I am nineteen years old. According to North Carolina statute 48A2, I’ve had a whole year of practicing adulthood. Unfortunately, I don’t consider myself an adult yet. However, last month I climbed onto a plane and moved across the ocean, so I think that now I should at least allow myself adult-in-training status. After careful consideration, the most important lesson of adulthood that I’ve learned so far is:
Sometimes you have to eat dessert first.
As a kid, my parents successfully drilled into me the notion that fun comes after responsibilities are completely taken care of. One of my daddy’s favorite phrases was (and probably still is): “first things first.” In other words, get your chores and your homework done and then you will be free to do whatever you please.
I accepted that mantra as the gospel truth. Since I was homeschooled, I had the flexibility to get all my work done at whirlwind speed so that I could spend long afternoons exploring the two acres of woodland behind our house: dancing, pretending, plotting – whatever it is that you do when you are completely free from worries.
When it came to eating, my own rule was “save the best for last.” I would eat the veggies and other disgusting stuff *cough*potato salad*cough* first and then be blissfully free to enjoy the good bits. Part of the sweetness of dessert came with the assurance that there was no broccoli looming in my near future.
So it was that I associated doing fun things with being completely free of responsibility and trouble.
It was a good habit that helped me plow through my high school years. But in the past few months I’ve realized that it is no longer realistic. Why? Because it assumes that all worries and responsibilities are within my control. The fact is that most of them are not.
As an adult, there are so many little things to get done, projects to finish, potential disasters looming in the near future, etc… You could spend your whole life constantly fighting against them. And since so much of adult stress is based off of the things that are not in your control (Ex. group projects, a event you are coordinating with a group of people), you can’t necessarily work within the ideal time frame of “first things first.”
That doesn’t mean that “first things first” doesn’t apply anymore. I still wake up and try to get my most dreaded to-do done before breakfast. I prioritize tasks and work on time-sensitive projects before anything else.
But I am learning that once in a while I need to eat dessert, even if there is still some broccoli in sight.
Learning to be an adult means learning that I can’t wait for every responsibility and care to be gone before I make time to rest and relax. Because the fact is that from now till the day I day die, there will always be some responsibility hanging somewhere nearby. That may sound like a terrible curse, but it is really just an ordinary fact of life that millions of adults live with successfully every day. Just because I won’t ever be completely care free again, doesn’t mean that I can’t live a life full of fun and adventure.
Being an adult allows me so many opportunities to explore new hobbies that were considered too dangerous for children or to go on adventurous trips I never could have navigated as a child. The problem is that I doubt I can enjoy pleasurable things with the constant worry of finances, friends in trouble, deadlines, businesses in trouble, world hunger etc… all troubling me at different times in different degrees of intensity at the back of my mind.
Adulthood affords so many fresh and exciting opportunities, but those opportunities also tend to make things complicated. Whereas in childhood work and play could be easy set into chunks and set plainly in line, I must now learn to juggle new responsibilities that fall in and out of each other without much order. If I get completely bogged down by the necessities of life, than I am not taking advantage of the opportunities for exploration and learning that adulthood has opened to me.
What I am now learning is that enjoying all the potential that adult independence brings, depends upon learning to put worries in the back of my mind temporarily. It is unrealistic to think I can be completely worry free before I take time to relax and have fun.
I am now learning to eat dessert first, to forget the broccoli in my future and just have fun enjoying the present.
In the end, I believe that rest and relaxation will become the strength I need to plow on through adulthood, eating all my broccoli and even perhaps taking extra portions off the weighted plates of others.