Is This What You Thought Adulthood Would Be Like?


I'm not quite sure it is

by Liz Moorhead, Editor, Ask APW

hand holding a cup of tea

This is a sort of surreal week for me.

For starters, the puke. There’s a lot of it. I’ve got three kids, all with a stomach virus right now (’tis the season). My kids aren’t good at sharing, until we’re talking about germs. Then suddenly one is sick, they’re all sick, everybody is sick, and we have no more towels.

But, also, yesterday was my husband’s first day as a permanent employee. Let me rephrase: yesterday was my husband’s first day as a permanent employee in seven years. After one fateful layoff, for seven years now, we’ve been skating by on side gigs and scraps, freelancing and personal projects. Even writing for a pretty awesome, well-paying blog (ahem), there are still five mouths to feed. Five is a lot of mouths. We used the very last of our food stamps this week, with so much hope that they’ll be the last we ever need.

If you’d have asked young, fresh-from-college me what adulthood would be like, I wouldn’t have guessed any of the above—the pile of kids, the delayed career path, the financial struggle, or even the vomit. This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I was wrapping up my Master’s thesis, or when we plotted out a five-year plan for babies (quick math: that means we’d maybe be on our first one). I thought we’d have a few more bucks and a few less kids. At the very least, I thought I’d have learned how to do my eyebrows by now.

It feels a bit like we’re still figuring everything out, when I expected this part of life to be both more stoutly settled and more glittery with possibility. And it’s fine, really, it’s fine. These boys are three of the brightest parts of my day (just try and stop me from putting their chubby faces all over Instagram). I’ve stumbled into doing some work that I truly love. I’ve managed to spend years huddled inside with my husband, both of us working from home together all day. A lot of it has been really great. But it for sure wasn’t what I expected.

Anyone else find adulthood to be a little less clearcut? Did you find yourself on a path you totally didn’t see coming?

Liz Moorhead

Liz is an illustrator and writer who paints custom stationery and types up impassioned opinions about weddings, etiquette, feminism and motherhood (usually while shaking a fist and mumbling expletives around mouthfuls of cheese fries). Her spare time is spent sipping bourbon with her husband and playing Don’t Throw That in the Toilet with her sons.

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  • Laura C

    I don’t remember having a vision of adulthood for a lot of my teens, because I couldn’t imagine living that long. Depression was a symptom of my undiagnosed celiac disease — combine that with general teen misery, and I just didn’t see it. Then I got a little vision forward, a hobby I could imagine still doing as an adult, with people I’d just met and could see still being friends with decades in the future. (I still do the hobby, and the people are mostly still my friends.) But I didn’t have any kind of complete “this is what my life will be like.”

    I still don’t look very far ahead. My outlook and my plans have changed too many times to feel like thinking I know how things will be is a useful pursuit. I’ve come to feel like baby fingernails are representative of life. It always feels like an accomplishment to get them cut, but they still need to be cut again a few days later, and it’s never going to stop.

    • Violet

      I never had a view of what my life would look like, either. People would ask, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and I’d just kind of have a stock answer ready that I didn’t really believe, anyway. I’m still the same way. I’ve had too many life experiences that upended any previous guesses at my future, so I don’t even really try to bother now. I don’t live one day at a time, but I don’t usually project my life out past our next apartment lease expiration, if you know what I mean.

      • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

        Oh, god, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Always hated that question.

    • Jess

      I’ve never heard anybody else articulate the exact thought I’ve had my whole life. “I don’t remember having a vision of adulthood for a lot of my teens, because I couldn’t imagine living that long” I always feel a bit melodramatic, but it’s the deepest truth.

      I mean, I knew what adulthood meant in general (work, paying taxes, paying to live somewhere, paying to eat, working some more, maybe falling in love and having a resentful marriage, maybe having ungrateful kids – thanks for the realistic description parents!).

      But specifically for my life? At 13, I was pretty sure it would be over by 18. Then 20. Then 25. Now I’m almost 30 and… still not dead.

      I don’t know what my life will be, or even really what I want it to be, but I keep going on… working, paying for things, falling in love and trying really hard to make sure resentment doesn’t build up in my marriage, and maybe trying to have kids someday (who I’m sure would be ungrateful no matter what I do, but I’m hoping to be kinder about that than my mom).

      • Lisa

        Ok, I thought it was just me, too! I had a difficult time picturing a future as a teen, and I’ve not been 100% committed to most ideas I’ve had in adulthood. I’ve figured I’d eventually have kids, but it’s hard for me to imagine what that would even look like.

  • Roselyne

    I feel you. I feel you so hard.

    This morning: I caught my daughter’s cold. My throat hurts, my voice is hoarse, I have chills, all my joints hurt, and I’m 30 weeks pregnant (so all my joints were hurting to START with). Where am I? At work.

    Why am I at work? Because, with me 30 weeks pregnant, we just found out that my husband is getting laid off 2nd week of January. And I’m out of sick days. Who can afford to take a sick day? Not me, not unless I’m actually not functional.

    I thought adulthood would be easier. This sucks.

    • Em

      Ooof. That is hard. Nothing helpful to say, just lots of sympathy.

    • Lisa

      That sounds so rough. Sending lots of good thoughts your way.

    • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

      That super sucks.

    • Roselyne

      Thanks for the sympathy! Seriously, we’ll be ok – we’re in a place with good unemployement and maternity leave, we live systematically below our means (which is why, while we may not have savings, we just paid off all our debt, so we’re starting in a not-bad place), etc. And if my husband is gonna spend a few months collecting unemployement, doing that while at home with a newborn and toddler ain’t a bad timing. We could be in a WAY worse spot.

      But let’s say the original post hit the nerve of ‘I feel like crap and ADULTHOOD SUCKS’.

  • Erica G

    So many of us are living lives we never imagined because it is so different from what we were told it would be like. Though we are surviving! Just have to keep kicking ass and taking names!

  • TrueGrit

    I mostly just didn’t imagine how tired I’d be all the time. And I don’t even have kids. So kudos to all of you who do and are still surviving.

    • joanna b.n.

      This, 3,000 times this. How is it that working 40 hours a week is so damn tiring?

  • Violet

    Nearing a milestone birthday, I really appreciate this thread. I didn’t ever have a vision for what my adulthood would look like (failure of imagination, I guess). But I did have an idea for what it would *feel* like. Namely, that adults sort of knew and could do… everything. Now I realize that’s not true at all. The days where I feel like I’m only play-acting at being an adult have largely passed. But it’s still there when I stop and realize I am the exact same person who used to run around the backyard acting out Disney movies with her sister, just now that person does things like pays bills and saves for retirement (and gets brunch with her sister). It’s weird. I try not to get down on myself that I don’t do certain things that I used to closely associate with adulthood (cooking my own meals on the regular, for example). Obviously there’s no more one version of being an adult than there is only one version to live in general. But knowing I can’t do certain things makes me feel less of an adult, sometimes. It’s that feeling of competency I thought I’d have that I find unsettling to be living without.

  • Mary Jo TC

    When I was younger I alternated between thinking my adult life would be exactly like my mom’s, and that it would be this glamorous world of freedom and excitement. The reality has turned out to be somewhere in the middle, but definitely not glamorous. When she was my age, my mom had 3 kids under age 4 and was pregnant with her 4th. She was a stay-at-home mom and they were barely making it financially. So I definitely have more freedom than she did, since I work and I only have 2 kids. I think my husband and I are in a better place financially than my parents were (but not better than his). My visions of a glamorous life were of me teaching at the college level, getting cocktails with friends more than weekly, rocking an awesome wardrobe and being effortlessly beautiful all the time. I imagined me married, but with no kids (yet?) because I couldn’t imagine having kids without being exactly like my mom, and I didn’t want that. In reality, I teach at the high school level (because it pays better than college and because I couldn’t hack it) and I rarely see my friends, and my clothes and hair are usually a mess. My husband is more helpful and involved than I remember my dad being. I guess it’s a mixed bag.

    • Lisa

      I mentioned below that I didn’t ever picture how exactly my life would turn out, but I also alternated between these same two scripts because one was what I knew (stay-at-home mom with a couple of kids by 30) and one was the complete opposite (glamorous career and lifestyle). I think my life is all right most of the time, but it’s nothing like either of the scripts I doled out.

  • Liz

    I hear you. I’m turning 30 in two weeks and I am still trying to jump start my career. There’s so much I naively thought I’d have accomplished or be on my way towards accomplishing by now.

  • Amy March

    I’d say I’m surprised by adulthood in kind of the opposite way to Liz. I expected a husband and a pile of kids and a place in the suburbs. I got a great job, an urban life, fantastic friends, and a taste of glitz. I like it well enough but it is not at all what I expected.

    • G.

      I didn’t quite imagine the house in the suburbs with a pile of kids, but I didn’t think I’d be single at 36 and so frustrated by it (I mean, the frustration ebbs and flows, but it’s often bad in the leadup to New Years).

      • CII

        Oh New Year’s. My least favorite holiday.

        • G.

          Seriously. Right now I’m pretty chill about being alone and just hanging out, but I may or may not feel the same way on Dec 31…

    • A single sarah

      For me, this starts my thoughts going down a road of comparing with other friends. With one trio in particular, I was the one who was going to have the conventional marriage and kids first. The other friends would be world travelers with amazing affairs that lasted for as long as each adventure. As of this year, they’re both married and parenting. I’m the one still dating. It’s not what any of us expected; and that’s okay.

    • sofar

      I was always terrified of adulthood growing up and therefore never really thought about it or planned much.

      And now that I’m an adult, I realize adulthood all just boils down to being in control of my destiny and making my own choices (and, of course, dealing with the consequences). That’s it. All those things I thought I “had to do,” I don’t have to do if I don’t want.

    • JSK

      Same. Senior year of HS our English teacher asked us to describe our life at 25 in an essay and I said I’d be a married accountant with a master’s degree and 2 kids (or 1 and 1 one the way). I assumed me and my family would live nearby my hometown.

      I dropped accounting as my major very early on in college and saw no reason to continue my education beyond the BS. I moved 1,000 miles from my hometown and surprisingly rooted there. I never seriously dated until my late 20s and married at 34. And I’m 38 with a 6 month old child. So…yeah, I had no clue.

      At least now if someone asked me “where will you be by 45,” I know enough to say “No fucking idea.”

    • justme

      I’m with you. I’m more successful than I ever planned to be. Have more money than I ever planned to. But no kids yet, no house yet (and live somewhere where I’ll probably never be able to afford one!) , don’t know my neighbors, and am far from my family. I always imagined a simple family-filled middle-class life with picket fences and what not. Not black tie dinners and trips to Europe with no kids or extended family. I tried life the way I imagined and I was miserable, but I still wonder if I’m doing it wrong.

  • Sara

    As a teen, I was bad at being a teen. I wasn’t confident in anything, I was scared of most social situations involving boys and I was constantly paranoid that I was going to fail out of school (spoiler alert, I was pretty good at school. Unfounded paranoia). I always thought to myself that I was going to be better at being an adult, and if I could just make it past the school part, I’d be ok.
    As an adult, I was sort of right – I’m good at being an adult in general. I’m way more confident in myself. But I’ve gone 30 years without a serious relationship, and I’d always thought that I’d be married and have a few kids by now. The nice thing about being older though is that the goal lines move, and there’s less structure so I feel like I can breathe. In school everyone had the same milestones to hit at the same time – driving, graduation, drinking age. Now its looser and more choose-your-own-adventure.

    • stephanie

      “Now its looser and more choose-your-own-adventure.” I super relate to this. I was very awkward and strange as a teen, and I feel like I have grown into myself as an adult. Being able to loosen expectations, goals, and milestones has definitely been part of that journey.

      • Brooke

        One of the biggest (and also toughest) pills for me to swallow is that milestones don’t have to happen in a particular order. I may be one of my only friends not currently in a graduate program, but I am also one of the only people getting married soon. In 5 years, this could completely flip-flop. Knowing what is the right path for you takes time (and a lot of exploration) but it is so important to become confident in your choices, even when they aren’t what all of your peers are doing.

    • G.

      I was also a kid who figured I’d be better at being an adult, and I was pretty correct about that. But I also thought I’d be partnered — in my early 20s, I had this idea that I’d meet my life partner at age 27 and get married at 30 (why, I have no idea). This didn’t happen. I’m 36 and single and have been single most of my adult life. There’s a lot I like about the “choose your own adventure” dimension of adulthood, but I also find myself weary of needing to explain that to the well-meaning but immensely aggravating queries about my unpartnered status, lack of a secure job (I’m an academic, no TT position yet…), my moving around (see: academic), etc. All things considered, I think I handle it pretty well, but I find the world around me does not always and that can be hard.

      • idkmybffjill

        I find questions about being unpartnered so immensely confusing. How is one supposed to answer that?

        • G.

          I would love to know myself :) Somehow, “I haven’t found the right person” is not the right answer, and I’m like, “well, do you have a better one?” I think they thinking I’m not trying hard enough (cue my mom’s friend who told her I needed to “be less intellectual and more social” as if they’re diametrically opposed). To which there is no good answer.

          • idkmybffjill

            I guess it comes down to differing views on how ones finds a partner. I am firmly in the “finding someone is 99% luck” camp.

            I know some people just can’t quite square the idea of someone fantastic not having met someone equally fantastic, but it’s so crazy to me because I can’t imagine viewing relationships as anything other than the luck of finding someone + the work or keeping the relationship together (a two person job).

            Just what answer are they expecting? “Oh I have met someone, thanks for mentioning it!”, “What advice do YOU have for me?”… I just can’t see what could possibly be the answer they’re hoping for.

          • BSM

            Of course it’s luck! What else would it be? Destiny?

          • idkmybffjill

            There are some who think that it’s… merit based. I won’t get into it further because I think that’s really ridiculous.

          • BSM

            Wow, sorry for my obtuseness. That is one of the most ridiculous things I’ve ever heard.

          • idkmybffjill

            Ha! Always my reaction as well.

          • Sara

            Ugh I feel that so hard. I get so many ‘have you tried…” questions. YES! Didn’t work. Leave me alone.

          • idkmybffjill

            I just… Do they think you’re going to say, “You know what, I haven’t! What should I try?”

          • Sara

            I love those ‘fixer’ type of people (and I am one), but seriously, did you think I haven’t heard of online dating by this point?

          • idkmybffjill

            Totally. I’m one too. But I feel like…. particularly on this subject, my opinion is literally only relevant if someone says to me – “I am not sure how to go about meeting someone, do you have recommendations?”. Otherwise – what the hell.

