I suck at adulting.

At least…I suck at the things that we think of as adulting.

I’m not particularly experienced at being an adult. In fact, a few years ago I remember being terrified of adulthood. I had never been an adult before and could not, in my wildest dreams, imagine myself as anything other than the kid I had been for the past twenty-ish years.

Now that I have survived my first several years as ‘an adult,’ I think that, when we talk about ‘adulting,’ we’re talking about something very specific. Usually, we’re talking about either:

1. accomplishing everyday housekeeping tasks, or
2. keeping up appearances, so we don’t look ridiculous in front of other people.

I suck at both of these things.

Let me count the ways.

First of all, housekeeping. I currently live in a three bedroom apartment, which I rented to do an AirBNB that swiftly got shut down. So, strike one.

Of the rooms in this apartment, I have fully furnished my bedroom and the kitchen. That’s it. Everything else is partially furnished. Oh, except for the dining room. That’s not even partially furnished. It’s completely empty except for a rug, a folding craft table, and a never-worn Captain Phasma halloween costume.

When I need to take out the trash, I have a specific song that I look up on YouTube. This is my ‘taking out the trash’ motivation song. Without it, I cannot motivate myself to take out the trash.

I have only two plates. One of them lives in my drawer, and the other one I use over and over. I purposely always use the same one because I can cook my dinner while washing the plate from the last time I ate dinner. This way, I never have more than one dirty plate. Spoons, however—I always have dirty spoons.

And cups. I also don’t have cups. One time I invited about six people over to my house simultaneously. Luckily, they came at different times, so I was able to offer them each a cup of tea or coffee upon their arrival, and then steal the cup when they were finished to wash and use for the next person to arrive. I provided hospitality to six people with the same two cups. I actually have a sick feeling of pride about this one.

Don’t even get me started about keeping up appearances.

Last week was laundry week. This means that I put most of my clothes in a machine, then another machine, then take them out and fold them and put them away. However, the process is different for the unmentionables. I wash all the unmentionables by hand and then hang them up to dry in my bathroom. I don’t have many hooks in the bathroom, so the unmentionables end up on the shower curtain hooks, the loofah hooks, the door hooks, and the medicine cabinet handles. In other words, everywhere.

Another thing also happened last week. My toilet broke. This means calling the landlord to fix it.

I try not to be in my home when the landlord is fixing things; he makes generally complimentary but physically oriented comments about me, so I am uncomfortable to be alone with him. On this occasion, I called him to tell him that the toilet was broken, and I sauntered out of the house to deliberately stay away all day long.

I did this, of course, having completely forgotten about the unmentionables.

I only realized what my landlord had seen in my bathroom when I came home to find a fixed toilet, still surrounded by all of my unmentionables.

…well, minus one pair.

I think it fell behind my sink. I’m hoping it fell behind my sink. Meanwhile, I re-washed all the other ones, just in case.

So, if we’re defining adulting by the state of our homes and the state of our reputations, I’m not exactly leading the field.

But I’m not actually that worried about it.

I’ve see ‘adulting’ as something a bit more holistic than that. Because, as I’ve become an adult, I’ve started to notice something.

As an adult, I don’t actually ‘have to’ do anything.

If it’s six o’clock and I want to have a giant slice of chocolate cake for dinner, I get to do that. Nobody gets to stop me.

As an adult, I don’t have to study programming outside of work. No one can make me.

I also don’t have to save my money. I could spend it all if I wanted to. It’s mine.

I can do what I want, pretty much, and nobody gets to punish me. As an adult, I get to make my own choices about who I want to be, what I want to do, how I want to present myself, and what I want to bring into the world.

It’s my life. It’s my choices. I’m the boss of my reality.

But this is reality. So now, as an adult, there are no ‘punishments.’ Instead, they have been replaced with the adult version—consequences.

Consequences aren’t the same as punishments because punishments are somebody else’s decision about what should happen to you as a result of your behavior. Consequences are different. Consequences are, as best as I can tell, you happening to reality, and reality reacting.

So I don’t eat chocolate cake for dinner (most of the time) because, as consequence, I’d sleep poorly, ingest less protein, and be weaker and less fit than if I eat not-cake for dinner. Those things are important to me. I want to be able to do more pull-ups (among other exercises), and I can do more pull-ps if I’m well-rested, strong, and light. There’s nothing wrong with being poorly rested and weak and heavy, but that’s not what I want, and so I make my choices accordingly. It’s not anybody punishing me. It’s just what happens, as a result of my actions.

Same with programming. I want to be able to code native iOS and Android applications. I still have room to be much better at both. So I need to practice building apps if that’s what I want.

I want to be able to go places and do things in the future, potentially on short notice, and that sometimes requires money. In order to have that freedom later, I need to plan now. I’m not waiting on some disciplinarian to slap my wrist or reward me—I’m relying on my own choices to create the reality that I want.

As children, we don’t get to live this deliberately. Now, we get to decide what we want and make choices accordingly.

The hard thing about this, I’ve realized, is that even the ‘right’ choices have consequences.

Here’s an example everyone can relate to: uncomfortable conversations. We want to confront someone about something they’re doing that we think is wrong. We want to apologize to someone after we do something wrong. We want to come out to our parents as gay, or trans, or the opposite political party of them, or a fan of their least favorite in the whole wide world football team. These conversations can be extremely difficult, but having them is a necessary part of getting what we want.

How many adults do you suppose you have met whose houses were spic and span, but who had been avoiding an uncomfortable conversation for years?

When I think of ‘adulting’ now, I think of two things. But it’s not housekeeping or appearances. Lately, it has been this:

1. I don’t ‘have to’ do anything; I can do things deliberately to create the outcomes that I want.
2. I have to deal with the consequences of the things that I want to do, and do them anyway.

I probably suck at those two things just as much as I suck at housekeeping or appearances.

But I think getting good at those two things has a lot more potential to get us where we want to go than housekeeping or appearances ever did.

And there has been an interesting side effect to this view of ‘adulting’…

I definitely judge people much less than I used to.

I don’t bother judging other peoples’ workouts anymore, for example—why don’t they do anything besides one and two rep sets? I don’t care. It’s their choice if that’s what they want to do. We can coexist and have different workouts. I won’t throw shade until they do something that affects me personally (like not racking their weights—you people still are not safe from the shade).

Or whether, how, and with whom people have decided to have those uncomfortable conversations. Maybe I personally think they should just do it already, but maybe I don’t understand all of the consequences.

We’re all just trying to deal with reality the best way we know how. Maybe we learn better ways over time, but it does take time.

So, actually, so what if my dining room is empty? So what if my landlord got stuck in a roomful of my lacy laundry?

There’s other things to shoot for,
like pull-ups and apps and vacations,
and sticking up for people,
and saying I’m sorry,
and being honest about who I am.

I’m sure the failures in adulthood will continue. But this time they feel much more purposeful.

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