Friday, March 5, 2010

Expectations on Being an "Adult"

In less than two weeks (on March 16th, to be exact), I'll be turning 19.  Almost two decades on this earth.

And I feel like it's this great, looming presence on the metaphorical horizon: waiting, the days counting down, their passage constantly reminding me of how old I'm soon going to be.

I haven't really enjoyed my Birthday in years...  Since I was 13 or so, Birthdays reminded me of all the things I hadn't done in that year (all the things I thought would be good to do at X age, that never happened).  A time to feel sad about all the things in my life that weren't the way I wanted them to be.  Isn't that a horrible way of looking at things?

But last year was different.  Last year, I was simply dreading turning 18.  Becoming an official "adult", with all of the encumbent expectations of just what being an adult entails.

I think turning 19 is almost worse.  At 18, I could get away with being a brand new adult!  Now, I've had a whole year to get used to it.  It's like solidifying the adult-ness.

And I've really, really been struggling with that.  At this point in life, even most unschoolers *expect* me to be working, or in college, or in an apprenticeship...  They expect me to be Doing Something.  Something more than what I am.

Because I'm not working.  I'm not in school.  I haven't found someone to apprentice to.  I'm still just writing, researching, planning travels to a couple places, on very limited funds...

And when I look around me, it seems EVERYONE my age is doing *more*.

I feel ashamed.  Embarassed.  Like I'm the slow kid in a nonexistant class, the one that people are looking at with a mix of dissaproval and confusion.  She's smart enough, why isn't she doing something with it?

Because the thing is, I don't want to be an "adult", whatever the fuck that means.  I finally realized that in one of my recent breakdowns (I very rarely meltdown, normally, but in the last couple of months, I've been making a habit of it.) that all I want to do is to be 15 or 16 again (despite the fact I had no clue who I was at those ages, and wasn't necessarily all that happy), and be able to just *be* without all of the pressure.  The expectation that I should be moving on to *more*.

And that realization makes me feel even more embarrassed.  I feel like feeling that way makes me immature.  I look at others my age, with their jobs and college classes and apprenticeships and world traveling, and wonder what they think of me...

My mother says I've always been very wary of and unhappy with change.  I know that to be true.  I've always wanted to watch from the sidelines for a while, before I decide whether or not I want to join in.

But haven't I been watching from the sidelong too long now?  Don't I have to find something to join into now?  I'm turning 19!!

And I do want to make some changes in my life.  I'm not as happy as I could be with where I am now.  But the changes I want to make aren't necessarily the changes others think I should be making.  And I'm no longer sure what the right choices are: which ones I want and which ones others want me to want.

I just feel lost...  And stressed.  And ashamed.

My mother and sister are supportive, and without them, I would truly be lost.  My father is loving, yet with a much more traditional outlook, and he's worried.  He thinks unschooling has failed, because I'm not doing any of the things I "should be" doing by my age.  He doesn't say it, he quite possibly doesn't even think it, but what I hear is that I've failed.  That's not a nice feeling.

So that's where I am right now.  What I've been struggling with for too long now.  My apologies for the disjointedness, the rambling...  It's late.  I'm overtired.  And life feels really difficult right now...



  1. Okay, Idzie, take a deep breath! There is no where you "should" be at this juncture. Wherever you are is exactly where you should be.

    So what that others are "doing" more! Are they happier than you? If yes, then what can you do to be happy (usually a perspective change, not "doing" something); if no, then see it as a sign that "doing" something doesn't really help.

    By the way, I do see you "doing" things. You write a blog, you are planning a gathering, you live your life...Have you read The Teenage Liberation Handbook? If not, read it! If so, read it again!