          • G.

            Seriously. And especially when people who are, uh, older like to recommend online dating as if it’s new (it is to them, maybe?).

          • idkmybffjill

            Also: “be less intellectual and more social”

            A) they are obviously not diametrically opposed but
            B) “Has she tried changing her personality?”

            What is that. What. Why.
            I’m sorry about people, dude.

          • G.

            Yeah. I’ve mostly moved beyond it, but every so often my ire flares up again. And yes to the luck — but few people like to hear that, I think b/c many don’t want to acknowledge that luck played a role for them and they just as easily could have been unlucky. That’s my armchair (err, deskchair) analysis of the resistance to the luck element.

          • idkmybffjill

            “I think b/c many don’t want to acknowledge that luck played a role for them and they just as easily could have been unlucky.”

            Totally agree.

          • JC

            “I needed to ‘be less intellectual and more social'” was the motto of my teenage years, and they did not work out well.

          • G.

            Yes, one good thing about being an adult is being able to know and say, “this is who I am, an introverted intellectual sort, who actually likes being social but not as much as some other people and not in huge groups I don’t know.” It is what it is.

          • JC

            This is an excellent description of me, and presumably you too. Internet high fives.

      • CMT

        Ha, I thought up until my early 20’s that I’d meet somebody in college or shortly thereafter, be married by 27, and have kids by 30. That has most definitely not happened. And I’m not upset about it. I wonder why young-me was so sure that’s how it would work out.

  • PAJane aka Awesome Tits

    Adulthood maybe isn’t what I pictured, but I know who I am, I like who I am, and I apologize for it a whole lot less. As a kid I was shy and a bit of a loner, not because I wanted to be, but because I lacked confidence and kept making friends with people who moved away a few years later. Now I have a few excellent friends in addition to a pretty wide social circle I can rely on, and I don’t feel lonely, even when I’m alone. Twice now I’ve moved to a place where I knew nobody, and both times I thrived. At some point after college I ran into a lady I knew in high school, and she noted that now I look straight forward, instead of at my feet. I don’t always know what I’m doing, the way I assumed adults always do, but I’m a hell of a lot more confident.

    • Her Lindsayship

      In many ways this has been my experience too. I think I had a vaguely positive view of what my adulthood would be like, but not many specifics. But I know that I’m way more comfortable in my own skin now than I once was, and I’m always learning.

    • Danielle

      Your comment reminds me of the song “In My Mind,” by Amanda Palmer: “It’s funny I imagined / That I would be that person now … And maybe it’s funniest of all / To think I’ll die before I actually see / That I am exactly the person that I want to be.”

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9WZtxRWieM (Please excuse ad in the beginning.)

      • Sarah McD

        This is my FAVORITE Amanda Palmer song! It’s so good!

        • Danielle

          It really is! I often want to cry (in a good way) when hearing it.

  • MrsRalphWaldo

    I somehow thought everything would be easier. That I’d just be able to get a good job and have all the things I want instantly. If you work hard enough, you get things right? I’ve managed to stumble into a well paying job and married an amazing man, but everything is just so difficult all the time. I thought I would be better traveled and have a yard by now. Not so much.

  • idkmybffjill

    I think lately I’ve been experiencing a reckoning that adulthood is NOW. We got married in October and are looking to buy a house and I’m suddenly having lots of moments of like WHOA. All good things, all things I pictured, but seemed somehow like they would be eternally in the future and now they’re not. It’s a trip.

    • MC

      This is exactly where I am. We got married and then 14 months after that we put an offer on a house, and I kept feeling like, this is too soon!! Not because I didn’t want those things, but just because I hadn’t really imagined they would happen in a concrete way, like you said. Definitely a trip. (Happy to report a year into homeownership that it is great!!)

    • Brooke

      I think about this a lot, especially whenever couples (my own coupling included) make comments about how they “can’t wait for our lives together”…but the reality is, those lives – adult lives – ARE happening together already. It’s absolutely a trip. We are getting married in 2.5 months and sometimes I have to take a step back and think about how our adult lives are truly forming and the fact that they are progressing, whether we consider ourselves “true” adults or not.

      • idkmybffjill

        Yes!! Something big for me during the holidays this year has been this really intense sense of, “we need to start traditions.” Growing up at my mom’s house we didn’t really have them and it’s important to me, so I figure better start now before we have kiddos and forget to, lol.

    • Gaby

      Yeah, buying our house was the big one for us. I pictured myself living in tiny apartments for many years and was so shocked that we could afford a decent house so early into our careers. Attaining the house was what finalized feelings that we were ready for marriage but I still feel waves of shock sometimes. How am I a married homeowner already?

      • idkmybffjill

        Yup. Introducing “my husband” or being introduced as “my wife” is so bizarre. AM I OLD ENOUGH TO BE A WIFE. Lol

        • Gaby

          I have been actively trying to normalize it for myself lol. Like texts that say “Your wife did something real dumb just now.”

          • idkmybffjill

            hahaha great idea!

    • JC

      Yes, very much so. We’re not married, but it’s not because we’re too young, it’s because we’re adults who don’t want to get married yet. We don’t own a house because our careers and lives are in an area with really high costs of living, but we’re still living. We have careers and lives. It’s pretty great.

  • Rachel

    I turn 30 tomorrow (gulp…) and overall, adulthood is nothing like what I expected, and for the most part, that’s a very positive thing.

    Although I always had non-traditional role models growing up, I still always believed that adulthood would mean marriage and babies and a house in the suburbs. And I can never remember a point in my life where that thought didn’t fill me with dread. Yet somehow, it wasn’t until I was in my mid-20s and married that I realized that my life didn’t have to look like that, and that my feeling of dread might be trying to tell me that.

    The marriage part has been wonderful, and I’m so, so grateful every single day that I became sufficiently self-aware of my other options BEFORE I took the plunge and had kids or bought a house. I will celebrate my 30th birthday tomorrow with my wonderful husband and two adorable cats, in our tiny-but-cute 480 square foot apartment in an urban neighbourhood, with no kids at our feet. And an even bigger deal, the increasing confidence to make the decision that no kids is likely how we’re going to stay. And for the first time in my life, that oppressive dread I felt whenever I thought about the future is fading. The anxiety attacks I used to have at baby showers have subsided. Overall, 30 looks so different, and so much better, than I expected.

    Of course, there’s usually a but. I started to get sick when I was 20. Now as I round the corner to my 30th birthday, my medical team has established that I likely have an inherited connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. I am degenerating, and already looking for part-time work to replace my current full-time job. I am unlikely to have a conventional career, as I don’t have the physical capacity or energy for it, so that’s been a real identity shift for my type-A ambitious personality. And of course, dealing with chronic illness in young adulthood (or at any age, really) is a big deal. So that’s a big part of my life right now.

    But overall? Adulthood is nothing like what I expected and that’s a wonderful thing.

    • Rebekah

      (Happy birthday!)

    • CMT

      Happy birthday!

  • LadyMe

    I dreaded adulthood. I put off getting my driver’s license for example, because I did not want the responsibility of running errands. I didn’t want bills and taxes and shopping and cleaning and no regular vacations. And now that I’m here (somewhat), it’s less dreadful than I was expecting, and I’m better at it than I thought I would be, but I still hardcore miss having a full week off at regular intervals and it’s crazy how fast time moves now.

  • emmers

    Adulthood is very different from what I originally thought. As a kid I imagined that if we have kids, I’d be a stay at home mom. We have no kids, but I plan to continue working at an out-of-house job if we do. I’m surprised by how important my career has become to me. I’m also in an odd situation where my husband has a lot of business acumen, and though we’re not there yet, we’ll probably eventually have a fair bit of money. Thinking of how to eventually use that for good, also mixed with a healthy bit of feeling uncomfortable about it since it’s not going to come from my own skills, is really odd. And there’s also still a nagging un-acceptance, where I think about how scrappy I had to be in my 20s, and all the crappy apartments, meatless meals, and even spoilt milk I drank… and hoping that if we lost it all, I could still do that and make it.

  • Jennifer

    This thread is so relevant to what I’ve been feeling in the past year. This sounds so dumb, and so I’ve been having trouble talking about it to friends, but I’ve been really struggling with realizing how…ordinary I am. I’m almost 30, married an amazing man, career is struggling to launch (even after a Master’s, sigh). But my vision for myself was much more amazing, saving the world, making an IMPACT (in all caps, always), leaving a legacy, being remembered, etc etc. And like, I guess that could still happen, but probably not. I’m more ambitious than average which both helps and hurts. But, I feel like I was fed all this “do what you love and change the world” crap for my whole life, and now I’m honest to goodness really struggling to come to terms and enjoy the fact that I have been, and will likely continue to, lead a pretty average life. I know all that “you’ll make an impact on those closest to you” stuff, but it for some reason doesn’t help. Please help.

    • Amy March

      Why have you concluded, at not even 30, that you probably won’t leave a legacy or make a difference? You’ve got, potentially, 60 years to go. Lots of people didn’t start doing whatever it was that got them known until much later in life!

      • Jennifer

        I know! I know that intellectually. But I think it’s just the fear of going through life and not getting there. Because realistically, I won’t, because the vast majority of people do not. And that’s the part I struggle with.

        I’m also super goal-oriented and like to work backwards, so this whole “moving through one step at a time thing” honestly is difficult for me when I don’t know what the end point is supposed to be!

        • Amy March

          Just look at Tim Gunn’s example. He was pretty set on just being a professor until he stumbled into global fame. I really believe that new chapters start for people all the time.

          • LadyMe

            I really like this comic about how each person (on average) has 11 lifetimes: http://www.smbc-comics.com/?id=2722

          • Jennifer

            OMG this is incredible. Thank you so much for sharing this. A part of this struggle is thinking that I’d need to spend my whole life doing one thing to be a master of it and therefore make an impact with that skill and….I am a Renaissance Woman through and through. This comic really spoke to me, and called out the self-defeating nature of trying to stick to one thing. Thank you.

          • idkmybffjill

            MAN Renaissance Woman, that is exactly the sort of person I feel like. Thank you for articulating that! What a great conversation.

          • LadyMe

            You may also like the book The Medici Effect by Frans Johansson. It’s about innovation comes at the intersection between diverse disciplines, bringing ideas between fields without necessarily having mastery in the discipline. I think it complements the idea of a Renaissance Woman.

          • Jennifer

            Thank you! I’ll check that out as well. The book nerd in me is loving this.

          • idkmybffjill

            Commenting again cause this has been eye opening. I wonder if that Renaissance Woman effect has been sort of a source of some of the “ordinary”ness I’ve felt in adulthood (wonderfully ordinary, but ordinary).

            It’s like… I don’t necessarily feel like my skill set adds up to a career and I’m not always sure what to do about that? In talking with my parents though, it’s been sort of eye opening lately to realize that it isn’t like my dad really dreamed of being a developer. Things just sort of added up in alot of directions. I guess sometimes I’m just still waiting for the role where the things add up? Or maybe I’ll just have a happy life with lots of interests!

          • Jennifer

            “It’s like… I don’t necessarily feel like my skill set adds up to a career and I’m not always sure what to do about that? … I guess sometimes I’m just still waiting for the role where the things add up? ” Yup, sounds exactly like where I am at right now. But now that comic has gotten me thinking that I don’t need a role for all things, I can just switch it up every 7 years! Because hey, if Millennials are going to get the bad rap of switching jobs too often, I’m definitely going to ride that wave too.

          • Sara

            Yes! I constantly try to add up my strengths and try to figure out what career that would fit. The ones I come up with aren’t ones I would want. But I guess that’s not really the way most people find jobs!

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes! And mine don’t all necessarily… make a job? I speak Spanish & French. I have a BFA in Acting. I do handlettering on the side. I’m weirdly pretty good at analytics. Very organized. Have worked in finance for my adult life. What does that add up to?
            ¯_(ツ)_/¯

            I think I also have in my head the idea of careers as like, “Lawyer” “Doctor”, which….. careers aren’t actually all like that! I’ve lately been trying to focus on… what adds up to my ideal job in terms of… what is a day like at the job? As opposed to, am I supremely interested in the industry. It’s a real reset. I wonder if maybe because my undergrad was exclusively focused on one thing, I just never totally learned that not everyone is following a set path. Like, I don’t have to be really super interested in finance to do well in the industry.

          • Lisa

            Yes to the last part. I’m putting together ideas of what I have and have not liked in the jobs I’ve had and trying to come up with a career that involves those instead of imagining dream jobs that could never utilize all of my skills. I’ve also been trying to accept that maybe I should just focus on earning money for the sake of it (as long as the job isn’t soul-crushing) and pursuing other interests on the side. Maybe my job doesn’t need to life-affirming and can just be work.

          • idkmybffjill

            Absolutely. The money thing is one of the most complicated factors for me. While my job level doesn’t sound very high (Executive Assistant), I outearn some of my friends who are corporate attorneys because of my field/the company I work for. So half the time my struggle when I go “back to the drawing board” is realizing that it would be a significant pay cut. It’s tricky!

          • Meredith Rogers

            This is what gets me the most. I like my work but I’d like to try something else- something totally different. (Un)Fortunately I work in a lucrative industry as an engineer so basically anything else will involve a massive pay cut, and considering I live in one of the most expensive cities in the US, well, that doesn’t sit very well with me. Plus I like my standard of living. Tricky, indeed.

          • idkmybffjill

            Same re: city and standard of living. For many of the career changes I’ve considered, I’m not sure the benefits of really loving the work outweigh the changes in my quality of life. I’m also married, so I’m not the only person those decisions impact.

          • Vanessa

            Also the realization that liking the people you work with is sometimes more important than doing amazing world-changing work. I could do just about anything all day if I had the right coworkers.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes! That’s such an important factor. For me, I don’t really care if I like a single one of my coworkers as long as they’re good at their jobs/we work well together.Hell for me would be working with really incompetent people that I love.

          • lamarsh

            Any time a law student asks me for advice about how to pick a law firm, this is the first thing I say. Turns out, you can be doing exactly the type of work you dreamed about doing, but if you work with a bunch of jerks, it’s going to be terrible.

          • Vanessa

            So glad to hear someone is telling law students that – it also gives me aftershock shudders from the awful firms I worked at before realizing hey, I can do other things with this degree!

          • lamarsh

            I lucked into a big law firm that had really nice people and I am so grateful for that. I briefly worked for one partner who was incredibly awful and wow, did that open my eyes to how bad it could have been.

