I have been reading this very fascinating article from the website The Art of Manliness and I would like to share some of the most intriguing points the author raised about ‘Why growing up is so hard in the modern age’. A little warning, it’s a really long article.
Oftentimes in these kinds of discussions, claims are made about the disappearance of adulthood without ever defining what adulthood means in the first place. So let us at the outset do just that, and outline several of the qualities we believe mark one as “grown-up.”
Naturally it is a rather subjective subject, and one in which no two people are bound to completely agree. Both childhood and adulthood have a biological component, but are also largely cultural and social constructs that have varied through time and by culture. So what we are trying to home in on is not a universal definition of adulthood, but those traits associated with maturity, in the West, over the course of the last several centuries. And it bears mentioning that what we are after here today is not manhood, but adulthood – those qualities of maturity that overlap between the sexes.
Atop any list of the criteria for adulthood must surely sit personal responsibility. This means owning up to one’s mistakes, and carrying out the things one has promised to do, even when – especially when – such tasks are unpleasant.
Also central to maturity is embracing the role of creator, rather than simply being a consumer. Adults contribute to the world around them, rather than passively sampling the fruits of others’ labor. Adults build things; children (of any age) use these works, or, even further removed, simply become “fans” of them.
The ability to delay gratification is another marker of maturity. Children are inherently present-minded, and want what they want, when they want it. As we grow up, we must learn how to sacrifice a smaller reward now in the service of a greater good down the line. Adults have the ability to plan for the future and set long-range goals.
Related to this trait is self-control. Children act on impulse. Adults decide how to react, rather than being the slave of circumstances. They are masters of themselves.
Critical thinking skills also assuredly bear mentioning. Children are easily duped, prone to misunderstand things that are over their heads, and prefer information in simple, black-and-white narratives. Adults are able to parse information, evaluate the evidence for truth claims, ascertain the validity of sources, make connections between ideas, and grapple with complexity.
A good degree of self-reliance is requisite to adulthood as well. We are born helpless, and thus learning to help oneself has long been a sign of transcending one’s infantile state. None of us are an island, of course, but being largely dependent on others runs counter to the kind of autonomy necessary for maturity.
Finally, independence makes possible another quality of adulthood – having dependents. This category doesn’t just include one’s own kids; any leader – be it in the military, in business, in school, and so on – has those who depend on him for guidance, for direction, for mentoring. To be grown up is to have responsibilities not only to oneself, but to others as well.
Now that we have outlined a (non-exhaustive) list of the attributes of adulthood, let us turn to why it is that cultivating these qualities is so difficult to do in our modern age.
Thus, the first obstacle to growing up is a fear that embracing an adult sensibility will turn us into close-minded, unoriginal dolts, and that even if we don’t feel that way ourselves, other people will see us as such.
So, the second reason growing up is so hard to do, is that rather than gradually being initiated into the world of adults, we’re often expected to take on mature responsibilities all at once. Without a couple decades of training, this can feel like a shock to the system, which leaves you drowning in a world for which you haven’t been prepared.
Thus, the third reason growing up is hard to do is that it’s hard to leave behind the feeling of being special, to admit one’s limitations, and to choose a course for one’s life, knowing that doing so may shut the door on other options.