Leveling Up With a Smile

by Amani J.K. Alexander

        I’m an adult. THERE! Now that it’s written down for all whom so choose to see it must be real. I am in fact an adult. An adulty type adult with adult-like things to fill her adult-esque days. I make lists, and budgets, and I have to think about how everything I do fits into the grand scheme of my life. You know, how it will affect me in the near and distant future and such. But I’m going to be honest here…. I’m not very good at it. I KNOW RIGHT?!?!?! You mean the girl who just called herself an adulty-dult-dult is actually a doofus who just barely got her drivers license? Yes. It is true. And I’ve been very insecure about it for the past year and a half. But lucky for you (I hope) how I’ve come to accept and handle my “adultiness state” might be a helpful tale.

        In high school, I had a few jobs outside of school. Most of them were theatre and arts related (the ones that paid the worst) and some of them were not (the ones that pained the worst) but all of them were in fact real jobs in which I had to perform real tasks to get paid real money. Sometimes I even had to exhibit leadership skills. I didn’t have a car though. My family didn’t think we could swing insuring a teenager and I had so little time. Between practicing, being at a Fine Arts Academy, trying to complete any sort of chores or babysitting, and working said aforementioned jobs, it was basically impossible to go through the whole rigmarole of getting a license. But that somehow didn’t keep every other 16-18 year-old in the freaking city from getting one. I didn’t know how they were managing it with ya know LIFE going on. It made me feel very inadequate and like I wasn’t maturing fast enough.

        To be even more honest, I’ve always felt like I was trying harder than most of my peers just to keep my head above water. When I was a kid, I read faster than everyone in my class. I was pretty good at math, and I was freakishly good at communicating my thoughts at a young age. Just ask my mom; she said I came out three weeks late because I spent that time learning how to throw Dickinson quotes in your face. A few teachers and principals suggested I skip various grades all through out elementary school. Since I’m a little young for my year (especially in the south where I ended up) my mom thought it best if I stayed in the same grade and took some accelerated classes. I’m so incredibly grateful she made that decision for me because I have no freaking clue what would have happened otherwise. Even in elementary school when I was supposedly “accelerated” I felt very looked down upon. I was really short, and I didn’t like most people. I had a lot of opinions but no one seemed to take me seriously because they all thought I was just too “extra.” Which to be fair they were right. But it didn’t seem like anyone else was fighting just to be heard or make a friend. It just felt like I wasn’t getting some sort of memo.

        Same thing in high school. Everyone was getting licenses and cars, and I wasn’t. Towards the end of my senior year of high school (right in the middle of college auditions by the way) I kept being reminded of that fact by just about everyone. Family members, teachers, friends, people I admired, people I was never sure why they existed, and people I spent approximately .27 seconds talking to in a convenient store. It was being blown in my face quite literally everywhere I went. I had made this choice because I thought it would be easier on me but it turns out it was causing me more grief than just biting the bullet and going for it. I was suddenly feeling really tired—which is weird because I’ve always been anal about getting enough sleep—and run down all of the time. Looking back I think I slept through most of my final semester of High School. Going to college I expected that I’d be able to let all of these insecurities go, but they didn’t disappear as easily as I thought they would.

        I looked around and felt like everyone had these base “adult requirements” that I just hadn’t filled. I had been two years ahead in math and a year ahead in English I high school, but I didn’t have a license. I took college level history classes at the University of Texas while I was still in high school, but I didn’t have a car. I had held jobs at four different arts organizations in the City of Austin and two services jobs between my Junior and Senior year and high school, but I barely knew how to drive. I felt like I hadn’t reached the “adult quota” so when I turned 18 I started feeling very underdeveloped and very dumb. Which is ridiculous because while I should spend time contemplating some of the more idiotic decisions I made in high school, this wasn’t one of them. This didn’t make me dumb and the fact that it took me three whole years to figure that out is hilariously sad.

        My first month with a license and access to my mom’s car I got two flat tires at once, received a parking ticket that was entirely my fault, backed my mom’s car into a tree, started putting diesel into the tank instead of regular fuel… the list goes on. I beat myself up over every little thing I did wrong and told myself that a “real adult” wouldn’t do any of that. Oh how fucking wrong I was. A real adult calls a tow-truck to pick them up and take them to a mechanic; so that’s what I did. They go online and navigate their cities fucked up website to pay their stupid parking ticket they got for being stupid while simultaneously vowing to never be so stupid again; so that’s what I did and am currently doing. And when they get scratches on a car, they go to a car wash to try and buff it off then take it back home to actually finish buffing it off. At least that’s what I thought they did, so I did that. Turns out (according to my mother) real adults don’t give a shit about some stupid little scrapes on their car for stupid vanity reasons. So I guess now I know that too!

        So… why am I writing any of this? Well first off I got my license and I’m in the process of getting a car! And while I want to celebrate that, I also want to point out what a big mistake I made. I had reached so many “adult levels” before I turned 18 and went to college and I didn’t even appreciate them. Apparently few High School kids can say they held a job while managing to practice Muczynski for hours on end. I’ve changed countless diapers and babysat multiple kids of varying ages. I read all of Jane Austen’s major works as well as seen every single episode of Arrested Development multiple times before I was 18. And most importantly, I learned how to be an artist. I wrote constantly, I sang, I played Flute for god knows how many hours, I danced my heart out for so many people and I didn’t let myself think any of that was important.

        The whole point of this article/essay/whatever you want to call it wasn’t to showcase how awesome I am or for you to see how I took myself for granted but now I think I’m some queen of the world because I have my own bank account. It’s basically just me pointing out that we all reach our “adult levels” in different orders. And lord knows I don’t think I’m “more of an adult” than my peers who didn’t go to college or take the time to read through all of Shakespeare’s sonnets. I’ve been hurt pretty deeply by a lot of my peers and people in general for a very long time because they made me think I wasn’t going to grow up any time soon; and that was apparently a bad thing. But I’m here to tell you the secret to adulthood: Being an adult means not letting other people’s successes and life changes make you feel sad or incompetent. I should have cut the people loose who told me I was “behind the curve” for not knowing how to drive. That’s what an adult would do. An adult wouldn’t sit back and ignore everything they accomplished and feel like they were less than everyone else. They also wouldn’t let themselves or everyone around them praise them for doing basic everyday shit that you should just do like laundry or boiling some pasta. A real adult looks at their life and allows it to be enough. They work really hard, non-stop, to provide and care for themselves, and if they’re lucky they get to do that for other people.

        I am so happy to be an adult. It’s hard, I’m not great at it yet, and I’m sure every year there’s going to be something new that I have to figure out how to deal with. Oh and by the way did I mention that I’m not a “complete” one yet? But it doesn’t matter though. I feel free. I’m finally understanding why I always thought being an adult was going to mean having more control and living a happier life. Allowing yourself to find the balance between not caring what other people think, wanting the best out of life, demanding respect, and cultivating relationships is the most rewarding accomplishment. And I don’t care who gets married first or who’s the first to pay off the student debts, ‘cause over the next couple of years I’m leveling up hard core. In my own time and however I see fit. And no one can tell me otherwise.