          • Gaby

            This has been the most surprising aspect of adulthood for me. Even 4 years ago I thought I would be much more ambitious and at least pursuing a masters. As a social worker, I always pictured myself working in a non-profit and climbing the chain of command there. Instead, I’ve found a comfortable social work with the state and my priorities match up with this position more than with those dreams. I like having clear boundaries and not carrying work home with me, and getting paid adequately (something many non-profits can’t promise).This might change again in another 4 years, but right now I’m really valuing the time and financial security this job affords me to travel and be with my loved ones.

          • LadyMe

            Switching from thinking of careers in a block as “Doctor” or “Lawyer” to the weirdly specific things they actually are is still something I struggle with. And how many niches can exist in an industry.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes! Absolutely.

          • Kat

            This whole thread has me emotional because I RELATE! I told my boyfriend last night that I feel directionless because I don’t really know what I’m good at and I’m not very good at the things I enjoy.
            Like what am I doing? And as someone pointed out above, it’s hard to take risks if you aren’t financially stable, but how do i get financially stable when I’m miserable at my current ok-paying job.
            Ugh.
            Sorry for bringing more questions than answers

          • Liz

            Oh SMBC, is there anything you CAN’T do?

          • Ellie Rockhill

            HOLY CRAP that just blew my mind.

            Life 1: 11-18 –gaining independence from my folks, theater, writing
            Life 2: 18-25 –college/education, building relationships and learning about love, not really writing as much and very little theater, lots of exploring fitness.
            Life 3: 25-(present)-32 –newly divorced, living in a new city, writing grants for a living, building my own life independent of a husband and kids, paying off my debts from Life 2
            Life 4: 32-39 –motherhood and a new marriage? and hopefully… debt free!
            etc… unknown… <3

            Thank you so much for this. THANK you to whoever made that. I feel relieved just by reading that, like it's okay that my friendships from Lives 1 and 2 are gone/changed, like it's okay that my hobbies and interests aren't all exactly the same, that I'm changing. Oh man. :)

          • Lisa

            OT, but I had no idea Tim Gunn was a professor prior to his TV career! Everything makes so much sense now!

          • Lexipedia

            A couple of years ago I saw him speak at an awards ceremony for teachers in Washington, DC – where he grew up and first taught college. It was wonderful to hear him talk about how he got into teaching and what his students had meant to him.

          • JC

            My graduate professors all claim Tim Gunn as their pedagogical inspiration. This makes so much sense.

        • Cleo

          I feel you. I’m that way too. I have big goals and not reaching them (because so much isn’t in my control) would be soulrending. The way I get through is to try to focus on doing what I can do so the universe/other forces have the path of least resistance to putting me at the goal line.

          Also, 30 was a tough birthday for me and for most of my friends. It feels like the year you should have all your shit together, but then you realize you don’t, and it starts this mini-existential crisis (that’s been my/my friends’ experience at least). Know you’re not alone.

          And happy birthday!

      • LT

        Agreed; it’s why I always like talking to career changers when I’m struggling at work. When I was turning 30, I read Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson. She interviews 5 older women about their journey through life/career and presents the idea of life as an improvisation. I found it very reassuring/interesting and recommend it!

        • idkmybffjill

          Thank you for the recommendation! I’ll be snagging that book now.

          • Jennifer

            Me too!

            FWIW, the opening comment was my second post ever on APW. I normally just read the comments. I’m so glad I did today.

    • idkmybffjill

      God I feel you. I wonder if this is a uniquely millenial struggle (I’m 28, idk if we’re technically millenials?)… but I feel like my parents were so wonderful and supporting and so “reach for your dreams”, and I have a fantastic life – but it’s alot more practical than the one I was planning as a Broadway actress. It’s weird!

      • LP

        Last I heard, 1981 and on is a Millenial!

        • Amy March

          1983 baby here and I hardcore refuse that label.

          • Kara

            I’m with you! I’m not a Millennial. I’m also am ’83er.

          • Lisa

            I’m 1987. I really liked the description of the Oregon Trail generation.

          • idkmybffjill

            Oh yes, this is very fitting. I don’t typically definite myself as a Millenial because of the negative connotations. But lately I’ve been self identifying because I feel sort of like I need to? Every employer I’ve ever had has always made a comment like, “You absolutely do not read as a millenial.” Which they have meant as a compliment, but lately I’m like. Well, but technically I am and some of us are great? Ha

          • emmers

            I didn’t understand the negative millennial stereotypes, since I’m technically a millennial, and none of my friends are like that. But we recently took in a family member who embodies all of them. I can’t decide if it’s truly a thing where he would be like this, no matter when he was born, or if it’s something else. Because you’ll always have entitled people.

          • idkmybffjill

            Totally. I had a coworker who was a recent college grad who DEFINITELY embodied the millenial stereotype, and all I could think was, “Don’t you see what you’re doing to US”. But honestly, there are those people in every generation.

          • toomanybooks

            Yeah… I don’t think all of us spent our whole lives being told we were amazing. But if we did, who was making the choice to tell us we were amazing? Not millennials…

          • lamarsh

            YES. I recently saw a tweet that was like, Millennials are mocked for getting participation trophies, but Boomers were the ones who came up with the idea in the first place.

            Could not agree more.

          • emmers

            True dat. I’m convinced that part of this kid’s problem is that his dad hasn’t allowed him to fail. His dad has bought him multiple cars (!!), even after he’s totaled a few, and has also got him out of some tight legal jams. Kid certainly should shoulder some blame, but so do his mom & pops.

          • Kat

            I feel like…there are lazy entitled people in every generation ever? We just have social media so those people have a public platform to demonstrate it? All of my friends work their asses off and generally make WAY less than the generation before us and I just get real heated when people criticize millennials.

          • Jennifer

            Yes! Wow this fits so well. I’m 1988, so I don’t necessarily agree with the dates listed in the article, but this fits to a T.

          • Cellistec

            Love that article. I was a few years older (b 1983) at each milestone, but the childhood untouched by social media and the forays into AOL chat rooms ring true. A different label won’t end the pundit scapegoating of our cohort(s), but at least I relate to the Oregon Trail Generation.

          • Ditto! I’m a 1982 and I roll my eyes every time I’m lumped into the Millenial category.

          • Alanna Cartier

            I think every millennial rolls there eyes at being lumped in that category. Mostly because the common rhetoric is that millennials are all crap.

          • Gaby

            My brother is also 1982 and I can’t picture him as a millennial at all, but a person who I follow and look up to Franchesca Ramsey, is a year younger than him and seems 100% millennial to me. The difference to me is that he has a completely different relationship with technology than I do because of when we grew up. He had one computer course in late high school and still calls me for tech help often. But, you are his age and are probably much better with tech stuff, so it’s all very gray!

        • Rebekah

          I think I heard 1987-2001

          • A.

            I think if you can’t remember 9/11, you’re not a millennial!

          • Cellistec

            Ditto if you CAN remember Reagan’s first term.

      • Jennifer

        Yes, I think it is. I think the downside of being told you’re amazing your whole life (as people our age often were, and I was) is that when you become an adult and realize you’re basically just like everyone else, it’s really jarring and makes me sad. This is why I have had trouble talking about this with non-Internet friends. It sounds so…pathetic. “I’m learning that I’m not super amazing like everyone always told me I was, wah!” :(

        • idkmybffjill

          Haha yes! Totally. I don’t really feel sad necessarily, but sometimes I still feel like. Tomorrow I might become famous because surely that’s what is going to happen? Sounds really ridiculous to type out.

          • Jennifer

            Thank you so much for sharing your experience here; your comments showed me that you had a similar upbringing to me (based on how your parents encouraged you), and it really helps to know that I’m not alone in these thoughts. Thank you so much for acknowledging it’s ridiculous and also that it’s true.

            Also, I didn’t really read your username until just now, and when I did, I laughed loudly and also realized that we are most DEFINITELY from the same generation.

          • idkmybffjill

            Ha! Yay! This has been a great conversation, thank you for starting it!

          • JenniferToo

            You are not alone! I too have been struggling with the exact same feelings and thoughts and have a very similar sounding background.

            And to add to the similarities: I’m also a Jennifer :)

        • Gaby

          Right? I was told time and time again that I was very smart and an amazing writer as a kid. Now I follow these random people on tumblr with shared interests in social work and social justice and I’m constantly floored by the amount of critical thinking skills people have that I just… don’t. I enjoy reading about these things but I don’t feel like I have the mental capacity to break things down as well as these *actually* smart people with good writing skills do. And that makes me a bit sad but also appreciative that they’re out there to explain things for me, haha.

        • AP

          I realize I am way late to this post and comment thread, but I just had to chime in on this one. My husband and I have had this very conversation, specifically about the word “special.” When we were dating, we had a huge blowup because I said something along the lines of, “everyone’s special in their own way,” and he replied, “yeah, but some people are more special than others, because if everyone’s special, then no one is special.” What he was trying to say was that some people are better at things than others because they put in the work to get good at something, thus making them ‘more special’ in that area. But what I heard was, “I am special! Why won’t you acknowledge this?!” And I refused to say that he is in some way ‘more special’ than someone else, because to me special = valuable as a human being. We finally had to settle on, “you are the most special person *to me.*” It was a super weird fight. (And yes, he’s definitely the kid whose parents praised and encouraged to the point of overkill!)

      • stephanie

        I was born in 1985, and Millennial = anyone who came of age during the turn of the millennium. I think that younger people (like anyone born after 2001) will eventually have their own generational title they are defined by. We’ve been called millennials since I was at least 15… so.

        Having said that, I think millennials have a LOT going for us. We’re globally aware, we travel, we’re culturally rich, and by and large, we reject a lot of the oppression and bigotry of older generations. Not everyone, obviously, but I’m over the negative connotations that come with the term.

        • idkmybffjill

          Oh me too, I’m sorry if I implied there were negative connotations. I like myself and my peers.

          Mostly I was identifying that when my parents (boomers) were brought up, their parents really encouraged practical career paths. Practical majors, etc. My parents (and the parents of my peers) all encouraged our creative career path (I went to acting school). I personally have ended up in a rather practical career path (finance) that happens to suit me insanely well. But sometimes I still feel like…. I’ll probably be really famous one day (sort of joking, I literally don’t know what I’d be famous for) – and I kind of think it has to do with the culture of my upbringing.

      • Antonia

        I’m Gen X (b. 1978) and I totally relate to this. Think it may be more an upbringing thing than a generational thing? I didn’t send an e-mail until I was a 19 years old, but I still grew up surrounded by TV and movies.

      • Kat

        My mom legit told me “Maybe your dad told you you could be whatever makes you happiest ONE too many times” recently because I feel so strongly that I should be doing something I love and it’s made it really hard for me to do anything else without feeling despair.

        • idkmybffjill

          I’ve worked really hard to shift “doing something I love” to “having a job that I love” lately. Because they’re totally different and I feel like no one told me that! I HATED being an actress As A Job. I was technically good at it (college scholarship/was getting work), but I hated it so much and felt so poor and ultimately I didn’t love it enough to keep up the necessary hustle. I actually quite like my job now (Executive Assistant) even though I have less interest in the industry I’m working in, and that is not something I had ever really thought about until recently.

          • Kat

            That’s kind of where I’m at. I had a job I thought I’d LOVE and actually it was emotionally draining, financially unstable and took up all of my free time. So now I’m doing a job that is sufficient, pays the bills better, and allows me to have my weekends back. But I still feel like I’m just not challenged creatively, and like I’m just barely getting by under the competency radar. I don’t know what the answer is. I think it’s probably outside interests but to be honest I work until 8pm and after that I’m too exhausted and broke to put energy into other stuff.
            This all sounds so trivial when I read it back. I know I’m lucky to have a job AND a support system that picks up the slack while I figure it out. I don’t want to sound ungrateful and spoiled.

          • idkmybffjill

            Honestly – you shouldn’t feel bad about looking for a new job though. It’s not ungrateful to explore your options. Even if it’s doing the same job but getting home from work earlier/less exhausted so you DO have time for creative pursuits.

            RE: “I’m just barely getting by under the competency radar.”

            A really important part of job sastisfaction for me is feeling like I’m adding value. Perhaps this is what’s bothering you? For me, it manifests when I don’t feel like I’m being used to my maximum potential/I feel like I can add significantly more value than I’m able to in my current function. Sometimes I’m able to work with my managers in order to do more so I feel like I’m truly contributing. Sometimes I have to get a new job.

          • Kat

            You definitely just put into words something I’ve been struggling to identify! This actually helps a ton. It’s definitely easier to work towards a goal like “new job or find a way to feel like I’m adding value” rather than just “feel less directionless”. Thank you!!! Sometimes you just need an outside opinion.

    • Sara

      I have a similar feeling frequently. I thought I’d be this amazing creative person, making a mark somewhere. But lately my inspiration is lacking, my job is pretty dead end and I’m having a hard time carving ‘me’ time out of all the other things I want to get done. But I try to remind myself that 30 is young, and a lot of people needed to live life more to figure out where to direct their energy. Its hard though!

    • CMT

      I feel you *so hard*.

    • JLily

      Yep. I feel the same way, and while I still do hope to make an impact in my life, I think what I didn’t realize was just how hard adulthood is and how much there is to learn. Like, I grew up thinking, why are all these adult people so boring and selfish? They should be helping others and doing great things! Then the economy crashed and I graduated from college (’09) and there were no jobs to be found and I felt like I had to claw my way up just to SURVIVE. And I thought, this is the part of adulthood that I was missing. It seems easy when you’re a kid and you don’t know how expensive it is just to live and that stability doesn’t come easily. And you need some sort of stability in order to take risks and help save the world. So I think focusing on the incremental impacts that you can make could help. It helps me. There are many paths to doing amazing things but I think for most of us ordinary people it is a long, slow road (and that is ok).

      • Cleo

        “It seems easy when you’re a kid and you don’t know how expensive it is just to live and that stability doesn’t come easily.”

        Yes. I’ve been having a really hard time lately coming to grips with how I’m not as successful as I’d hoped I’d be by this age personally or professionally (just turned 32, just broke up with a long time boyfriend for very grown up, yet heartbreaking reasons, am making barely enough to scrape by on, and am not at a place in my career where I want to be).