    We all struggle with feeling like we don't have the right things worked out by "this age" because society told us so. I went through a mini mid-life crisis when I was 24, because I had an arbitrary goal when I was a teen that I would have a certain number of things accomplished by that age. I felt like a total failure that the only thing I had accomplished was getting married (way too young by society's standards). And now, I discover, all those things I was depressed about not having (a college degree, owning a house, having a baby) were things I didn't necessarily want. They were things I chose based on what I thought I should choose. Now, I don't remember, have you read Ishmael by Daniel Quinn? If so, think "mother culture," if not, it's a good read.

    In conclusion, whatever society's expectations are of you, you do not need to fulfill them. Seek out what makes your heart sing and do it. If it doesn't make you enough money (or barter ability) to get your basic needs met, then get a little creative and figure out how to do that, too.

  2. happiness is the only true measure of success...

  3. Idzie, I applaud your honesty and openness. What a courageous expression of what you're feeling right now. Most people hold such feelings inside and never dare to admit them. They see their feelings as a reflection of their worth: "I'm feeling shame; therefore, I must be a shameful human being." That's what I thought for most of my life. Speaking your feelings is the first step to moving beyond them.

    One of my favorite quotes, written in someone's art journal: "I long to explore that girl who got buried by the world's expectations...."

  4. I won't freak you out by suggesting that this might not be the last time you feel this way... but when you're working without a culturally-sanctioned net, it's not surprising you don't see the "more" that you're actually doing, because it doesn't look like the "more" that the culture says you're "supposed" to be doing.

    BTW, most kids in college don't know what they're doing, either -- they're just doing it in a culturally-sanctioned place.

    It's hard, this stuff you're feeling right now, and it's maddening and frustrating to not know what you want/need to do next. But from this side of the fence I look at you and go "wow -- she's doing amazing things."

    Seriously. xox, p

  5. If you really feel like you need an adult role, why not call yourself a writer (which you most definitely are) and carry on doing what you're doing?

    It's too bad we feel we need to justify our existence to the world. I call myself "homeschooling mom" to make myself feel like I'm living up to everyone else's expectations, but I'm finally getting better at not worrying about it. And I'm 25 years older than you.

    I don't suppose that makes you feel better, but I'm sure you'll come through this just fine.

    Check out Alan Watt's Music and Life.


  6. Others may look like they are doing more, but from my experience, even those in college or holding jobs don't necessarily *know* what they want to be doing with their life at the age of 19. Or they thought they did, but as time passed, life happened and goals changed. My life at almost 38 looks unbelievably different than I ever imagined it would be at 19.

    This is a beautiful, honest post about a topic not too many people are comfortable discussing. As always, thank you for writing.

  7. Hey Idzie,
    I am in exactly the same boat. My life seems to consist of tagging along everywhere with my mom/little brothers and I don't really have anything going on for myself (Probably because I don't drive, don't go to school and am pretty much not working).
    You are definitely not alone, I wonder how many other young adults go through the same thing.

  8. What Pirro said was right on: "when you're working without a culturally-sanctioned net, it's not surprising you don't see the "more" that you're actually doing, because it doesn't look like the "more" that the culture says you're "supposed" to be doing."

    Mindfulness and authenticity take time, time in which it often looks like you're doing "nothing". The considering and musing you're doing is growth, it is a becoming, but that sort of thing doesn't lend itself to performance and the sort of material output that our society is so fixated on. That doesn't mean it's not real and valid.

    You're not alone in this. Believe me, most of the people around you are putting on a show, but that's all it is. People do that for long enough and they become bitter and resentful when they realize how pointless it is. Some of us break free (and this happens in a whole spectrum of ages,) but being free also means having to figure out for yourself what you are and what you want your life to be about. And it's hard to meditate on that when you're distracted by others' fear and misconceptions about what's going on.

    You are okay, and you are going to be wonderful. You are in one sense (one that at the heart of things is probably not really important to *you*) 'behind', but in another you are well ahead.

  9. If I were you, I would find whatever it is that I love, and go and be brilliant at it. You're a writer. Go get published!

