Editorial: Feb. 15 – On being a grownup
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
They used to ask us this all the time when we were kids. Preschool teachers gave us pieces of construction paper, and we covered them with crayon scrawlings of fire trucks and ballet shoes. Fifth grade teachers gave us writing prompts, and we wrote down paragraphs with proper topic sentences about the long road to medical school. High school counselors gave us URLs, and we filled in bubbles that told us to become sign language interpreters or construction project managers.
But when’s the last time someone asked you what you wanted to be when you grew up? It’s common for them to ask us what our major is, or what we want to do after graduation, but they leave out that phrase “when you grow up.” We’re in college, you see, and we’re supposed to be grown-ups already.
Therein lies one of the central paradoxes of college. At least, it’s one that’s cropped up in my mind in the last few months as I prepare for the “real world.” As college students, young adults, we’re expected to mature quickly and begin making contributions to society. But as college students, young adults, we feel a hesitation to grow up too fast.
We get the best and worst of both worlds. When we land internships or attend career fairs, we put on skirts and ties, use a little extra makeup and slick our hair back, ready to enter the world of adulthood. We want to be taken seriously and treated as grown ups — capable and visionary members of society. We have great educations and a completely new skill set that’s especially applicable to the new digital world. It’s in our power to make a big change when we enter the workforce, and we want to use that leverage. Adults (those 30, 40, 50-year-olds), however, don’t always see us that way. Bosses and teachers often patronize us or just plain ignore us. They might even see us as a threat.
But when we procrastinate homework and stay up all night watching “Parks and Recreation” with our housemates, when we don’t know what to major in or forget to pay the electric bill, we want everyone to remember we’re still not old enough to rent cars. We like to use ignorance as an excuse — perhaps a valid one, but an excuse all the same. Reminding our parents that college is for new experiences, we spend our four (or five, or six) years gallivanting around Europe and learning to bartend. It’s a whole lot of fun, but we’re also not contributing a whole lot to the greater good.
The responsibilities of adulthood are numerous. You don’t need me to tell you that. At some point, however, we’ve got to own up.
Or do we? I’m not really sure. There is certainly something to be said for using college as a springboard to our adult lives. But there’s also value in living life to the fullest while we’ve still got a chance. I’m torn because I see myself making both grown up and juvenile choices every day.
So here’s a cop out: in the style of that awful movie with Jennifer Aniston and Vince Vaughn, I give you an editorial with two endings. Take your pick.
For the Peter Pans among you:
Keep taking it slow. Choose classes that just sound interesting. Study abroad. You don’t quite know what to do with your life, and it’s really okay to share a one-bedroom apartment and work at a cafe for a while. Remember that it’s okay to make mistakes — college, ultimately, is a learning experience.
For the next Mark Zuckerbergs:
Suck it up. Choose classes that can earn you a triple major. Market yourself. You know what field you want to enter, and you have to jump in with both feet. Put away that Playstation and go get a job. Remember that college is preparation for the real world — you have to grow up fast or become obselete.
All I really know is that it’s time to make a choice.