        I was bemoaning my current circumstances over Thanksgiving break and when my mom told me she could relate, I nearly bit her head off – “you clearly were better off when you were my age.” My parents had me at 28 and I never felt like I didn’t get what I needed. She said that they actually weren’t, and asked if I remembered my dad going into the office every weekend (I did, he brought me sometimes)… it was for overtime. She reminded me of a lot of things about my childhood that were to pinch pennies. My mom sewed my Halloween costumes and she hates sewing. We would only go out to eat twice a month, if that. I didn’t get on a plane until I was 8 years old – road trip vacations every other year. And we’d go to Six Flags every year, but only because my Dad’s company had a family day there, so free tickets and free lunch. Apparently, they were just really good at hiding financial troubles.

        Ten years later, they were doing well enough that they were able to completely gut and remodel the kitchen without batting an eye and go to every one of their alma mater’s football games — home and away.

        It still feels like what is true now will be true forever, but at least I have a real life example that the money stuff can get easier…and I asked for a raise when I got back from Thanksgiving break. Personal life, as someone else said in the comments, is more about luck and timing. So hopefully I have some of that.

    • Ellie Rockhill

      My first thought is, do you know *how* you’d like to leave an IMPACT? What does the imprint of Jennifer look like, big picture? What about over the course of a decade? A year? What about day-to-day? I feel like some people can answer one way and not the other, which is why I’m asking both ways.

      Are you wanting to rewrite laws? Publish a kid’s book? Sponsor a child in India and go visit them in person? Build a house?

      I’d like to know what pre-master’s degree Jennifer thought IMPACT meant, and what tired, today-Jennifer would say too. <3

  • Christy

    My life is definitely different than I expected. For a time in college, I expected to become a theatrical carpenter and do the starving artist thing, moving around a fair bit and earning very little, doing summer stock and the like. I expected maybe I’d have a serious relationship, but it would end and I’d sleep around a lot.

    Instead, I work for the government in a very stable good job (better than I could have ever imagined), I live in an inner suburb an hour from my childhood home, and I’m married to my first girlfriend.

    It’s a good life, and I’m way happy with my choices, but it’s not quite what I had planned.

  • Jenny

    Adulthood both is and isn’t what I expected. When I was graduating from college my friends and I sat around the table at the local dive bar and someone asked where we thought we’d be in 5 years. I said I didn’t know, but that in 10 years I thought I’d be married with a kid and a job.

    I think that’s about right, the path that I took was totally different that I could have predicted, but at my 10 year reunion I was married, pregnant, and sort of with a job (PhD student). I think that’s largely been my experience, the details of adulthood are not what I would have thought (turns out there is never a time where you magically and seamlessly get dinner on the table, get to the gym, and always look put together), but a lot of the big picture stuff, responsibility, being taken seriously (more often), just knowing stuff (I used to marvel at the people and dates my parents just knew off the top of their heads) is sort of what I thought.

    Adulthood is in many ways a crushing relentless to do list, and I don’t think I really understood the never let up nature of it. But I also always thought that adulthood would be really high pressure, and I’ve been surprised by ways that it isn’t true.

    • flashphase

      “Adulthood is in many ways a crushing relentless to do list, and I don’t think I really understood the never let up nature of it.” Yup! And a series of surprise bills to pay :)

    • CP2011

      “Always look put together” — ugh this is my goal every year, to at least get a little closer to generally looking presentable in public, and yet my progress always seems so slow.

    • “Adulthood is in many ways a crushing relentless to do list, and I don’t think I really understood the never let up nature of it.” YES. OMG the lists never end!

  • Alanna Cartier

    My life is definitely different than I expected, but in a good way. I’m in my late 20’s, newly married. I have a good job where I get to work from home for the majority of every month. I have a nice large apartment with a big old table where I can hold dinner parties for all the fantastic people I know. My husband and I are both on the same page about not being sure we want kids ever. We’re in a good place.

    Young me always had big dreams of winning a nobel prize in literature. Older me realizes that, even if that doesn’t happen, I can still have a rich, full life. Also, older me realizes that in order to write my truth I’m going to have to wait until some of the involved parties aren’t around.

    • idkmybffjill

      “Older me realizes that, even if that doesn’t happen, I can still have a rich, full life.” – I think this is one of the most defining moments of my adult life. Realizing that I wasn’t going to be a famous actress but I was going to have a wonderful life.

    • Gaby

      Yes! Current me is relishing in dinner parties and board game nights in so hard right now. Like that alone makes my late 20’s such good surprise for younger me.

      • Alanna Cartier

        Um, can we be best friends? Those are my two most favourite things to do, and I do them all the time, and I want more people to cook for and play boardgames with!

        • Scalliwag

          I also adore dinner parties and board game nights, both hosting and attending, can I come too? :)

          • Alanna Cartier

            Yes. Done.

        • Gaby

          I’m sure you live nowhere near me, but yes please! Btw, we just tried out the game Secret Hitler this last weekend and I can’t recommend it enough. It’s all about keeping a poker face and reading your friends and I want to play it a dozen more times.

          • Alanna Cartier

            That sounds amazing! I love hidden identity/bluffing games.

            The new husband and I played Food Chain magnate this weekend and it is awesome.

      • Lisa

        These sound like my perfect night! I wish we had more friends in Badtown because dinner parties are my favorite.

        • Gaby

          We still haven’t gotten fully into frequent dinner parties but we’ve perfected board game nights. I definitely want to up the dinner party game though because they’re such a treat.

  • Jessica

    In the Spring I had lunch with my old college room mate. She has gone to a prestigous school for her PhD in nursing, loves her job, is dating an old-money guy who was interning at a fantastic law firm. I had just bought a house, had a dog and a job that, while challenging, I enjoyed.

    I used to dread not being special, but it’s OK with me now. I’d love to go back to that right now.

    A part of adulting that has come up recently is my husband’s downward spiral. I’m worried, scared and furious at him. I’ve had to activate my support network. I’ve had to admit that I need therapy. I’ve had to admit that I can’t help him until he wants to be helped. I have had to come to the realization that I don’t get to be the one who has a meltdown, because I’m the one who has to keep everything going–the dog needs to be fed, bills need to be paid, snow needs to be shoveled. It’s not ideal.

  • C

    Short answer: No, it’s not what I expected.

    Longer answer: There was more than one “right” choice. I would’ve done anything (and I tried everything) to marry my ex and end up with a bunch of biological kids and living in the suburbs. I was also happy with the idea of an urban life possibly without a partner and I was simultaneously 100% down with not having any kids.

    What actually happened: I’m good friends with my ex and his wife and kids. My spouse and I are hanging out with them later this week after I go on a date with my boyfriend. My spouse and I also bought a house (our first and only) a couple of months ago and I quit my perfect and terrible job a couple of months before that. I’ve been freelance editing and I have an interview at a non-profit today for a part-time job that would be pretty great so I’m crossing all my fingers and toes.

    And about that kids thing: We’ll probably adopt an older child in the next few years. Maybe by then my adopted self will have a good comeback for all the assholes who respond by immediately telling me that older kids have more problems.

    • lady brett

      <3 all of this. except the assholes.

    • Cellistec

      Now I’m going to spend the rest of the day thinking up good comebacks for those assholes too.

      • Vanessa

        Same. “I guess we’re not willing to write off older kids as hopeless and irredeemable.”

      • lildutchgrrl

        “I think we turn out all right with a lot of caring adult support.” (I hope that that’s true for you, C.)

        • Cellistec

          I was thinking more along snarky lines, TBH. ;) I’m not adopted myself, but I plan to adopt through the foster care system, which no one in my family has done before…dollars to doughnuts there are gonna be some awkward questions.

    • Mary Jo TC

      For me, it’s not assholes saying that older kids have problems, it’s assholes telling me I’m lucky I have 2 boys because girls are too much drama. Ugh.

      • OMG I’ve heard that so much especially from other women! UGH.

  • Alli

    At 23, I’m just diving into adulthood and I’m surprising myself in the process. FH and I just bought a house and we’re planning our wedding for next year. We’ve had a LOT of discussions about kids lately, which started because his dad was like “WHEN WILL I FINALLY GET A GRANDCHILD” and my immediate response was, whoa chill you have 10 already.

    Anyway, FH asked me (later, not in front of his dad) “We’ll probably have kids in like, 2 years right?” and I immediately said “UH IDK. how about 5?” After some talking we came to the conclusion that measuring our readiness in years is silly at this point, so we’re individually coming up with our Things We Want To Do Before Having Kids. Mostly our lists are travel related, I’m struggling to think of other things. Maybe have a certain amount of money saved up? Did anyone else make a list like this?

    • Ashlah

      Yep!

      -Pay off student loans
      -Start significant, automatic retirement savings
      -Travel (at least one road trip and one plane trip)
      -Life insurance
      -Savings in place for labor/delivery and parental leave
      -Have at least an idea of workplace leave policies and childcare plans
      -Take boudoir photos
      -Find husband a therapist
      -Finish some of our significant home improvement projects/buy better/more furniture

      Savings and home improvement are ongoing as we currently try to conceive. Having a list like that checked off definitely helped me feel more ready to take the plunge. And eventually we did decide on a timeline too, which motivated us to get through some of the remaining goals on the list.

    • Rebekah

      I think my husband had one, if unvoiced, in his head. We really should have been on the same page about timelines. We never fought about it, but it took a while to get to the point where we were both like, yeah, ok, we could do this and not feel like the world is ending. (no kids yet, no bun in the oven either).

    • emmers

      Our big thing was financial stability, and being able to afford childcare. That being said, life still throws things at you. Like, we have friends who just found out they’re having twins (!! childcare costs!!). And we’ve been trying to have kids, now that financially we’re stable, but it’s not happening so far. And definitely a good response to his dad– good grief!

    • Gaby

      Yes! We’ve only been married less than two months and something has triggered in both of us regarding babies. I have heard him make comments that bring down our set 2-3 year timeline down to 1 and I am also fighting off baby fever, it’s so weird. I keep reminding myself our list which includes 1. at least one big trip abroad, finally. 2. More savings 3.Possibly new cars that are paid off 4. experience being a married couple!
      but PS. I might steal Ashlah’s boudoir idea too.

      • Ashlah

        Do it, it’s the best!

  • Laura

    The hardest thing for me has been balancing the need to sacrifice now to reach my career goals with the desire to finally feel like I’m living life on my own terms. I’m 28, in year 5 of a Ph.D. program, and I’ve loved almost every minute of it. But it’s hard work, long days, no weekends, and a lot of sacrifice for a delayed future goal.

    My husband has a stable, well-paying job. He slogged his way through a master’s program that made him miserable and never again wants to sacrifice his day-to-day happiness for that kind of delayed goal. It’s just not worth it to him.

    If it weren’t for my Ph.D., we would have purchased a house by now. We would almost certainly have tried for a child by now. Even though those things are financially possible for us and we feel ready for them, it doesn’t make logistical sense given my current situation. I have to complete a predoctoral internship in a different state next year, which means my husband and I will be living apart. And then there’s a two-year postdoc in yet another location, followed by (hopefully!) an actual job.

    This is made that much more complicated by the fact that I go through a match process for both my internship AND my postdoc. So I apply to programs, interview, and then I rank them and they rank me. On one magic day in February, I wake up to an email telling me where in the country I’ll be moving for the next 12 months for internship. The process repeats the following year for postdoc. Not precisely family-friendly.

    • Amy March

      It’s almost like the system was designed for men with stay-at-home wives available to move all over the country with them all the time and no one in control of it has any interest in changing things to reflect the reality of women’s life cycles because they actually don’t care at all about gender diversity.

      • Katharine Parker

        One of the most depressing things I read recently about academia was how when they try to change things to be more family-friendly, they just get better for men. So being able to stop the tenure clock for a year if you have a child? Just gives men another year to publish, so men end up even more likely to achieve tenure while women are left behind.

        http://mobile.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/business/tenure-extension-policies-that-put-women-at-a-disadvantage.html

      • Laura

        Yep! And I’m in clinical psychology, which is actually a female-dominated profession and has made an explicit commitment to increasing diversity within the field. I mean, we’re the ones constantly telling our clients about self-care and work-life balance, so we do a better job than most academic fields in that regard.

        Yet men are the ones who tend to stay on the academic track, while women are more likely to go into clinical work for the stability, friendlier hours, and work-life balance.

        • Laura

          Also, I just got off the phone with a statistician with whom I’ve been collaborating. She fell all over herself apologizing for being gone the last two months on maternity leave (It’s fine! You birthed a human child! I understand if my manuscript has to wait for a few weeks!). Then she told me to contact her at any time, including on the holiday, because she won’t be taking any time because “That last few weeks were my Christmas break.”

          Um, you were on maternity leave. I’ve never had a child, but I’m pretty certain that is NOT the same as Christmas.

          • Katharine Parker

            Hearing about someone who felt so guilty over a 2 month maternity leave that she cancelled her own Christmas break makes me want to burn things. That is not how any of this is meant to work!

      • emmers

        I have a friend who has a PhD. She finished maybe 2 years ago. Since that time she’s adjuncted a little. She even had a cross-country, non-Phd-related job offer. But for now she’s staying at home with her kids, because at this point her husband’s career is established and location-specific, and what is supporting them. I know she deeply regrets her PhD, and I think part of that is because it didn’t work with her life cycle. She can’t just move at the drop of a hat– too many ties. It sucks, because she’s so smart and has worked so hard. ETA– though she’s definitely kicking ass at being a mom.

    • TrueGrit

      I’m 27-almost-28 and debating whether to START a PhD program. My partner is hoping to start one next fall. Reading this, just hearing you describe the logistics in writing as a person going through it, makes me take a step back. I can probably have a decent career with my masters. Will it really be worth it for both my partner and I both to juggle all these logistics in our mid-thirties? Do you think it has been worth it for you? We don’t want kids or anything, but stability for ourselves would be nice.. anyway, thanks for your perspective.

      • Katharine Parker

        I would say, as another person in a PhD program, that if it isn’t necessary for your field, it might not be worth pursuing. There are only a few careers where a PhD is truly necessary, and it’s a long and expensive investment, even when fully funded. It’s especially hard if you have the two-body problem.

        That said, 27/28 is a totally normal age to begin a program, and I love my work (although I’m not yet on the market, so talk to people who are, and to those who have been successful and unsuccessful for their perspectives!).

        • Katharine Parker

          Also, as practical advice, look at job listings for your field, so you can know what requirements are. If you are in school, try to tailor your courses to meet those requirements when possible (can you use statistics or coding as a language requirement, for example). This seems so basic, but is so rarely discussed.

