What does ‘adulting’ mean, and why has it become the ultimate goal of the underachiever?
I was born in 1996, so my classrooms growing up looked something like this: gold star stickers and motivational posters with quotes like, “Today is your opportunity to build the tomorrow you want.” Can someone tell Ken Poirot to stfu please? I, and my classmates, were taught to believe that we needed simply to ‘aim for the moon so we could land amongst the stars’. It sounds tired now, but it didn’t back then. I believed it to be true, and so far, the defining feature of my adulthood has been a cruel recalibration of expectations. Every year, I’m starting to come to terms with the reality that I may not get to be everything I wanted to be. It’s not depressing, it’s the truth. Let’s look at it this way:
It is the generally accepted societal belief that people are meant to find their life’s purpose via the institution of marriage, parenting, and home ownership. At almost 26 years old, I have none of the above. That’s okay, it’s not my time yet. Like so many people my age all over the world, I live in an overpriced city with diminishing job prospects in my chosen field. And while I would love to inhabit a mental state of reckless abandon and pursue my passions ferociously, never looking back, I can’t do that. I’ve left behind what I thought would be a lifelong career in favour of what I know will make me money.
Truth be told, I don’t believe I will regret it because I no longer believe passion is enough, and that money is unfortunately more important. 12 year old Farah’s young and precious soul didn’t understand this. And so, in accepting that I haven’t ticked off even half of my bucket list and live in a perpetual waiting game, I have committed myself to patting myself on the back for achieving the bare minimum. In the words of Rihanna, “It’s either that or crying myself to sleep.”
I think it all links back to this whole concept of ‘adulting’. In a modern world where the majority of Millennials and Gen Z are stressed out and poor, when does adulting even happen? A lot of us don’t have homes or even kids. In my eyes, it’s the completion of quotidian grown-up tasks like doing laundry, finishing your work, exercising or cooking a meal. ‘Adulting’ implies that being an adult is not a necessary part of growing up, but rather a life choice. It's a Millennial sentiment that reduces being a grown-up to a hobby. And for the record, what’s wrong with that? I will not be shamed for romanticising my life! I will post that story of my homemade pasta, I will go to the gym just to take pictures, and I will sprinkle cinnamon on my oat latte just for the aesthetic. Truth be told, my life got a whole lot better once I stopped searching for ways to improve it. Mundanity is my succour. I revel in my mediocrity, and I love it.
It’s not that I’m legitimately deeply impressed with myself for doing basic adult tasks like laundry. I know it’s not a huge achievement, and although Boomers think we all want a trophy for regularly putting on clean underwear, we really don’t. We just want to find some way to enjoy this otherwise unending anxiety that is life. Let me be clear, life is gross.
The trick is to view everything in life as an opportunity for success, even the most tedious tasks. If you can allocate the same sense of accomplishment to a trip to the supermarket as you do to a career goal, your life will be flooded with success. For example, if I put on a great outfit and do my hair and makeup one day, I view that as a success rather than a regular part of daily life. Life becomes a game, only the stakes are much, much lower. Equating my own self-image with tasks that I actually can accomplish instead of relying on outside validation is literally the best thing I have ever done for my self-esteem.
Simply put, to take radical pleasure in one’s own mediocrity is the best way to defang the threat of constant failure. Academically, this concept is called kakonomics, or as philosopher Gloria Origgi puts it, the “weird preference for low-quality payoffs.” Maybe it is weird, but ultimately it’s about renegotiating expectations to avoid disappointment at all costs. Nobody needs that negative energy.
I like to call it playing dumb. It’s an agreed upon discount on quality that makes life more chill for everyone. Instead of chasing excellence, why not steam your linen sheets?
Self care is a big example of this. It has served as a balm for Millennials hoping to self soothe in a broken culture, but no matter how many bath bombs and rose quartz crystals we buy, we cannot magick ourselves out of reality! Drinking matcha lattes and lighting cotton-scented candles will not cure our anxiety, and the only way to improve our life is to come to terms with our inherent mediocrity. Who even decided we all had to be excellent? Elghi rehleti.
Implementing this attitude shouldn't feel like giving up or failing, it should feel liberating from both societal expectations and our own irrational notions of productivity. When done correctly, adulting is a way of finding purpose for oneself in a world where it all means nothing. People think small housekeeping tasks are an annoyance, but I’m here to tell you they are the main event.
I encourage you to complete one task that will ease your life every time you feel as though your efforts are insufficient, whether it be getting your nails done or going to have your pants hemmed. You will be happier as a result, and to be honest, if you can change your perspective so that washing your bedsheets becomes the pinnacle of achievement, life may not be as bad as you think.