  10. Idzie!

    I love that you wrote about this!

    I felt like an adult when I was 19. I was a full time college student, an NCAA Division one track and cross country athlete and I worked part time. I was too into being an adult too soon. So I have been making up for it in my mid/late twenties. I am now settling in to being more of an adult now while still playing and being youthful.

    You don't have to be an adult so fast. Please, please, please enjoy being young while you are. I am only 28, but there is a difference in many ways. When I was your age I was really eager to discover everything that I could. I am still very eager but now I have certain commitments and constraints. The "adult" is a construction of the industrial patriarchal society that we live in. This was constructed to be the most productive citizens that we could be.

    There is a pressure to do so much. I was in that pressure boat up until I quit running in college. After I quit I realized how much of a machine I was.

    Don't worry about what your friends are doing. Do what you need to do. Feel it out and breath. Enjoy writing. Spend time on the land. Go on a trip. Work or intern on a farm. Travel. Drink tea. Go with the flow. :)

  11. I know exactly where you're coming from. I don't have any especially sage advice, just my admiration for acknowledging and dealing with your feelings. And I hope you know that you're not a failure.

  12. Hang in there, girl. I took a year "off" at that age and just floated around a bit really hoping that my path would make itself apparent. Then at 20 started college just to go through the motions really, because that's what I kept hearing I was "supposed" to be doing. That was fine and all, although I didn't really figure out my passion until I was 27, which had very little to do with my degree. I still think you should do unschooling research! More proof and research is needed to prove that unschooled people are just as intelligent and competent as anyone else. I wonder if the Home Education Research Institute has done anything like that. HUGS!

  13. I really, really appreciate all the supportive comments!! Thank you so very much. ♥

  14. normally i am just qietly lurking here from europe and this a good moment to say thank you.

    i finally feel deschooled now with 42 and reading here and on many other places helped me a lot.
    so you do already something ;)
    my 5 year old daughter will be unschooled.

    when i was your age, i did nothing. before i quit school and didnt finish any education. i am well educated anyway - academy of life - and have success in a job i like.
    with age 20 i started an apprentice training as photographer. not finished of course ;) but i am still successful in this job because i love it. selfemployed.

    i think it is pretty normal, to have this hangaround time to find yourself. dont worry about. expectations of the society are the problem of the society, not yours.
    bests from austria

  15. Not much that hasn't been said: no shoulds, you're already accomplishing a lot, hard w/o a sanctioned "net", lots of people take time off btwn high school & whatever comes next so don't feel odd just because you didn't go to high school, etc. I was "grown-up" at 19 (married soon after and had 2 kids) and am just now, at almost 60, allowing myself not to be grown-up. Oh, and I remember my eldest daughter (unschooled) feeling the way you describe; it passed. I'm going to find an article Peter Kowalke (Grown Without Schooling video) wrote a few years back in Life Learning and send it to you. You might recognize some things. ;-) hugs, W

  16. At 17, with no school, no college plans, no job, and nothing to make my days feel "productive," I understand the feeling. It sucks, but we'll get through it. Hopefully soon.

  17. The idea that everyone should reach for similar goals at similar times is silly. I doubt unschooling has failed you, and I doubt you are failing by not seeing yourself growing up and working.

    What a lot of other unschoolers won't say (because it's all about 'freedom') but I will is that sometimes you just have to go through the motions and be that person who doesn't really have a goal or love their job and is working anyways or going to school anyways. I see a lot of unwillingness to do this in my older unschooled friends and I've got mixed feelings on it, but it really doesn't serve some of them well. I know a bunch of unschoolers who grew up and immediately started doing what they loved (traveling, working, both) but a few of the ones I'm personally really close to...they aren't going anywhere, they're waiting for the absolute 'right thing' to come along, and sometimes it just isn't there. Sometimes you just have to do the drudge work. Not everyone can get paid to do what they love all the time, not everyone always has a goal, sometimes you just need to do things anyways just to be doing anything at all.