        • TrueGrit

          Thanks for the advice. A PhD is not totally necessary for me. My field is environmental health, for which there are opportunities in industry, consulting, government, and non-profits. I do really enjoy research, and it’s what I have the most experience in (I was research staff at a university before getting my masters), and my “dream job” would probably be at the interface of science and policy on environmental health issues, for which a PhD is likely helpful. I’ve also enjoyed the teaching I’ve been able to do, so academia is appealing. It’s just so damn competitive, geographically-limited, and grueling that sometimes I wonder if I should settle for less-sexy jobs my masters may qualify me for.

      • Laura

        I would say that it entirely depends on the field. Look really, really carefully at employment statistics for your intended career. My field (clinical neuropsychology) actually has a lot of opportunities. Other areas, not so much. And it’s not just the humanities, although they seem to get piled on the most for having “worthless” degrees (a phrase I loathe). A lot of the Ph.D. students in my department’s neuroscience track are facing down the possibility of 6-8 years for the Ph.D. followed by at least 3-5 years of postdoc before they go on the academic job market.

        That said, I’ve really loved my Ph.D. work and don’t regret it in the least. It’s a marathon, not a sprint, so you really have to be motivated to keep working toward this incredibly delayed goal. There are a lot of punishing experiences along the way (i.e., terrible peer reviews on manuscripts, rejection for grants you’ve applied to, etc.), so that might be challenging if criticism isn’t your thing.

        Logistically, my husband and I decided that we can’t even get a dog, much less have a kid. He leaves the house at 5-6 a.m. and doesn’t get home until 6:00 p.m. most days. My schedule is similar. Yesterday, I left at 6 in the morning to go to the gym, worked all day, and left at 7:30ish. But I solved about six different problems, analyzed a pile of data, and fixed some code in a script that’s been plaguing me for a couple of days. And in my life, that’s a hell of a lot of fun :)

      • G.

        I started my PhD when I was 28 and finished at 34. I’m on my 2nd postdoc at 26. It’s doable, it can be worth it (I’m glad I did it), but it’s hard, requires sacrifices, and can create problems. I’d say it’s a good thing to do if a) you know the career prospects (very field dependent) and b) it is the sort of thing that you think has intrinsic value regardless of what you end up doing with it (including the recognition of lost wages, etc, while you did it).

        • TrueGrit

          Good advice. I am passionate about the subject, so I do think I would value the work itself no matter the outcome. Unfortunately I think career prospects are dependent on government funding (I’m in environmental/public health, which I don’t think we can count on the new administration valuing). Though who knows, maybe by the time I finished Trump will be out and my field will be better off. Regardless, I stress about money and the logistics of the two body problem a lot.

    • Charley

      Absolutely, I’m in a similar boat here except we’re a couple who both recently finished PhDs. We’re 29 and 30 and currently halfway through a two-year fellowship (his) while I do editing work remotely and have a few other part-time gigs going here. We moved countries for this fellowship and I have no idea what country we’ll be living in this time next year… I’m so ready for us both to get permanent jobs and stop having life “on hold” while we’re in the postdoc phase. But trying to find two permanent positions in the same location for two people with the same exact research focus? Unless we can find a dual-hire position it’s not looking good. The “two body” problem in academia is such a headache.

      • TrueGrit

        That does sound like a headache. I haven’t committed to a PhD in public health yet (I would apply to start in ’18) but my partner is set on doing a PhD in ecology. I feel like I should back off the PhD because my masters in public health is more likely to get me a job than his masters in ecology, and he really wants this PhD, and I want us to be able to live and work in the same city or metro area. But then I feel like a bad feminist because if he weren’t in the picture, maybe I would get a PhD and live wherever that takes me. Why should a man determine my career choices? But I love him and he’s supportive of whatever I want. And I just love spending the day-to-day with him. GAH.

      • joanna b.n.

        Goodness, you makin’ me jealous. I’m two years away from hubs having his PhD, at which point we’ll enter the postdoc-life-on-hold phase… and I’m 34. :)

  • Rebekah

    I thought I’d have kids right away. I thought meeting the person you wanted to marry would mean marriage ASAP. I thought we wouldn’t have debt. I thought I’d like where I lived. I thought I’d have a career, and one in a field I liked and trained for.

    I like my life, and the decisions we’ve made as a couple have been right for us, but the me without him imagined life differently, because it’s impossible to factor an unknown person’s opinions into your dreams.

    Some days, though, I feel behind. Those days tend to come when other people’s online lives show symbols of progress like marriage, houses, babies. Some days I read the articles about Millennials and feel better, since other people are in same boat, and sometimes I read them and feel worse, like we’re all kind of being held back by bigger things.

    • stephanie

      “I like my life, and the decisions we’ve made as a couple have been right for us, but the me without him imagined life differently, because it’s impossible to factor an unknown person’s opinions into your dreams.” THIS is such a great comment, such a great thing to make note of. It has the wheels in my brain turning.

    • idkmybffjill

      “I like my life, and the decisions we’ve made as a couple have been right for us, but the me without him imagined life differently, because it’s impossible to factor an unknown person’s opinions into your dreams.”

      This was REALLY hard for me before we got engaged. We were living together and in love and it was really hard for me to not be able to check off the marriage “life goal” box all by myself. Now the shoe is kind of on the other foot, in that he’s pretty ready to have kids and I want a little time to just be married. I think life is like that when coupled in ways that we NEVER see articulated on social media. No ring pics with like, “I’ve been ready to be engaged for 2 years, yay!”, or baby bump pictures with, “She finally was ready to start trying!”.

  • MC

    Since I was a teen I couldn’t wait to be a thirty-something; I felt like my personality was fundamentally incompatible with teenager-hood and all the things that came with it. Hilarious now, because when I look back on my teenage years I was SUCH a teenager in so many ways, and from the outside it seemed like I had a great life as a teen, but I felt very uncomfortable with it all. Now, still a couple years away from 30, I feel much more comfortable with myself and my life and can only hope that that will continue.

  • Vanessa

    Not at all what I expected, but in retrospect I think my expectations were heavily slanted towards unrealistic & ridiculous depictions of adult women in tv/movies/books (in the way that a lot of young adult books are about the exceptional underdog). Twenty year-old Vanessa would have deeply lamented the life of 31 year-old Vanessa, but I LOVE my life now. But I think that’s just part of growing up, realizing that you should not measure yourself against the yardstick your brain created before it was fully developed.

    Or, in Cheryl Strayed’s much more eloquent words (which I’ve shared here before): “Don’t surrender all your joy for an idea you used to have about yourself that isn’t true anymore.”

    • idkmybffjill

      Damn, you and Cheryl just NAILIN it.

    • Alli

      Oh man I need to read Wild again. That was one of those books where I finished and had an overwhelming need to DO SOMETHING. Didn’t even care what it was. I think I bought some camping equipment I’ve yet to use and went on some day hikes with FH and started journaling for a month.

    • Lisa

      I love that Cheryl Strayed quote. I joke that 16-year-old Lisa would be very disappointed in 29-year-old Lisa, but modern Lisa is much more happy with herself than she would have been with the younger’s version. :)

    • gipsygrrl

      Thank you for repeating that quote. I love it.

      I think my younger self would have been surprised by some of her older self’s choices, but not disappointed. I’ve often actually wished that I could tell my fragile, middle-school self how many amazing things she was going to do in the years to come.

  • Amie Melnychuk

    What started as a way to pay bills when my Masters stipend ran out, turned into a full-time good(ish) gig at a non-profit that is in my field but in a department that sure ain’t.

    I had thought I would have stayed in academia, loving/living it up as a soil science researcher. Or in a private environmental consulting firm.

    Nope, Business Analyst in IT at an agricultural non-profit, where I recently found out that all the lip service I was paid by my former manager of advocating for a raise for me never happened, and I am way, way below the average pay for an IT BA, even in non-profit.

    Aside from feeling some job woes, It’s insane to realize just how little your parents knew when they were at this point in their lives, and made it look like they were awesome.

  • I’ve always naturally been a planner, so it made sense to me to plan my life at 18. By 25 things were a lot of different, and I had a small “quarter life crisis” as I struggled to figure out if I should stick with my plan or roll with the punches. Now at 34, my life is so different from the one I pictured at 34, and I feel no regret at all. I’m happy that I followed what was right for me instead of sticking to a rigid plan, and I’m happy that I took chances when the opportunities presented themselves. Next year will hopefully bring my 3rd career change (crosses fingers) and I’ll be experiencing first time motherhood. But I can’t wait for this new journey.

    • emmers

      Good luck with your possible career change! You strike me as a very driven, capable person. I hope whatever you need to fall into place does.

      • Thank you! I’m hopeful it will work out and I’m really excited about the journey :-)

  • SparrowSally

    27 here. In my family, the future wasn’t thought of, or at least not spoken about. No one asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, so I never thought of it. No plans were ever made, not for vacations or birthdays. We lived every day the same. So I never thought of the future. Not even when I was in high school, no thought was made about me going off to college or what I was going to do when I turned 18. I suppose I assumed I’d get married to someone, have babies and live the life my parents did. It wasn’t until I managed to claw my way out of my parent’s house at 20 did I give any thought to my future. I realized that I didn’t have to get married, or have kids. I didn’t have to have religious beliefs or stay in the same town I grew up in! Since I’ve started thinking about it, my thoughts on the future have changed so much. At one point I was going to live abroad and have kids, then it was no kids, then back and forth again and again. I have some clear cut goals – kids, yes, biological, eh?, and some that are more fluid like where I want to live (California? Germany?). But no, my life now is nowhere near where I thought it would be when I was 18, 25 or even this time last year! Sometimes it’s scary to see how much your life can change without even making a conscious decision to make changes.

    • Em

      I just wanted to say, as a complete stranger – go you for making plans and making your own future. You deserve to be incredibly proud of yourself for that. And living overseas is awesome – I’ve been lucky enough to do it three times, and it is tough but so great and so worthwhile. One helpful piece of information is that I think it’s often easier when you’re under 30 because you can take advantage of youth work and travel visas that often tap out at age 31 :)

  • CMT

    I’m pretty okay with adulthood so far. I’m as independent as I expected I would be, and I’ve really enjoyed the freedom and ability to, say, pick up and move across the country by myself. I think one thing that’s different from what I was expecting as a child or teenager is how careers and the working world operate. On the one hand, I don’t think I assumed that I’d be able to jump right in to important, high-status work, but on the other hand I didn’t realize just how long the distance is between entry level and and being in a position where you can call the shots.

  • Alyssa

    Being an adult is certainly not what I expected, but as a lot of people are saying, I’m enjoying the process of figuring out as I go…. It’s a lot more interesting than if I had rigidly stuck to the abstract rules I used to create for myself.

    I always thought I’d live in a big city (SF), be married by 27, have my life figured out by 30, and as it turns out (I turn 30 in January), I was NOT ready to be married by 27, and city life was completely miserable for me — but I like living in a small town which was surprisingly NOT surprising, since I grew up in a small town, but it was a “Wizard of Oz” style realization. My ideal and real selves still battle each other– I’d sure as heck think I’d be a lot less stressed if I had an administrative job with great benefits, but in reality, I’m much happier in a position where I feel more impactful on a day-to-day basis, which is a big reason why I’m completing my hours to become a therapist working with kids. I’m a big-time introvert but thrive in work environments where I’m constantly interacting with others — not something I ever could have predicted, but I think because of that, I’m all the happier with where I am.

    There are plenty of problems I’m still working through (my debt and relationship to money being a prime one), but all in all, I’m generally pleased with the direction I’m headed in.

  • Cellistec

    As one of those kids who felt like she was born 35 (thanks Judy Blume for articulating that feeling), I enjoy adulthood a lot, bills and all. Childhood innocence was nice while it lasted, but I think the loss of it is worth the control I have over my life now. It’s not as glamorous as I pictured–a jet-setting, polyglot diplomat career was the plan–but it’s authentic, and it’s mine.

    • emilyg25

      Same! I can finally hang out with the adults and it’s not weird.

    • NolaJael

      Same. I was in my late twenties before I started to “feel my age.” I was *always* noted as being serious / mature in whatever group or event was happening. I love being an adult. Always have. ;)

    • CP2011

      Perfect articulation.

    • LP

      Same here! Although I still get “wait you’re how old?!”

      • Lisa

        I literally just had one of these moments last night at a group dinner. A friend of my husband’s guessed my age at 25/26 and was completely shocked to learn I’m 29. My dad’s side of the family has a huge case of baby face so I think this is going to last for a while!

        • I went to a new doctor for the first time last week, and she asked me my age because she was certain there was a mistake in my file! She had guessed me to be 12 years younger! I was flattered… :) (Though at the same time, I also wonder if my freelance career would be more advanced if I looked older… Someone in my field told me a couple months ago that she thinks of me as being a lot younger, but she’s probably only about 5 years older than me. If people think I’m so much younger, perhaps they hesitate to hire me for a freelance job that is a leadership role for a team…) Who knows…it’s not like I can do much about it except do my best and hope people recognize my professionalism once they know me…

    • Amy

      Yes! I totally relate to this. And the freedom to have whatever I want for dinner, or drive myself wherever I want, or snuggle with my husband without worrying about getting caught by our parents, is fabulous.

  • K.

    My most striking adulthood moment was earlier this week, when we heard our unborn child’s heartbeat for the first time. We were in awe, then we went home and immediately organized our closet because adults/PARENTS don’t have messy closets. Ha.

    It’s strange, because in my group of friends and family, as happy as they are for us, we’re definitely seen as crazy young to be having a baby (28/29), especially by the Baby Boomer members of our family. My theory there is that many, many BBs will always see millennials as “too young for ____” so long as we are younger than their own mind’s eye image of *themselves,* so I try to keep that in perspective. But then, on the other hand, if you asked me 5 years ago when I thought I would have my first child (that I *tried* to have, by tracking my kits and using ovulation predictor kits and…), I probably would have guessed 30+ because that seems like the socially conventional time to do it, at least in my urban educated circle. A two year difference doesn’t seem like that much of a difference in some ways, but in comparison to my friends? Gulfs and gulfs and gulfs.

    I also didn’t expect to have quite the American Picturebook life I ended up having–married by 25, pregnant by 28, 2 dogs, very steady incomes, cute little house. I was also more of a fringe-liver as a teen and young adult with extreme artistic intentions. So while I love, love, love my life, sometimes it’s conventionality is still surreal to me.

