through countless mind-numbing tasks, and occasionally facing a boss battle. In this metaphor, the bosses are your life goals. We all have a bunch of them, depending on our life philosophy (which, incidentally, is not always quite what you think) and basic needs. We usually think we know our goals (get a good job, buy a house, raise a family, learn to wrestle tigers), but sometimes a surprise boss battle smacks us in the face when we least expect it -- and turns out to be the greatest experience we never thought we wanted.

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"Another bacon sandwich? Don't mind if I do."

You might not even recognize these surprise life goals when you stumble ass-backwards over them. Only later will you find that an unexpected achievement has etched its initials on your high-score list. Maybe it's something as monumental as clearing a debt you never thought you could manage. Perhaps you just stumble upon greatness by tripping on a curb and accidentally KOing a passing Floyd Mayweather with a massive haymaker as you fall fist first to the ground. You might get the girl/guy and save the day, or just find out that you really like the taste of ladybugs when you forget your motorcycle helmet and 17 of the damn things fly in your mouth at once. But, one day, you'll realize that your Life Achievement List features all sorts of bonus rounds that you never expected, yet you feel really good about having trudged through them.

It'll catch you by surprise, and it'll be awesome.

The Moment You Realize You're Really Good At Something

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Have you ever noticed that most conversations that you have are largely outside your areas of immediate expertise? You're not the only one. Unless our entire social circle consists of 17 cats and an anime body pillow, we inevitably wind up talking about games we've hardly played, sports teams we technically follow but don't really know anything about, and movies to which we didn't pay enough attention to analyze half as deeply as we try. The world of human interaction is one giant book presentation, and all you have to work with is 10 minutes of the crappy movie version with a Polish dub.

I have always firmly believed that this is a symptom of my favorite theory about adulthood, which is that no one ever truly grows up. Oh, we get better and better at bullshitting our way through life as "responsible adults," but dig deep enough and we're still that uncertain 10-year-old who'd totally bring his He-Man action figure collection to work and eat ice cream for lunch if he could get away with it.

Full of shit as we may all secretly be, it doesn't mean that we can't acquire quite a few tricks along the way. You actually have to work hard to not become an expert at something during your first two or three decades in life, be it an encyclopedic knowledge of My Little Pony fandom or a doctorate in nuclear physics.

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Or both.

Chances are, the vast majority of that learning process doesn't feel like you're actually acquiring any new knowledge -- just reading up on stuff to pass tests and/or amuse yourself. But it all adds up, and one day, you'll find yourself so knowledgeable on a certain subject that you can discuss it without any of the panicked bullshittery and "oh shit, what was the name of that Avenger with the hammer again?" moments that usually accompany any conversation. You know shit now.

While this may not seem like an important adulthood achievement, it's actually pretty significant, as long as you refrain from becoming one of those dicks who stalk J.J. Abrams at conventions with a 101-point list of Star Wars questions/demands. See, here's the thing: Confidence is a hell of a drug, especially when you have the skills to back it up. It also happens to be a resource that helps you a lot in pretty much every stupid-ass adult thing you have to do, from filing your taxes to assuring your kids that the bogeyman doesn't exist despite the fact that you clearly just heard the closet door creak. Having that spare reserve of confidence will help you to no end, even if your expertise is just knowing the names of all the worst X-Men or how to churn out a breathless, 350-word dick joke barrage.

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The Moment You Start Seeing Patterns In Younger People

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Humans are tribal creatures. We have a natural inability to think of anyone outside our immediate circle as "real" people (see: the monkeysphere), and we have been known to lash out at those who belong in a different social or cultural group (see: every conflict in history). We all kinda sorta know this, yet the moment we start doing it ourselves often comes as a nasty shock. See, no matter how liberal and open-minded you consider yourself, there's one specific group each and every one of us starts to look down on at a certain point in our lives:

Those damn kids.

"Oh, come on, Pauli, you giant box of farts," you're probably thinking right now. "That's not a sign of adulthood. Everyone has been looking down on younger people since they were 2. Besides, you're in no position to preach -- I've seen you make fun of 12-year-old online players 11,000 times this week alone." This is correct, because I'm a horrible human being! However, it's also not what I'm talking about here at all. I'm talking about the real thing: a podium place in the "get off my lawn" Olympics.

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"I don't even have a lawn. I blame today's kids."

Let's illustrate the point with pop music as our example. Right now, you might laugh at whatever the kids have been listening to since they figured out Justin Bieber is not exactly the worthiest idol (they ... they've figured that out by now, r-right?). But with time, you'll see the cycle of teen idols over and over again and suddenly recognize the pattern. There's no point getting angry about some individual squeaky-voiced fucker and their autotune, because there's always a new one waiting in line until the sun implodes.

This applies to everything: Pay a little attention and you'll learn how the news cycle works. You'll learn to anticipate the type of poop presidential candidates hurl at each other as the election unfolds. You'll see every wrestling storyline of your youth recycled seven times over. It's all patterns, and with sufficient experience there's a point where you discover you can pretty much anticipate, among other things, what Generic Young Person X will do in Generic Situation Y. And that can be dangerous, because learning the world's ropes a bit doesn't give you the superpower to always know what everyone thinks. At all.

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"Dicks. Everyone thinks about dicks."

The thing is, this is very hard to keep in mind in a world where news sites constantly tease our "I knew it" boners with reactionary horseshit about stupid young people doing stupid young people crap. You can (and, in my opinion, should) try to keep your newly acquired skill of understanding stuff a little bit better to yourself and use it to shake your head and move silently along when the next Reddit freak-out or whatever comes around. But a far easier route is to ignore every single political, social, financial, and environmental aspect that influences the world around us and assume that your flimsy pattern-recognition skills mean you now know everything about everyone younger than you. If you walk down that road, congratulations! It'll end in a rickety rocking chair labeled "Reserved for the 'Kids These Days' fucker."

Oh, you know who I'm talking about. You know tons of these guys, and they're the reason you think older people suck. They misread the cycles they went through growing up as the original ones and assume everything that has happened since then is merely an inferior rehash of their spin on the wheel. That, friends, is the attitude that gave us the Baby Boomers' classic "When I was your age ..." complaint. Generation X currently has the microphone, and damn if we're not indulging in more than our share of bashing millennials and whatever the latest generation is called. Generation Z? Hahaha, fucking really, people who name these things?

I'm very much wrestling with this shit myself, and if I'm being honest, I'm not sure I can avoid that "angry old person" scenario. Still, just being aware that we'll all one day reach that point might help us on our quest to not become total assholes. So ... uh, now that we're aware, let's make a pact: You'll try to avoid turning into one, and I'll promise to do the same. Cool? Cool.

Now, get off my goddamn lawn.

Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked weekly columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.

Cracked's done a lot of growing up over the years. See how John Cheese entered adulthood after deciding not to break everything around him when you read 5 Changing Perspectives That Show You've Become An Adult. And check out Dan O'Brien's much nerdier entrance into adulthood when he started following stocks in 4 Signs Of Adulthood For Reluctant Grown Ups.

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