by Maureen Bruce
It was in the middle of having a conversation with my mom about building credit that I realized I was no longer a child. Having recently turned twenty-one, I was aware of the newness of this age, the fact that I had leaped over the last “hurdle” into the beginning of adulthood. But now I was faced with the knowledge that these important things—learning how to file taxes, understanding what an interest rate was, figuring out how to set up my LinkedIn profile—would be part of a new normal. I felt overwhelmed with these realizations. Because I lived at home during my college years, I knew that I hadn’t been given the opportunity to be fully independent. I’d never lived on my own, never paid for rent or utility bills, never had to make sure I was grocery shopping in a budget-friendly way. Now, though, I was entering a new chapter of life, a chapter in which I would be following my own directives and saying goodbye to my younger self.
With graduation season quickly approaching, students all over the country are also preparing to say goodbye. This is not a see you later (for most of us, anyway), but a genuine farewell—to long nights spent pouring over the material we barely understand, to trashy junk food meals at 2 AM, and to our roommates, people who were once strangers but are now our closest and dearest friends. Although I’m not graduating just yet, I watch some of my friends and classmates on the cusp of a their brand new chapter of life with mixed emotions. I’m proud of them and excited to see where their journeys take them, but I’m also hit with the reality of impending adulthood. Life post-college means stepping into new territory, a slightly unfamiliar place that I call the Real World.
Growing up, I was accustomed to dreaming about the future. Maybe it was all of the books that I read, but the idea of being older, more mature, and “adult” was always appealing. I used to watch this TV show, Girlfriends, and I often felt myself resonating with Joan, a character played by Tracee Ellis Ross. Even at a young age, I saw myself becoming someone like her, someone who throws themselves into their work, is high-strung, but loves their friends and would always be there for them. This idea of being a woman was foreign and far-off to me as a little girl, yet I wanted to reach for that part of my life with small fingers and latch onto it. There was this sense of freedom and excitement that came with aging, this reminder that more doors would be opened for me, that people would no longer see me as a child. I would be smarter and cooler, more “seasoned”. The older I got, though, the more that I saw that getting older came with a lot of baggage. Heavy suitcases full of responsibilities dropped onto my proverbial doorstep as I realized that I wouldn’t be able to depend on a guiding hand forever. In high school, that was making decisions about college—applying for a plethora of scholarships, going on college tours, and studying for the SAT’s and ACT’s. I was suddenly stressed as I thought about how my credits would transfer from the community college level to a bigger university. I had to think about financial aid and what kinds of loans would be the wisest to get. As I got accepted into or rejected by colleges, I had to decide where I would spend the next four years of my life, four years that I knew would be vastly different from anything I had experienced in my short life thus far. My mother did an excellent job of raising me and teaching me important lessons (ones of morals, values, and practicality), but there were things that even she didn’t know or understand about this new journey. I was to go about this ride alone, especially as the oldest kid in the family.
I faced college life with a bright smile and what I hoped would be a steely resolve. I soon learned that there would be times where I felt as though I was walking through mud. When I lost my very first college friendships, I was forced to be alone, to get to know myself and all of the emotional and mental things I hadn’t let come to the surface. When I chose to spend nine weeks in Galveston for a ministry opportunity, I missed out on meeting my mother’s side of the family in the Philippines. When I met new friends, I was introduced to the challenges of being a part of a close-knit, growing community. I remember all of the big moments: the painful dregs of my first heartbreak, the stress of failing my first college class, and the long conversations with old friends over FaceTime hundreds of miles apart. I remember this point in time when I was sitting on campus with my friends during one of our outreach meetings. Surrounded by people, I felt a pang of sadness mixed with unadulterated joy. The sadness, though I couldn’t quite understand it at the time, was a reminder of how every second we were all growing up, that soon we wouldn’t always be around each other, laughing and sharing meals and enjoying each other’s company. The joy, though, was beautiful. It encompassed the essence of these close friendships, the excitement of new adventures with friends, and the reality of just how blessed I was to have this community. Each moment of that time mattered no matter how difficult it was. Every ache had to be felt, every crying session was necessary, and all of the memories of laughing-too-hard tie everything together into a gift. And now, as I stare down at the last semester of my college years, I think about graduation, about leaving school forever, about looking for jobs and moving out. What I’ve known and become comfortable with will slip out of my fingertips. There are new memories to be made and new worries to be had.
Three years later, I find myself reflecting. I think about that urgency I felt when I was sixteen, the pressure to grow up fast so I could dive into adulthood without abandon. I think about that hopeful, naive girl, the one with stars in her eyes, the one who expected things to be just like the YA novels she’d practically inhaled during her formative years. That girl is different now. She’s wiser, but still learning. She’s got perspective but still hasn’t seen all that life has to offer. She’s a little rough around the edges, but growing each day, becoming more and more like the young woman she was meant to be.
The truth is, being an adult is scary. It’s terrifying to not have the answers, to make plans with no idea of if something will suddenly change them. But the reality of this “real world” is that nothing is perfect and no one will expect it to be. We are all on our different paths, ones filled with eccentricities and crazy little details. We’re searching for something, whether that be purpose, passion, love, or success. We are amazingly human, filled with questions and ideas, and flaws. I have no clue what I want to do after college. I don’t know where I’ll be in five or ten years. Sometimes, I can barely remember what I ate for lunch the day before. But this, all of this chaos and beauty, is real, true life. This is adulthood.