    • idkmybffjill

      Totally interesting. re: 28 vs 30+. My husband is 31 and I’m 28 and we are absolutely dealing with this. I feel like we are on the FAST TRACK – we’re married and househunting, planning to start trying for kids next year. Whereas he feels a little behind, many of his friends are married and have just had their first children. It’s weird how, in our circle at least, it felt like very suddenly everyone switched from being sort of crappy apartment having young people to married parent homeowners!

    • Sarah

      My husband and I both feel like we’re pretty young for kids–we will both be 28 and 30 when our baby is born (I’m 16 weeks right now!). In less than a month we’re closing on our house. Meanwhile, a year and a half ago we lived in a shitty apartment with a ROOMMATE. Suddenly we’re going to be PARENTS with a HOUSE. I keep going like, how the fuck did this happen??!

      The thing is, all of this stuff just sort of happened to us because of a bunch of decisions we made back a year and a half ago. We moved to a much less expensive city, I started law school, he followed me and a great job happened to land in his lap, then our landlord asked if we wanted to buy our house which was possible because of the aforementioned great job, and I sort of accidentally got pregnant!

      None of our friends are in remotely the same position. I guess that contributes greatly to our feeling of being too young. But we’ve really stepped up to the challenge, and we’re super excited about all of these wonderful things. So I’m not complaining. Its just weird!

    • anachronismsarah

      We’re the same age and people wonder why we don’t already have a couple kids… I think some of that is regional/career though. The picture book is totally a thing to think about and laugh!

    • Danielle

      Hello! I’m 10 years older than you, pregnant with my first, but am still sometimes shocked at how relatively conventional my life is, compared to my teenage expectations and interests. I grew up in a huge city, moved to a smaller Midwestern city for grad school a few years ago, met Husband, and stuck around! Most of my friends back in NY are queer, single or dating, definitely without kids, and somewhat fluid in their career paths.

      I really enjoyed this interview with writer Michelle Tea about embracing parenthood and other conventional (or conventional-seeming) choices after a wild youth: http://www.callyourgirlfriend.com/phoneafriend-conventional-desires-with-michelle-tea/

    • Amy

      Wait, are we the same person? I married at 25 and at 28 I have a new baby (on purpose), 2 dogs, and a steady income. The only part missing is the house because we live in a crazy expensive city.

      While I don’t *feel* crazy young to have a baby, I’m definitely the first in my group of friends, most of whom are just now getting married. We live in an area where most women have high-powered careers and wait to have kids until at least their mid-thirties, on average, so I’m consistently the youngest lady at Mommy & Me by at least 3-5 years.

      I feel like my teenage self would be pretty shocked, as would the people who knew me as a moody, artistic, oppositional teen. But I happened to meet the right person young, we wanted kids, and the timing was right, so – boom. Here I am. It’s actually pretty great.

      • Amy

        Also: I often think about my cousin, who is in his mid-forties with a five-year-old and once told me in a monotone (as his toddler was shrieking and running circles around him), “Don’t wait this long to have kids. I’m too old for this shit.”

        (I should add that he very much loves his son and is a great dad. But there’s something to be said for the amount of energy you have in your twenties vs. your forties, I guess.)

  • Brooke

    One of my biggest realizations (which leaves me with so many questions, specifically about my childhood) is that we make a lot of money (relatively speaking) and it doesn’t feel like it. At all. We do live in a city, which definitely costs us, but I am suddenly questioning how my parents provided the type of childhood I had to my siblings and myself. I can’t imagine supporting four children on just a bit more than what we make right now. I’ve seen this said before and I will definitely echo it, “adulthood is realizing that $1,000 isn’t a lot of money”.

    • idkmybffjill

      YES. Yes. Also….sometimes I am very confused about the financial situations of our peers. We out earn almost all of them, but some of them had incredibly lavish weddings or now have bought great houses. We know for sure that some of them have had significant familial support. But it was a shock to 1) find out how much weddings cost 2) find out how much apartments cost.

      • Amy March

        Yup. I try hard to focus on my own finances because other people’s are just a mystery, even when they claim to be sharing info with you.

        • TrueGrit

          Honestly, I think a lot of people just live their lives in debt/not saving. Especially in the U.S. The stats about savings/retirement savings/credit card debt/student loan debt are scary. I think it’s just part of our culture now.

          • TrueGrit

            Meant to reply to idkmybffjill, oops. Still learning how to comment, haha.

          • Brooke

            Credit cards seem to be a common theme in some of my friends who I know are living beyond their means. One of my closest friends will brag about have >$10,000 of student debt, but he has almost the same amount currently racked up on his credit card.

          • Lisa

            This is scary to me. While I don’t think we should stigmatize or shame people who have debt, I don’t think it’s something to gloat about or celebrate over!

          • idkmybffjill

            Yeah, that could definitely be part of it. We are intensely debt averse as a couple so I think some people may make choices that we wouldn’t because we’d want to pay cash.

          • Lisa

            Same here. We also have an emergency fund that’s pretty sacred, and we don’t touch that at all. Sure, we could probably do more or inflate our lifestyle if we ate into that, but it wouldn’t do anything for my peace of mind, which I rate pretty highly.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yes, absolutely.

          • anachronismsarah

            THIS. For sure. It’s insane!

        • Vanessa

          YES even with a piece you are not seeing the whole puzzle. We are trying to buy a house in a neighborhood where some of our friends have recently bought homes. I thought that knowing how much they paid would help us understand what to expect for that neighborhood but mostly it just leaves me wondering how they can afford a $X house.

          • idkmybffjill

            SAME. All day. Every day.
            Our conclusion has been that a larger number of friends than we realized received enormous lump sums from their parents to contribute and/or many people pay a signficantly higher percentage of their incomes to their mortgages than we are comfortable with.

          • Brooke

            We definitely keep our current rent cost way below what we technically “could” afford. We’re starting to save for a down payment, and I about died when we found out how much house we could theoretically afford (based on our income and current debts). I accept that a lot of other friends are comfortable paying more than we are, and therefore have nicer living space (though not inherently a better life). On the flip side, some friends think we are insane to pay as much as we do for our 1 bed/1 bath teeny tiny apartment. It’s really all about perspective.

          • idkmybffjill

            Oh absolutely – we prequalified for an amount that we both CACKLED at. You’ve hit the nail on the head re: perspective.

          • Lisa

            I remember reading somewhere that people recommend asking the bank for a lower prequalification letter to show to realtors because some realtors will try to push more house on you than you want because you can technically “afford” it. It’s not up to them to decide what you can and can’t pay for!

          • emmers

            My husband did this when applying for a truck loan- he got a loan approval letter for exactly the amount he was willing to pay, and it did help with the negotiating!

          • idkmybffjill

            That’s exactly what we did! We literally asked them to write a letter that was less than half of our prequalified amount. Luckily our realtor is also VERY great about discussing what actual payments look like on mortgages with us. But after that number was given to us I was like… NO WONDER ABOUT THE HOUSING CRISIS.

          • Brooke

            Good tip! My mom works in mortgage lending, so I am sure she could give some advice and assistance on this for us when that time comes. I was definitely in shock whenever I saw what various places think we can afford (and I guess with different priorities we could) but we also don’t need that much/that type of home. Additionally, we are lucky to live in a Midwest city, so even though it is pricier than surrounding rural or suburban areas, our cost of living is looooow. That much house would be a huge undertaking for us.

          • CP2011

            Yeah, I very much recommend that strategy. We actually did the whole prequalification thing in reverse — we figured out how much we were comfortable paying per month, and then asked the bank for a prequalification of that amount in mortgage form. I have no idea how much we would have been qualified for if we just asked for the max but I’m sure it would have been unrealistic.

          • idkmybffjill

            That’s great advice. We definitely thought that it was going to be a much smaller number, so ended up doing what you did for the actual letter.

          • Colleen

            We did this, too! After my brother and sister-in-law, who live in a nearby town and make a similar amount of money, were pre-qualified for over $500k (a number that’s completely unnecessary to buy a “standard” house in our region), my husband and I were like “WHAT?!? That’s insane!” We decided not to let the bank tell us what to spend, instead we told the bank what we were comfortable spending and had them essentially verify that amount.

        • idkmybffjill

          Totally, it’s been a lesson we’ve just recently been like. NOT OUR BUSINESS about. We were truly truly shocked about the amount of cash money some friends of ours were given for their wedding and now their house. We thought we were in such a good place financially (objectively, we absolutely are), but there is FOMO (privileged AF FOMO, like, I’ll totally own that) about not having parents who are like, “Here’s 100K for a downpayment! Love ya!”.

          • Brooke

            THIS. Oh my goodness. My fiancé’s group of friends from college are the people you are describing. It’s so hard not to go insane whenever they are going on 3-4 cruises or trips each year, buying nice homes, or having $100k weddings (actually happened). It gives me a weird combo of FOMO and anger because sometimes I get on this mindset of “but we worked so hard to afford our wedding!” which is just a glorified pity party. It’s taken a lot of growing up on my end not to put too much stock in to how these people live their lives.

          • idkmybffjill

            “It’s taken a lot of growing up on my end not to put too much stock in to how these people live their lives.”

            Yep. Still working on it. Still trying to get past that feeling of, “But we SAVED, we EARNED this.”

        • Abby

          Absolutely. Also, even if there were 100% transparency, people think so differently about money and value what they spend it on so differently that one person’s affordable is another person (with the same salary)’s never-in-a-million-years. And that’s ok. I find it easier to see a friend making a big fancy purchase and thinking “oh, they value x differently than I do, cool” than to just feel poor.

          • Lisa

            I started doing this when my our best man and his wife bought a house. We were all making about the same incomes, and I was thinking, “There’s no way we could afford a house right now because we couldn’t put down XX%.” They decided to go with an ARM and zero money down because owning a home was more important to them than anything else. We have different priorities, and that’s ok.

          • toomanybooks

            I just found out that the child of a neighbor has been saving all of her money from babysitting, etc forever and currently has like 40,000. I’m shocked. Like, I think she’s in college and doesn’t even HAVE a full time job yet but has quite a bit saved for a downpayment if she wants! (I mean, not where we live with that money, but maybe somewhere.) Meanwhile I have a full time job and no loans but certainly haven’t started saving money for a house. I also have like $12 to last me the next couple weeks until my paycheck, though.

          • idkmybffjill

            Man, I wish I’d been like that kid. That kid rules! I bought so many stupid jeans.

          • lildutchgrrl

            Seriously. I can’t even REMEMBER what I bought with my babysitting money, because I didn’t even like stuff all that much and I didn’t have much of a social life, and how many after-school Slurpees can a person even buy? But I did not have a savings plan.

          • idkmybffjill

            Oh I remember. All of my money was on jeans. JEANS. *sobs*

          • Gaby

            I hate that my first thought is that I should persuade my future kids to do this. As if I’ve never been a kid before and don’t know how unlikely that is.

          • idkmybffjill

            I have a friend whose parents made her split up her money. Like, half for her, half for savings. I’m not against making my kid do something like that.

          • Gaby

            Oooh I really like that. I had the idea to save instilled in me though I don’t remember explicit conversations about it with my parents. I didn’t start working until I was 16 but I saved and paid for my (used) car in cash at 20 and I want my kids to know that kind of responsibility too.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yep, it was definitely encouraged and I had a savings account but I honestly wish my parents had just made me do it.

          • CP2011

            I wonder if that might have backfired though? Maybe not for you specifically, but as a general concept, I have to think that many kids forced to do something will rebel against it once they have some freedom (as in, once you’re out of the house, you stop saving altogether and spend like crazy).

          • idkmybffjill

            Ohhhh true. Man, parenting is so hard!

          • anachronismsarah

            That’s something I will tuck away for SURE.

          • My dad had me save my babysitting money until i had enough to open a Vanguard IRA and had me start saving for retirement in high school. It didn’t bother me all that much since I didn’t really have anything to spend that money on (most of my social life involved baking cookies at a friend’s house, which is a pretty cheap activity especially when you are teenagers who don’t have to grocery shop). It got me into good habits early, which was nice.

          • Lisa

            This was me though I had less hustle about it. I had five figures in my bank account by the time I went to college. I wish someone had told me about IRAs and investing back then because it would be worth $$$ now!

          • idkmybffjill

            Ugh RIGHT. I missed out on so much compounding interest.

          • Lisa

            Like, why did it take so long for me to realize that I was LOSING money (adjusting for inflation) by leaving it in a bank account?? I remember thinking maybe I should invest it when I was a senior in high school, but I had no idea how to do it and little free time to figure it out on my own.

          • idkmybffjill

            Yep. Absolutely.
            I also DUMBLY insisted that I pay all my own bills at a certain point in college (although my parents were still willing to help me) and I deeply wish that instead I’d just asked them to please put it in a mutual fund for me or something. Ugh, whatever – live & learn!

          • Gaby

            Learning about investing and speaking to a financial advisor is a top priority goal for early 2017. Though we’re comfortable and have some savings, that’s the one thing that still makes me feel like I’m not “adulting” enough yet.

          • Lisa

            If you’re looking for resources, I found JL Collins’s stock series and book The Simple Path to Wealth very useful. The information I learned there is what finally gave me the confidence to start investing. We’ve kept most of our assets liquid because we’ll likely be moving in 6 months to who-knows-where, but once we’re settled, more of it is going into mutual funds.

          • Gaby

            I’m emailing myself your comment to save, I really appreciate it!

          • Cellistec

            My 11th grade math teacher DID tell us, and used retirement investing as a tool to teach the quadratic formula, and I STILL didn’t listen to him. Sorry, Mr. Torget, you were right. *facepalm*

          • LadyMe

            Wow. And I was super proud for having 7k in my bank account when I graduated HS from part-time retail and babysitting.

          • idkmybffjill

            You should still for sure be proud of that.

          • LadyMe

            I mean, sure, especially because that’s what paid the security deposit and initial rent on my first apartment, but ugh, the tantalizing possibilities of having 40k while in college. If I had that, my student loans would be gone or under 5k right now.

          • NolaJael

            I know someone who nice owned a condo in Times Square but told everyone she rented because she it was so perpetually awkward to explain to people that she was frugal, had saved her money diligently and bought it with cash at that age of 26!

          • emmers

            I’d be curious to see how she made that happen. Super curious!

          • TrueGrit

            That’s a good way of thinking about it. I like to think my earning/spending is a pretty direct reflection of my values, and I have no reason to be ashamed of my values.

