The unexpected and beautiful moments of adulting

Growing up is never easy but I always saw myself as pretty independent. I went off to university far from home, navigated cities I didn’t know, took on internships and pinned down a first job. I even decided to live abroad – twice – and get a Master’s degree. How could I not feel like an adult? On paper, it seemed like I was adult-ing pretty well.

But the thing is, you never really feel ready for life after graduation – for the loan repayments, the unsteady work, the end of student discounts and the weirdly demanding world where mortgages and credit scores and 401(k)s are an actual concern. You have to learn a lot by trial by error and it can leaving you shaking in your boots and crying for mom.

The thing is though, while there is a ton of new and daunting responsibility when you become an adult, there are also some really, really beautiful things.

Solo exploration

One of the weirdest parts of “grown up” life has been the random pockets of free time I have. I don’t have pressure to study for an exam or catch up on reading for a seminar, but I do have plenty of time to wander the city. Or even go to a different city and see what I might find! It’s honestly one of the best feelings in the world to know that the time I have is really mine and what I do with it is my choice.

The elation of really doing it on your own

Look, I’m a journalist and a blogger. I feel perpetually broke. I have student loans and lots of bills, so I’m not exactly making it rain when I go out. But one of the best feelings in the world is paying all my dues for the month — and doing it with money I earned. I feel more independent than I ever have and even if I can’t live big, I can get by.

Going to a bar and really only having a drink

In college and into my early 20’s I was definitely making questionable — and irresponsible — decisions when it came to turnin’ it up. Let’s just say, I didn’t always know when to turn it down. But now that I’ve gotten older and broken away from uni-booze-fueled weekends, I no longer feel the need to go from 0 to 100. I am totally cool with sipping on a pint and calling it a night. Being an adult means acting responsibly, and part of that is knowing your limits. I’m not saying you can’t go and have a wild one once in a while, but overdoing it just gets a lot harder to recover from the older you get. So you just learn to cool it, and that’s OK.

Making new friends in unconventional ways

Meeting new people was so easy in college. Whether you were sharing a dorm building or taking the same courses, there were always people around you with shared interests. Leaving the comfort of a college campus – and in my case, moving to a new city – meant I knew no one. So, it’s needless to say, it was really easy to feel invisible and alone. But I decided rather than being sad about the change, I could try and find people I click with; cue awkward online postings, standing idly in bars, and chatting to fellow concert goers. Nonetheless, it was because I was forced out of my comfort zone that I began to meet new people and build confidence. And confidence is seriously, undeniably cool.

Enjoying my own company

Another, somewhat difficult, truth about growing up is that everyone moves on. Whether they are getting married, having kids, moving cross country or generally being the boss at whatever they do, people just sort of drift. So you have to start a relationship with yourself in ways: you have to learn to listen to your own wants, to take comfort in sometimes uncomfortable silence, and to really be willing to go out on your own. I still remember the first time I ever had a dinner by myself; I thought I should be embarrassed that I was alone. But, honestly, I wasn’t. It was just a natural thing to do — walk into a restaurant, sit down, order, pay — nothing about it was contrived or awkward, and really I never should have expected it would be.

Owing who I am

I think a lot of my early 20s were spent worrying about doing and saying the right thing. I never expected to be cool but I wanted to fit in — who doesn’t? I wouldn’t say I ever really compromised my own values to be “in” but I definitely wasn’t always as true to myself as I should have been. Now that I’m moving into adulthood, I’m really learning to embrace all that I am — and accept all that I’m not. Let it be known that I, Chelsea Hawkins, like jazz music and listening to Fairouz on blast; I bookmark cook books, and really wish “professional reader” was a career choice. I am not chic or model-pretty or a bad girl. And that is really, kind of, awesome because I am 100 percent me.

The bliss that comes from the unknown

I’m not going to lie: life is hella stressful. I have hid under my covers and had full blown freak-outs, especially after bombing job interviews or realizing my bank account was dangerously low. I, seriously, cross-my-heart-and-hope-to-die believed I was never going to succeed in anything. These are really ugly moments in life but they happen. A huge part of growing up is learning to accept there is only so much you can control; you can take precautions in life and try your hardest, but there are simply a lot of things that can go waaaaay differently than you planned. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just means you have to roll with the punches a lot more.

It isn’t always about finding a silver lining in things, especially when what lies ahead of you is murky. Leaving the comfort of hometowns and college dorms to enter the big, unknown void of adulthood can be terrifying, particularly because structure no longer really exists. But it’s that lack of structure and the freedom for growth, for discovery and for challenge that really makes growing up amazing.

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