Reflections on the illusions of growing up
Childhood undoubtedly holds the title of the best phase in a human’s life. Ask any adult, and they will vividly recount the joys of carefree days as kids. In today’s world, this sentiment is amplified as many parents so dutifully coddle their children and shield them from hardship as though they would forever be tied to their apron strings.
I grew up during simpler times. In those cherished days of old, children would wake up and engage in chores, honing their basic skills and cultivating a sense of responsibility. Once schoolwork was completed or holidays began, ample free time allowed us to indulge in play. Outdoor activities like sand games, five-a-side soccer, police and thief, hide and seek, mummy and daddy, and hopscotch (or suwe) were our staples. Some games were often invented on the spot, fueling our creativity. When TV programming resumed at 4pm, children would eagerly gather in front of the screen to watch their favourite shows until 7pm when the adults took over for the news. Life seemed unhurried, with no one rushing off anywhere.
We were blissfully carefree. Our waking moments were met with an expectation of finding food to eat and clothes to wear, confident that everything else would fall into place. Decisions were made for us, and we didn’t mind as long as things went well. However, as we grew older and began comprehending the world around us, a rebellious streak emerged during our teenage phase. We yearned for more control — why couldn’t we make our own choices? Why were we obligated to follow our parents’ wishes? Filled with longing, we eagerly awaited the day we would become adults. We craved a life where we could be responsible for ourselves, make our own choices, and spend our hard-earned money however we pleased.
The fortunate few who attended boarding school discovered a taste of independence. Others found their informal initiation into adulthood when they progressed to university or polytechnic. Attending school in a different town further offered a sense of full-fledged adulthood, limited only by the pocket money doled out by one’s parents. Suddenly, you had the power to decide how to spend “your money,” whether to attend classes or not, and what to do with your newfound “free time.”
After completing higher education and securing your first job, you eagerly celebrated the life you had longed for. Moving out was the icing on the cake — the ultimate taste of freedom. However, the reality of adulthood stealthily crept in. Taxes, rent, groceries, transportation, social obligations, relationships, black tax, unexpected expenses — the list goes on. These demands seemed to converge all at once, while your take-home pay struggled to take you to the next bus stop.
Attaining full independence was a goal many children aspired to in adulthood. No longer dependent on pocket money to fulfil desires or needing permission for certain actions, the power to make decisions was a breath of fresh air. That is until one discovered the responsibilities and expectations that come with being an adult, leading one to ponder why we were so eager to grow up in the first place. As someone tugs at your sleeve, waiting for the money you promised to give them or needing your help with something, you can’t help but wonder when you became Father Christmas. And yet, the weight of responsibility is settled firmly on your shoulders. It’s in those moments that you begin to think: “I want my mummy and daddy”!
They deceived us. Those who convinced us that life would be better as adults played a cruel trick on us. With independence comes freedom, but the demands placed upon adults make you question if true freedom exists. Work and home responsibilities clash leaving you with difficult choices. Selecting one responsibility over another may endanger your job or strain family ties. Personal obligations, alongside work and family, coupled with societal expectations, leave little room for personal time. You wonder if work-life balance is merely a buzzword.
As adults, we often face the challenge of balancing personal desires with societal pressures and the expectations others impose upon us. “Why do you want to quit your job? Why aren’t you married? Why are you leaving your marriage? Why are you spending money frivolously? Why don’t you listen to your parents? Why don’t you want to attend your cousin’s wedding? Why do you still live in this old neighbourhood?” The barrage of questions continues to grow. You believed you were an independent being, so why do people seem to question your decisions?
Beyond the myth of achieving independence, there lies the mirage of success. Society silently demands that you tick off certain milestones as soon as you begin your career — buying a car, moving into your own apartment, getting married, having children, sending them to prestigious schools, building your dream house, supporting extended family, and contributing to worthy causes, just to list a few.
In the realm of adulthood, success becomes the ultimate prize. But what does success truly mean? Is there a single standard that all adults must strive for? Does the absence of a house make you a failure? Is sending children to elite private schools a great indicator of success? Is donating large sums to charity one of the most important benchmarks? Must you relentlessly chase material possessions to be deemed successful? Many have progressed on quests to satisfy the expectations of others instead of seeking personal growth, continuous improvement, and fulfilment as more sustainable measures of success.
The pursuit of society’s definition of success can be draining. Our desire to have it all propels us in that direction but can we truly have it all? Can we achieve perfection in every aspect of life? Considering the myriad responsibilities adults must juggle, is the pursuit of “having it all” truly wise? We are expected to excel at work, maintain impeccable personal and family lives, remain in great shape, be debt-free, and be available to everyone who demands our time. The pressure to flawlessly juggle multiple roles and meet countless expectations is not only unrealistic but also detrimental to our mental and physical well-being. It is crucial to set realistic expectations, prioritize self-care, and seek help when needed.
Before I forget, remember how you used to be able to jump up and down exerting yourself when you were younger? Why didn’t anyone mention that the body begins to rebel as one gets older? Losing weight is harder and squinting happens more often. An ache in your back yesterday, a creak in your knees today, and you are left wondering what maladies would pop up tomorrow. Fitness and a healthy lifestyle can improve our lives but they cannot stop the ageing process neither can cosmetic surgery which only provides aesthetic enhancement. Adulthood and ageing go hand in hand, why must I grow grey hair?
Adulthood is a mix of challenges, compromises, and unexpected revelations. Irrespective taking care of number one is most important. Define success on your terms and strive to fulfil the responsibilities you have undertaken. Ask for help when you need it and give it when you can. Avoid placing undue pressure on yourself. Learn from failure, as much as from success. Prepare the younger generation for the realities of adulthood. Above all, embrace your true self, this is the way I see things today.