  18. I applaud your honesty. When I was 19 years old I was following the traditional path of college, and I was flunking out because it wasn't what I wanted to do. I had no idea what I wanted to do.
    I think there is too much pressure from society for young adults to find their "path" My best friend has kids in public school. They have to choose a college trajectory in the 9th grade! WTF? Who the hell knows what they want to be in the 9th grade? Crazy.
    You are a fantastic writer, and I receive much inspiration from your blog. I have no doubt you will find your path (or your path will find you).

  19. I'm 21 and was homeschooled until I started university. My suggestion is to start something (community college, a job, or a volunteer commitment) without the expectation that it will be the perfect thing right away. To be personal, there have been several times over the past four years when I wondered if what I am doing is the right thing. Now I am finishing up my degree and I'm happy I stuck through those times of doubt. I'm happy with my degree and satisfied with the place I am now. By being active and moving forward I was able to wrangle around and figure out the right direction for me.
    I encourage you to DO something because I dont' think you can find things out by sitting and thinking.

  20. From a fellow Pisces who is 19 years less a day older than you, I'm not going to say anything new. Remember to trust in your journey. Trust that you are exactly where you need to be and are learning the lessons you are meant to be learning. There is no destination, only the journey. Have you read the first issue of Rethinking Everything magazine? There's a great story about how playing World of Warcraft for a year changed one unschooled man's life. Follow your heart, your inner self. The rollercoaster of life doesn't stop til we get off but you can at least enjoy the ride, even in the funky/hard parts :)
    Happy Birthday!

  21. Hello again Idzie.
    I'm homeschooled, I'm turning 19 next year, and I'm not working nor have I ever even had a job. I am an apprentice/assistant instructor at a martial arts school. But that's just me doing something for fun. Its a hobby. Its something that I love to do. You should do what you love to do as well. You don't have to live up to what society says that an adult is.
    As of right now, I am planning on starting college next year. But who knows if that will even matter or make a difference in my future at all. You can't know for sure what you are going to do.
    "Man plans and God laughs."
    - Yiddish proverb.


  22. Hi Idzie,

    A lurker, here, chiming in.

    I hopped on over from my RSS feeds after finally getting around to reading this. I wanted to just say, as a 29-year-old "former" unschooler (are you ever really "former"?) that I empathize with the anxieties of not taking the culturally-sanctioned route to grown-upness. Sociologists talk about the amount of "cultural work" or "ideological work" those of us who live outside the mainstream have to do to explain our lives in ways more normative folks do. Not just to outsiders: to ourselves also. My mother used to call this the annual "Binney-Smith panic" after the crayons she remembered getting every year as a child on the first day of school. As the parent of unschoolers she would fret every year at back-to-school time about how we were going to thrive.

    Everyone makes their own path, but I can tell you now that I and my two siblings (twenty-six and twenty-three) have all more or less found our footing in the wider world. It can take a while to find that footing, and it probably isn't a finished learning process.

    What was I doing as I approached? I'd been taking classes part-time in college for a few years, but didn't know whether I wanted to stay in for a degree. Institutional schooling has always been a struggle for me, even as I appreciate the opportunities I've been able to find there. I wanted to travel. I thought about working as a wilderness guide. I made some money working for my father and professor friends I knew, but had little idea of what I wanted to do as my vocation beyond something connected to the life of the mind and my passion for social justice. It was hard to sit with the unknowningness.

    I took comfort in the fact that Jane Hull, one of the founders of Hull House in Chicago and a great progressive educator and peace activist, did not find her true calling until after she turned thirty. Hey! I still have a year to go.

    Remember to breathe and surround yourself with people who can help you remember to trust your instincts.