    • I’ve gone through the same thing. I grew up in the Midwest as the oldest of 4 kids, and it took me a long time to realize why we lived in the same 3bedroom/1bath house my entire childhood, and why my parents were always so stressed about $$$.

      My husband and I make a lot more than my parents did…but we also both have significant student loan debt. I used to get so down when I saw people younger than me buying houses or doing other things that we just can’t afford, even though on paper we look great financially *sigh*

    • CMT

      My parents didn’t have student loans to repay and I grew up in a much lower cost of living area than the ones I’ve lived in as an adult.

    • Gaby

      This is something I’m currently struggling with. We also out earn most of our friends and I can get very judgmental when I see people spending way more than we’d be comfortable with on certain things. It’s definitely none of my business but it is such a confusing puzzle my brain wants to solve. Similarly, I have such an appreciation for how my parents were able to provide comfortably for us, without living paycheck to paycheck, on less than what my husband and I currently make. Every time I try to add the cost of raising three kids in our current situation my mind melts a little.

    • gipsygrrl

      I was just thinking this the other day as well – how did my parents do it? And I think yes, some of it was crafty saving and scrimping in particular areas, but I also feel like costs have risen for us in certain places. Like, relative to earnings and inflation adjustments, I’ve read that the costs of healthcare and housing (and cars and childcare as well) have increased A LOT. Like, more than they proportionally should have. So I wonder about that… am I having a tougher time than my parents did for actual economic reasons, or is that an excuse? ;)

      • Scalliwag

        Consider this one vote for actual economic reasons! I’ve done that same sort of looking when trying to compare myself to my own mother (some at my own instigation, some with her reminders that when she was my age….). While she absolutely worked her ass off and provided for us amazingly, some of it was just luck, and the economy. What she bought as a starter home,by herself before marriage, I can not fathom coming up with that sum and being able to afford it.

      • CP2011

        Pretty much every economic analysis I’ve read states that wages have stagnated for most workers while consumer prices have inflated. So…I don’t think you should blame yourself too much.

      • ElisabethJoanne

        The government tracks spending in dollars and as percentage of income, across time, income brackets, and regions – and down to narrow categories, like “percentage of household income spent on liquid milk” (as opposed to powdered milk, or butter, or cheese). Basically, the percentage of income that goes to less flexible expenses, like housing and healthcare, have gone way up in the last 30 years, while more flexible categories, like food and clothing, have gone down.

        Personal rant: Yet most of the popular personal finance writing doesn’t take this into account. We’re still told to eat beans instead of meat and make our coffee at home to “save 10% on your grocery budget.” Well, our grocery budgets are only 10% of our overall budgets (historically, was closer to 30%), so that’s just a 1% overall savings. But increase your commute by 20 minutes to save 25% on rent – now you’re looking at 5% of overall expenses. But you’re also looking at hours lost each week.

        • Lisa

          Also, in addition to lost hours for that longer commute, you’re looking at purchasing more fuel and more wear and tear on an automobile (for most Americans). Or if you’re in a city and move outside the limits, your public transit fare might go up because you have to take a different type of train.

          My husband and I live in a college town, and we pay a premium to live within a two mile radius of the school. However, this means we can walk or bike to work most days, and we don’t have to pay the $400 annual parking permit fee for our cars. I haven’t done all of the math, but it seems like we’re saving money even if we spend more on housing than I’d like.

          • idkmybffjill

            Not hard math, but we do a lot of “is it worth it” calculating when thinking about moving neighborhoods for rent. “Is it worth $100 dollars more a month to be closer to the train and lots of restaurants we like?” – For us, absolutely.

          • Mr. Money Mustache had a great article on the true cost of commuting: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/06/the-true-cost-of-commuting/

          • Lisa

            Yuuuuup. I read an article about housing vs. commuting costs that referenced MMM, and it was really helpful to me for justifying the amount of money I pay in rent. (I still think we’re overpaying by about $100/month, but I’m chalking that up to being young and desperate and not thinking to negotiate the rate.)

    • Anon for $$$ Talk

      Yes, yes, yes. This year my husband and I will make over $100K, which I used to think was an astronomical do-anything-you-want amount of money. But we owe over $200K in student loans, have one 10 yo car, and live in less than 700 sq ft house in a neighborhood where we hear gunshots on the regular (like, yesterday). We’re contemplating having kids and I never ever thought I would be considering having a kid in a one bedroom house in a neighborhood that I don’t feel safe walking in at night, but that’s where we are because the costs of upgrading to the suburbs would stretch us to a point of financial tension (in addition to baby costs and daycare) and basically put us in the category of people who would never pay off their student loans (which is important to me).

      Contrast that with my parents who had a three bedroom house with a big yard and a tenure track job at a little liberal arts college at my age. It’s hard to reconcile.

      • idkmybffjill

        SO much is location too. Our friends just moved from Chicago to Oklahoma City and their cost of living PLUMMETED. Basically their house is about 3 times the size the apartments we are shopping for are, but only a third fo the cost.

        • Colleen

          Definitely. While it’s not always feasible to pick up and move to a new, more reasonably-priced city or town, doing so (twice) has definitely helped me live a life that I wouldn’t have been able to afford in my previous locales. After college, I chose to stay in my college city, rather than return home to Long Island because…money. My husband and I just chose to move out of that city to one of its more rural suburbs because…money. Our house (A whole house! Something I never thought I’d want, but have found that I totally love (So many closets!).) was much, much more affordable by moving another 10 miles out.

    • Alli

      The thing I don’t understand is how my parents had time to raise kids. All we’ve got is our jobs and our cats and it feels like we never have time to do anything and we’re always tired. Even taking up a weekly hobby seems a little out of reach right now. Do adults just learn to not sleep?

      • I wonder this all the time!

      • rg223

        Yes. I used to NEED 8 hours and my one-year old son trained me to only need 6. This is real.

        • Alli

          That actually is a bit of a relief to hear. FH won’t necessarily have to be a stay at home dad once we have kids!

    • rg223

      $1,000 is still a lot of money to me, hahaha! My mortgage payment is completely unfathomable.

  • Liz

    It looks entirely different than I expected, and has been both much better and much weirder than anticipated.

    As a maladjusted, depressed, bullied teenager I assumed adulthood would just be more of the same misery; I was extraordinarily lucky enough to find friends and a career that led me to a happy and fulfilling life living in my favorite city, loving my work, living with a great partner and enjoying my friends. Never liked kids and was happy not to have them. Everything had fallen into place and I was so happy.

    …and then my partner fell in love with her intern, broke up a relationship of almost a decade over gchat, I lost my job, and was pretty much glued to the couch recovering from a kidney transplant.

    A bit more than a (very eventful) year later, I’m married to a man, living in a new city where he got his dream job, working in a new field, and 8 months pregnant. My husband has expressed concern, on many occasions, that so many things have changed for me in the last year – many, like our move, because of him – that I will wake up one day and regret living a life I didn’t expect or want. And it’s true that I never expected to be living this life. (I still don’t like kids, but I’m taking it on faith that I will like my own! :))

    And the best answer I have for him is that it turns out that sometimes we end up living a couple of different lives over the course of our time on earth, and that it can take a major event – or series of events – to get us to shift. At 25, an opposite-sex relationship, a pregnancy, and living away from my hometown of NYC would have been 100% wrong and miserable for me. Now, it’s exactly right. I can’t explain it any better than that it’s a different life and a different adulthood – for the same person. Sometimes we get that chance.

    • Cleo

      ” (I still don’t like kids, but I’m taking it on faith that I will like my own! :))”

      My mom is a wonderful, tremendous mom. But… She never liked kids before she had them. Never liked babysitting, never liked being around them unless they were family. She probably wouldn’t even have had kids if my dad didn’t want them.

      So there’s some anecdotal evidence that being in love with children and babies is not a prerequisite to being an amazing mom and loving your own children. :)

      • Liz

        Ha, thanks Cleo! That’s very heartening. I’m told that you can’t return them EVEN IF you keep the receipt, which seems like a bogus system to me, so I’m counting on liking them. :)

    • emilyg25

      I only like my own kid. Makes play dates awkward, haha.

      I think more people have lived multiple lives than we realize. I interview people for a living and I’ve never met someone who had a boring story, even people I expected to be totally boring.

      • joanna b.n.

        I want that job…

      • Lisa

        That sounds like a fun job! I love learning about people’s individual histories and what got them to where they are now.

  • Antonia

    “This wasn’t exactly what I had in mind… when we plotted out a five-year plan for babies (quick math: that means we’d maybe be on our first one).”

    I’m always interested to hear people’s plan vs. reality on timing and number of kids. I’ll go first:

    Never wanted children; no interest whatsoever. Married my husband when I was 32. Still no interest. When I was 34, my best friend had a baby and I got to witness the birth, and a few other friends had children as well. Started warming to the idea of maybe “one and done.” Planned pregnancy at 35 that ended in a 32-week stillbirth. Planned pregnancy 10 months later that ended in a healthy baby when I was 37. I’m now 38 and my daughter just had her one-year birthday. My husband and I are debating whether to try for one more.

    A big factor for us is money. Even with decent-paying white-collar jobs, with student loans and a mortgage and the cost of full-time daycare, we’re running on fumes at the end of each month. Liz’s financial situation sounds way scarier than ours, and she has three kids. Liz, did you just say, “F*ck it, new human lives are more important than money,” or was it less “intentional” than that?

    • Katharine Parker

      I haven’t had a child, so I’m still in the thinking about plans stage. I’ve always wanted kids, and thought that early 30s seem like a good time to have a baby. I still think this (as much as there is a “good” time–no time is perfect), and I have a couple of years before I hit that. Still, it’s hard for me to make such a deliberate plan as “baby 1 at 31; baby 2 at 34” when so much in my life could change in the next four years, and I know so many women whose plans for children have been altered by infertility. Giving over to the uncertainties of parenthood is such a challenge.

      • Antonia

        “Giving over to the uncertainties of parenthood is such a challenge.” So true. <3

        I feel like I hear a lot of “We wanted two kids three years apart, but now we have three kids three years apart,” or “I grew up wanting six children but only had one,” but not always the “why” behind these decisions. Oftentimes an unforeseen event like infertility or multiple births comes into play, but not always. Curious why people intentionally (or semi-intentionally) veer from their original plans.

    • Cellistec

      I don’t have kids yet, and the housing crunch is largely to blame. One of the biggest disillusionments of adulthood for me has been our inability to afford real estate. I always thought of marriage and homeownership as the main hallmarks of adulthood (ha, I know), and now the market is so tight that as DINKs we can barely afford a studio apartment. (Seattle metro area, if you’re wondering.) So at some point we’ll just pay boatloads of rent for a bigger apartment in order to have room for kids. It’s not what I had in mind, but when I’m older, I don’t think I’ll miss the money, while I would likely miss having the kids.

      • Anon Today for Reasons

        Same here – although we’re in the SF Bay Area. I just have this picture of the street we’ll live on when we’re “real adults,” and then it turns out the houses on that street cost twice what we can afford. We’re working on it, but may have to just dive in to trying to get pregnant next year, tiny apartment notwithstanding.

    • emilyg25

      I’m so sorry for your loss.

      Very different than I expected! I always figured I’d have two kids, easy peesy, after enjoying marriage for a while, somewhere around age 30.

      I ended up falling in love with a guy 19 years older than me who’d had a vasectomy. So right off the bat, we knew things were going to be complicated. Let’s just say it was definitely very intentional. I realized I kinda just wanted one kid. Husband was there before I was—it took me a while to let go of the two kids “ideal” and accept that it just wasn’t for us. And we started trying to get pregnant as soon as we were engaged, before the wedding even, because my husband didn’t want to lose any more time and I was ready anyway. Our son was born the same year my husband turned 50. It’s definitely strange knowing that we won’t grow old together in the way many other couples do. But life is uncertain and we’re so very happy with what we have now.

      Also, parenting with an older partner is awesome. He’s so much more confident and chill and sees the value of being involved. I highly recommend that part, haha!

      • Antonia

        “almost all of the benefits of several children with many of the benefits of no children.”

        Ahhhhhh, LOVE THIS.

    • Liz

      A little of column A, a little of column B.

      During those 7yrs of struggle, there were more and less steady times. Two of the babies were surprises, the one in the middle was planned. We waited until a more steady financial time for us to plan that 2nd baby, but it was largely that human-lives-are-more-important bit you’re talking about. If we had been in the worst of our times- not able to afford food, electricity shutting off- we wouldn’t have tried to have another kid, because that’s scary. But beyond that point of, “Can we actually meet your needs?” there’s definitely a level where finances bend around the kids. We have a lot of debt, I haven’t gotten new shoes in literal years. But the kids are fed and clothed and have check-ups.

      • Antonia

        Thanks, Liz. I’m never sure what people mean when they say their babies were “accidents” or “surprises” (IUD fail? Yikes. NFP fail? Well, duh.), but I admire your willingness to sacrifice for your family. That’s what I keep butting up against. Debt freaks me out, and I’m not sure I’m willing to do without new shoes (or Honeycrisp apples, or takeout dinners, or StitchFix) — even if the trade-off is a new human. Glad things are looking up for you guys financially!

  • ruth

    I hear you about freelancing and longing for a “permanent” job, Liz! My husband also lost his job 2 years ago and has been cobbling together freelance “gigs” ever since. Freelancing is so often painted as this chic, entrepreneurial, empowered choice, when for far too many it’s not a choice at all – just a side effect of so many industries particularly creative industries (my hubby works in TV production) moving from salaried staff jobs to an army of freelancers. And it really sucks. I admire you guys for sticking it out 7 years! We’re going to give it one more year, and if nothing has changed by then he’s going to change careers. I’m also indefinitely a “temp” at my job, and found out I’ll have to switch to a different position if I ever want to become “permanent.” It seems like this is the new reality of work in the 21st century. It seems really abusive. And I’m not sure what our options are.

  • RisaPlata

    Nope. I was in a serious relationship at 22, the kind where everyone thought we’d get married. I thought my life would sort of follow my parents: meet the love of my life in college, have kids around 28, but I’m more career-ambitious than they are, so I’d be successfully in a writers’ room at 30. And none of that happened. Now I’m 37, no partner, no kids, and still an assistant. (Thanks, writers’ strike! Which is a much more complicated story than that, but for another time.) Every day I hate my job. I’ve been sending out resumes for years, but only gotten a few interviews and they’re generally either looking for people right out of college or career assistants. The last guy I actually had any interest in up and moved to NY without warning. I’ve been seeing a life coach for over a year now, but I’m starting to realize that the only concrete change to my life is that I’m considerably poorer and I’m not sure what to do about that. And frankly, not that absolutely everything has to come back to this goddamn election, but it stole the hope I did have. Some parts of being an adult are awesome – I have a ton of creative outlets, because that’s what I’ve made my priority – but for the most part life just hasn’t happened for me the way I thought it would.

