How I got over being terrified of adulthood

Two and a half years after graduation, three freelance jobs into my “real,” big-girl life, I left a full-time job interview that had gone very well, but all I felt was terror and a sense of dejection. I really wanted the job, so I was at a loss to understand the mix of feelings running through me. Since leaving college, I had applied to every full-time job I could find, found something wrong with each one I interviewed for, and then settled down into an early career freelancing and blogging. Even though I was picky about my career, at the back of my mind, I always knew I wanted a steady job, something substantial, and something that would hopefully let me do what I love: write.

So when I left the interview for a job I wanted and knew I could do well, I was so confused why I felt so panicked and conflicted. Why did I feel like quitting before I’d even gotten a job offer? Why did I want to run away?

I feel like my feelings are common among my generation. For years, I’ve read articles all over the internet that urge young twenty-somethings to make the most of their lives: to take advantage of every opportunity, to never settle for a job you don’t like, to keep striving for happiness, and to make great efforts to build the life you want, rather than just finding one that’s convenient and settling in.

I’d internalized all that good advice, but there was one major pitfall: the realization that nothing will ever be perfect. The longer I waited for a perfect job, the longer I was putting off reality.

So after that interview, I tried to figure out my fluttery, anxious feelings. With a jolt, I realized that the reason I was never comfortable with the idea of accepting a real job was because I was terrified by the permanence of it. I was also terrified at the status it would immediately give me: Real Adult. As long as I kept looking for the perfect job and as long as I kept striving for something bigger and better, I would still feel like a dreaming college student, full of potential and with years to decide what to do with my life. But I’m not a college student anymore, and all I was doing, while vacillating between jobs, was postponing the inevitable: the Big Bad Adulthood.

I was also sabotaging my own growth. Terrified of being an adult, I was not learning how to be one. Sure, it’s nice to be childlike and not grow up too much, to remain eager for new experiences and stay excited about the little things, but I also had to realize that my childhood, i.e. college and doing everything with reckless abandonment, was over. Adulthood doesn’t get easier if you put it off, and that’s exactly what I was doing. I was just making it that much harder for myself to adjust to my new, “real” life.

A week later, I was offered the position. I was delighted—with reservations. I was frightened of what I was facing, but now that I realized why I was so afraid, accepting the position was a lot easier. As it turns out, I shouldn’t have been so scared. Here’s what I learned in the process.

Adulthood will happen no matter what, so face it head on.

You may want to put it off, but it will always catch up to you. It’s better to face the difficulties of adulthood head on, and learn quickly how to take care of yourself. Putting it off makes it harder instead of easier. The earlier you realize that, the happier and more capable you’ll be—capable to build that life you’ve always wanted, one small step at a time.

You never really grow up.

There’s this lovely quote from Neil Gaiman’s novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane that reads, “Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.”

It’s nice to know that adults don’t know exactly what we’re doing all the time. That thought can be scary, but it can also be freeing: there’s no way to do everything perfectly. We’re all going to mess up and just try to do our best. We’re all just kids deep down, and that’s actually kind of awesome.

There’s not much to be afraid of—you can do it! 

“You can do it” should be everyone’s mantra. Even though it’s cheesy to do it, daily affirmations make a huge difference in your confidence levels and how you think about yourself. I think of it as a sort of positive brainwashing—telling yourself you can do something makes you believe it—sometimes slowly—but it definitely works.

As far as fear, there’s nothing too much to be afraid of. It’s only life. 

There’s a lot about being an adult that’s scary, and stressful, and much worse than being a kid, but there’s also a lot about being an adult that’s wonderful—like figuring out who you are, getting to go after the things you’d always dreamed and talked about, and learning just how strong and capable you can be. I started to learn that in a small way recently, when I finally took the plunge and decided to treat myself like the super cool adult I am.