Essays & Confessions

The 4 Mindsets That Matter When Learning What Makes You An Adult

By | Tuesday, February 12, 2019

As you may have seen in TFD’s recent YouTube video about becoming an adult, “when does adulthood begin?” is a question about much more than age or life milestones.

Rather, adulthood ends up being when we put aside the childish thinking that made us entirely dependent on our parents and others. This doesn’t mean we never have a pillow fight or that we start investing in real estate; it could even mean exactly the opposite if that’s what is right for you. Here are four mindsets that I personally believe are important parts of what it means to be in adulthood:

1. I’m in Charge: Decision-Making Adulthood

For most of our lives, someone else called the shots and took the lead in our decisions; our input might have been valued, but we weren’t the final chooser. But whether you are starting college, applying for your first job, or taking on a new managerial role, more and more things will be yours to decide. This means not only making decisions quickly after doing the appropriate research and thinking; it also means evaluating your givens.

Givens are the ways your family, your friends, or your co-workers do things. There will be office culture aspects that you don’t love, but you may not realize are in your power to change. If you don’t like the gossipy break room, you may not have the authority to tell everyone else to stop gossiping, but you can definitely choose not to participate by leaving or changing the subject. Our character is built of the little decisions we make when it is easier to go with the flow. If we do decide to go with the flow, that’s our choice too: moving toward adulthood is moving toward noticing that you, and not just your surroundings, are making choices all the time. There are definitely things that are beyond your control, but adulthood should be a time when you can tell the difference between external power and personal agency.

2. I Can Find Out: Resource-Seeking Adulthood

A lot of people tell me they don’t feel like adults because they are still Googling “difference between 401(K) and IRA” or “Do I really have to wash whites separate from colored clothes?” I tell them that adults… don’t know everything! Instead, adulthood means being the kind of person who doesn’t go it alone when you are flying without a clue; they seek resources.

It is easier than ever to seek resources online, and most of us are making a science of it. However, when you want more contextualized, nuanced advice, seeking out trusted friends and family members is another form of resource-seeking. If you want to know “When does adulthood begin?” you can note that all the most effective adults around you use their resources. You have what you need to get started, and if you don’t feel like your network is deep and wide, well, getting to know new people is also a part of resource-seeking!

3. What Does Self Responsibility Mean?: Responsible Adulthood

Along with decision making above, responsibility is a major mindset of adulthood, and some people don’t master it all throughout their lives! There are definitely odds stacked against us at times (this isn’t about victimhood; there are certainly cases where people are actually victims!), but in the stories we tell about ourselves, we can set ourselves up as the agent, with mistakes and successes, or as the person to whom everything in life happened. We choose to make our next step and our next choice something that we can own proudly, no matter how many thing have taken us down. Sometimes, that is a responsibility for saying, “what I need right now is to do nothing at all” — knowing that doing nothing is what we need can also be a form of responsibility! In most cases, resting up and relaxing can be the springboard toward our next goal or achievement, and in combination with the people we love and their support (see above!), we start a journey we can be proud of, no matter how many times we end up starting over.

4. There Is a Way Out: Problem-Solving Adulthood

All of these aspects – decision-making, responsibility, and resource-seeking – combine into the biggest mindset that means maturity to me: problem-solving. Think about it: the 4-year-old child looks at their untied shoelace and is baffled – they may not even know that there is a problem, and end up flat on their faces after tripping over their feet. Maturity is the ability to bring multiple lenses to a bad situation, and evaluate them one by one: sometimes, the best thing is to wait and see; sometimes the best thing is to stand up and act. Sometimes, it’s best to choose as well as you can with the information given; sometimes, the stakes are too high to try it by yourself without seeking advice. Sometimes, life has really handed you the tough situation, and sometimes, you were part of getting yourself into that situation. No matter what, having this ability to see both-and rather than either-or gives you more options for how to move forward, making you a thoughtful, driven… adult. It also gives you the opportunity to bring other people along with you; you’d be amazed at how magnetic a calm, flexible problem-solving attitude can be. One of the moments when you may feel like you are “really doing the adulthood thing” is when you get to help someone else puzzle out how to become an adult.


These mindsets aren’t at the foreground of every adult’s mind all the time, but I do think that if the thing we seek when we ask how to be an adult, what we really mean is “How can I approach life with a mature mindset?” This doesn’t mean a neat row of personal accomplishments and accolades, or even constant tweets about “adulting”; often, the accolades don’t come and the accomplishments look nothing like we expected. But entering adulthood has everything to do with using what you’ve been given, seeking what you need next, and taking responsibility for the things that are in your control. These mindsets can make us feel more strong, no matter what we are facing.

Laura Marie is a writer and teacher in Ohio. 

Image via Unsplash

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