  • JC

    I love thinking about this, because I got some of my adulthood images right, and others so so wrong. Some of my eighteen-year-old self’s dreams have come true: I pierced my nose, don’t wear pants during the summer, got a Master’s degree, and am in love with a guy who loves baseball and art museums, just like me. On the other hand, I didn’t (and won’t) become a professor, I work for a software company in customer service, and my Twitter feed is politics, politics, politics. But there are also new things that I couldn’t have foreseen that just fit. I make great pies, I’m not a terrible gardener, and I’m learning to be good with money. I’m the go-to gal for book recommendations. I quit dying my hair, which is a step in the direction of becoming the silver-haired middle-aged artist that I’ve always wanted to be. The fact that I got some things so right actually gives me more confidence thinking about the future, because I know myself well enough to muddle through.

    • Cellistec

      +1000

  • ruth

    It’s funny, even though there are aspects of my life that seem very adult – working a corporate job, owning a home, having a life insurance policy, etc… I never FEEL like an adult when I do them. I sort of feel like a kid playing dress up in their mom’s shoes, playacting adulthood – and always worried that I’m going to get called out for really having no idea what I’m doing!

    • CMT

      I totally felt this way when I was buying a car. I was expecting at some point they’d stop and say, “Just kidding, there’s no way we’re letting you leave here with a $10,000 car just like that.”

    • HA – I’ve felt this way so many times, especially when we bought our house. After signing the mountain of paperwork and the prior owner handed us the keys…I looked over to my husband and said “We really just bought a house? …are we even allowed to do that?!”

  • emilyg25

    The beauty of adulthood is exactly that it’s not clear cut—you can make of it what you will! It took me a while to get comfortable with this, and it’s obviously harder if you’re suffering outside forces like unemployment. But I always remember the counsel of a wise older friend when I was opining about not being a “real adult.” She asked what I meant and I said you know, the whole job, spouse, house, kids thing. She just laughed and said, “Yeah, there’s no such thing.”

    • LadyMe

      Compendium of defining your own adulthood comics from xkcd, because lol “real adults”.
      http://xkcd.com/150/
      https://xkcd.com/616/
      https://xkcd.com/1674/

      I think so long as you take responsibility for your own actions, you’re a real adult.

      • Cellistec

        Amen on the responsibility for your own actions. Some kids do too, though the stakes are rarely as high. I guess that makes them mature for their age.

  • ruth

    Infertility was a big blindside of adulthood for me. I always wanted to have kids and just assumed I would have them – it naively never occurred to me that there would be any impediment in this happening, or that the one with the infertility issues would be my partner. I know that my husband and i will become parents in one form or another if that’s our strong intention – but what I’m having to let go of is the idea of it being easy, effortless, like we’ll just have fun one night and then poof – pregnant. We know what the problem / solution is, and it’s either going to involve complicated, expensive medical treatments that scare me, or complicated, expensive adoption, which also scares me. Eventually we’ll have to face up to these decisions, but right now I think I’m just grieving for a life that will never be – that we’re never going to be able to be the kind of people who can “just let nature take its course.”

    • Antonia

      Shit, that sucks and I am so, so sorry. Big hugs. xo

      • ruth

        Thank you, Antonia! APW truly is the kindest community on the internet

    • Lulu

      I was going to say the same thing (though it’s my lackluster eggs holding us back, and we’re forging ahead with treatments). My therapist 100% supports processing it as grief, and has really helped me articulate the long list of things I’m grieving… like a body that works, a future I had imagined, a life without constant medical scrutiny or expecting failure and disappointment at every step. It sucks. I’m so sorry. I wish the very best for you and your partner.

      • ruth

        Thank you Lulu -beautifully put. I wish the best for you guys too!

    • This is exactly what I was going to share. I’ve always looked forward to the moment when I would become a mother. Even in my younger years I was excited at the prospect of being a mom. But after all the years of waiting, now that the time is finally right…we’re facing infertility issues. Shortly after we started trying I got pregnant but experienced a miscarriage a few weeks later. It’s been seven months since then with no luck. Every month continues to bring disappointment and it’s tough. But hopefully, someday, we’ll get to be parents…even if it’s not in the way I originally planned.

  • Gaby

    Oh! I just remembered what the biggest shock of adulthood was for me: I am an introvert. I was the kid that was often in trouble for talking in class and had many friends in high school. It turned out I was only so comfortable because I had known those people for a decade and I’m actually not that great at meeting new people. It surfaces most at my office where I’m very friendly with about 3 people, but terrified of speaking to any new employees. I feel guilty sometimes that I’m so bad at starting conversations but since I have the three friends to rely on, I haven’t done anything about haha.

  • Liz

    These conversations often make me think of this favorite strip from Calvin & Hobbes: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/009d53127d4a036c0c45ab2741aa5dcee694432d14bb023b459f00eb64ee71f0.png

    • Cellistec

      That’s some real talk right there. There could be a whole compendium of C&H strips that are just the parents trying their best and it would be an adulthood primer.

    • mooncaf276

      And then, from another C&H strip, there’s Calvin’s line, “I think adults just act like they know what they’re doing.” Truth, sometimes.

      Apropos to one of the worst parts of adulthood, I also like the line “I knew how to do nothing. I just did everything” from some novel whose name escapes me. But my dad died when I was 30, and now at I’m 40 my mom is in decline, and I think in a lot of areas of life, that feeling of “there just isn’t a solution,” definitely applies.

  • Em

    I think my life looks very similar and very different to what I thought it would – in many ways, I’m just as successful as I had dreamed, if not more so (in terms of job and education), but in other ways…it’s just different. I think I always thought I’d end up with someone as ambitious and driven as I was (and have a ‘power couple’ kind of relationship) – and my FH is just not that guy. He’s smart and interested in the world, but not someone to whom money or career success matters a whole lot? Sometimes I find that deeply frustrating – but other times I am deeply grateful that it’s given us the breathing space for me to focus on my career, and I know that as we get older and start thinking about children he’ll pick up the bulk of the childcare. So I’m grateful that I’ve found someone who suits my ambitions, just in a very different way to what I thought. It comes with its fair share of frustrations, but on the whole I think I’m pretty happy with our current situation.

  • flashphase

    I’ve been living alone and so independent for so much of my life that I’ve felt like an adult for a long time. A few years ago, someone described me as “someone who is really good at being an adult” and I was surprised but it also made sense. I mean, I don’t look polished most of the time, frozen burrito is a dinnertime staple and I am always late, but I got really good at running my financial life and staying informed about things (that’s my Renaissance Woman skill), and I think those are tough for a lot of people.

    On the other hand, most of my life does not look as I expected! If you told me in college that I would get an MBA and work in this field, I wouldn’t have believed you. Definitely thought I’d be married by 30 with kids by this point too. But I also didn’t image the relationship I have now – very centered on gender equity and fairly carrying our shared load. And it really took me to 30 to be able to find (and be!) that type of partner.

  • anachronismsarah

    High School me wouldn’t recognize the person I am. I thought I’d be married younger(and NOT to a pastor), have kids younger(We’d be on 2 or 3 instead of thinking about the first one), and I never DREAMED I’d be a pastor living in a tiny little town. At 18, or even at 21, I couldn’t WAIT to get out of the rural South, and I’m right back there.
    I think the biggest thing I never thought about was money, budgeting it, saving it, and what a lot of it/enough is. That looks SO different from what I thought, if I ever really thought.

  • CP2011

    I’d say it’s pretty much what I expected–and I love it– but my current adulthood is very different from what Liz is experiencing, in terms of financial struggle and small children.
    I pretty much always knew I’d enjoy being an adult. And I do. I have zero zero zero desire to be any less independent than I am now.

  • I used to draw a lot when I was younger, and I drew a lot of older mes – sometimes I’d live in a way overstylised open plan apartment, or maybe an old two room stone cottage on the moors with outside shower and toilet. I usually wore polo neck jumpers, floppy hats, and ankle boots. I’d be self-employed and work from home, usually in a writing based career (though occasionally interior design). I was always, always single and childless, and usually friendless, though I’d have meaningful interactions with strangers. My life goals were to have no social expectations placed upon me. I would be mysterious and glamorous and cool and no one would ever get close enough to learn otherwise.

    Thirty year old me has recently bought a cosy three bed terrace in a big city with her partner of five years, who she’s now engaged to and planning a wedding for next Christmas. I definitely have friends, even though I’m not a bestie sort of person, and I work in an office for a non-profit. If you’d told teenage me that a large portion of my day would be fiddling with spreadsheets and prettifying reports, I think she’d have been okay with that; after all, she loved fiddling with spreadsheets and prettifying reports too. She just thought that wasn’t the sort of job she was allowed to want to have. She would have been thrilled to know I spent 8 years working in a museum, but maybe less thrilled to discover that I couldn’t hold onto the joy of the job in the face of a toxic employer. Weirdly, even teenage me never wanted to work from home or be self employed, but my mother was, which is why it pervaded my idea of adulthood even though watching her do it was what put me off.

    I’m still not glamorous and cool and mysterious, and I’m okay with that now: I like pop music and romance novels and action movies and comic books, and I don’t feel a need to justify my intelligence or authenticity or social justice credentials based on how I spend my leisure time. Sorry, early twenties me – you didn’t need to see those incredibly boring indie bands, or struggle through those incredibly pretentious novels, or watch those arty birth of americana documentaries, and the guy who wanted you to was chasing a phantom Cool Girl. You were smart and switched on and feminist, and so were your tastes.

    (you also don’t need to justify them to your FMIL, FYI)

    I think the biggest thing for me was discovering that I could want the sort of relationship I have. If you’d described it to me before I asked him out, I don’t know if I’d have ever done it. We’re very physically affectionate, we spend pretty much all our free time together (and when we started dating, all our working time too, since we were colleagues), I have minimal time for hobbies that don’t include him, we say I love you dozens of times a day and have pet names and call and response cuteness. It’s not what I thought a healthy relationship ought to look like, but when I look back at teenage me’s plans for social isolation, I think it’s fair to say I shouldn’t get hung up on her idea of healthy either.

    I do still like wearing ankle boots and jumpers, though.

  • Poppy

    I’m one of those people who couldn’t really imagine myself as an adult when I was a kid, but I have a much clearer picture of what that would mean now – I imagine myself investing in my community and growing some roots, developing more skills for work and fun, getting better at sticking to a routine, and most of all, being in a position to extend the kind of hospitality and generosity so many “adults” in my life gave me during my teenage and college years. The dissertation phase of my grad school life has deferred most of that, except the hospitality part (thanks to our guest room in grad student housing).

    Preparing to finish up my PhD in the next 12 months has made me realize how infantilizing these last 6 years as a grad student have been for me. All this time, I’ve been “in training” for a job very few of my colleagues and I will ever get thanks to the rise of contingent labor in academia. My already low wages have barely kept up with inflation (and I know I’m one of the lucky ones to have gotten a fully-funded PhD). I’m always reminded that I am a subordinate in this system and there’s not really room for advancement until I finish the degree. I can’t wait to be done because I’m ready to start taking myself seriously as an adult. I want some responsibility outside of my own research and TAing!!

    Also, I’ve finally accepted that as with planning a wedding, getting older does not magically give you more skills or make you good at things you’ve never done before. This is helpful in combating my sense of failure when I mess up an adult thing that I think I should have figured out by now. To paraphrase a few people downthread, adulthood is not about never screwing up, it’s about taking responsibility for your actions.

  • Laura

    i’m 28 and so much of my life has turned out as i hoped, but i struggle a bit with what happens next. i got engaged at 25, married at 26, we bought our sweet little house a month before our wedding, and in march i’ll have been with my husband 10 years. i’m a lawyer and i have ALWAYS wanted to be a lawyer. Both my parents are lawyers and so is my husband, and i feel tremendous pride in following in their footsteps. I have my own criminal defence practice and there are days that i don’t sleep, agonize constantly, and feel like i don’t know how i’ll ever learn everything. but there are a LOT of days that i get in the car and on the way to work, i think to myself ‘hot damn, you are doing it!’

    what i struggle with is kids – and when?. We think that we probably want them…but I get really upset about how hard it will be. and maybe that’s not fair, but i have very complicated feelings when my friends have 12 month 85% paid mat leaves, retired parents to help etc. I am self employed – there is no mat leave for me, and leaving for even 3 months will be financially tough and will seriously impact my practice. So i get upset about the choices I will be forced to make if we choose to have kids. I guess I’m just not ready to jump yet.

  • Olivia

    As an early twenty-something with a serious anxiety about my future, this is terribly relatable. For the past year, I’ve been struggling with the notion that I’m somehow “doing adulthood wrong.” I dropped out of school, am currently working a part time retail job, and trying to figure out what I want, while it seems that many of my peers are taking prestigious internships and starting work in felids they’re passionate about. I know this image is a myth, that most of us are flailing around trying to figure out what to do with ourselves and pretending like we’ve got our crap together. But I’m having trouble shaking this internalized idea that there are somehow “on track” and I’m not. I spent so much time as a child believing that there was a straight path forward into adulthood and success, and as someone who worked hard to stay on track, I feel like the rug has been ripped out from underneath me now. But listening to other people’s stories is teaching me that there are no rules. You can do whatever the heck you want, however the heck you want, and you’ll be fine. Heck, you might even be better for it.

  • Ellie Rockhill

    Yeahhhh… I’ve been thinking about this a lot today, since a year ago today I was married and living in Atlanta, Georgia, working the same job I’d been at for two years, and meeting my husband and two step-daughters in Chicago after an overnight flight back from my brother’s wedding in Alaska. *takes a long breath, that was a mouthful*

    Because today, I’m divorced and haven’t seen “my kids” since May. I’m living in Nashville, TN and have had 4 jobs this year, plus driving for Lyft. I’m dating my best guy friend from college (which I would have laughed at just a few months ago) and living in his parent’s house to save money while I get my shit together.

    2016– what on earth? What did you do? Everything changed in what feels like no time at all.

    Funny thing is, a year ago life looked really to-the-book, but inside I was dying. Now, things are ridiculously weird and I’ve never been happier. Adulthood is strange.

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