    All the best,

  23. Hi Idzie,
    18 is such an arbitrary age, isn't it. Up till then you're regarded as a child and discriminated against and not allowed to direct your life (unless you go the route of legal emancipation, as James Bach did), even though you might be ready at 15 or 16 to live a full adult life and then, suddenly when you turn 18, wham! you're an adult, now get out there and start living as one - get a job or get that qualification that's going to set you up for the rest of you're life!

    It's a bit like expecting all babies to walk at exactly 12 months of age and chaining those who are ready at 9 months to their chairs and forcing those who aren't yet walking at that age to stand alone and take their first steps, even if they keep falling down.

    I think you might like some of the comments in the posting on outcomes at this blog:

  24. Wow, thank you SO MUCH for all the lovely comments!! Everyone's words have really helped me take a deep breath, and relax just a bit...

  25. I just discovered your blog and first I want to say, WOW! You're ONLY 18? You are the most articulate, mature person I've come across in a long while (and most the people I come across are FAR older than you.)

    I HAD to take the time to point out that what you are feeling is, I think, SO normal. IF people are willing to be honest (sadly, most aren't) you would know that this is a struggle most adults face EVERY day. I know I do. I'm 38, married and am responsible for the safety and well-being of three other human beings. I STILL don't want to be a grown-up most days.

    I once asked my mother (60) when I'd feel like a real adult and not a 12 year-old pretending to be one. She said she'd let me know when (if) it happens for her.

    There is no more one definition of being an adult than there is one definition of being a woman, dear. We all forge our own path through this life. You being 19 means whatever YOU BEING 19 means to YOU. Forget about what those around you are doing or what you *think* they expect you to do. They've never been you at 19 so how the hell would they have any clue what that means?

    One of the great gifts of age is that, if you are lucky and willing, you learn the long, hard, but infinitely valuable lesson about the importance of not comparing yourself to others or worrying about what they think of you. It's hard and requires constant practice. Can others' choices (especially if they are different than ours) motivate and enlighten us? Absolutely. Can they make us question ourselves to the point of damaging our confidence? If we let them. The great balance is finding the way to be educated, but not threatened by the paths of those around us. It's a life long lesson, but I suspect you are up to the task!

    Good luck, happy birthday and KEEP WRITING! You are amazing!

  26. I think that a life without reflection or purpose can be very depressing, but it doesn't sound to me like you lack either of those things. Eventually you'll find a direction you want to pursue, but the most important thing is that you're grounded in reality and are aware of your own feelings. That alone will ensure that you won't ever be completely lost in life. Hang in there! : ) And of course, happy birthday! I personally enjoyed being 19 a lot (and the same goes for being 20 now) because I finally shed a lot of my teenage insecurities and didn't care so much about the judgments of others.

  27. Another comment, courtesy of Andre Stern, an adult unschooler from France. (I'm translating what he said in a recent interview on German radio):

    "Andre:I don't know these gradations - child, youth, becoming an adult, being an adult. They simply weren't a part of my life.
    Interviewer: Because they're always connected with coercion - with school...?
    Andre: I don't know. That was an organisation that just had no relevance for us. I don't know these pivotal points and so, for me it's... - if I don't have any experience of puberty or the rest of these levels, then I'm still a child.
    Interviewer: Maybe not the label "puberty" or the others, but you must have experienced puberty - your first girlfriend, the first time you slept with a girl and all those things that you feel insecure about, because you've never done them before?
    Andre: Of course, but the crisis in puberty that everyone says is unavoidable, conflict with one's parents, I never experienced that.
    Interviewer: Not at all? (in an amazed tone of voice)
    Andre: Not at all.
    Interview: You never opposed your parents?
    Andre: No. There's a really simple reason for this - I never had to fight for the independence that I already had. ...

    I could go on and on translating the whole lovely interview, but the point I wanted to make is that, for Andre, all these so-called imperative pivotal points are social constructs imposed on us by the school system and I know it feels lonely when you're one of the few bucking this trend by moving at your own pace instead of society's but you're not alone.