Am I a Productive Adult?

Actually, I know I’m not. I eat too much sugar, I don’t rise at the crack of dawn, I own no Tupperware, I take three hours to leave the house in the mornings, I’ve never bought a car, I earn about $12,000 a year, I have a library book overdue, I had zero taxable income in FY 2003, I don’t have dental insurance, I’m several thousand dollars in debt to whomever Sallie Mae sold my student loan, I’ve never had a full-time job longer than nine months, and my father pays my cell phone bill, which means that I really should restrict my phone conversations to evenings, weekends, and about 10 minutes during the day. Oh yes, and I’m 26 and a half, and I’m still in school.

I began considering with more fear and trembling my status as an unproductive adult after listening to a radio interview with Dr. Mel Levine, M.D. and author of the 2005 Ready or Not, Here Life Comes. It was about 10:15 a.m. or so, and I was probably just stepping out of the shower, or something equally as slothful, when I heard a patient, thoughtful, rational-sounding voice say something like, “In recent years I have been stunned by the plight of individuals who seem unprepared for the crossover from education to work. Many individuals in and around their twenties come to feel abandoned and anguished. They start to question their own self-worth, and they are prone to some awful mistakes in their choice of career or in the ways they perform as novices on the job. They suffer from an affliction I call work-life unreadiness.” I turned up the volume so I could keep listening while I got ready to leave, but soon I found myself sitting right next to radio, cell phone in hand, poised to dial the call-in number and spend some of my precious daytime 10 minutes saying that I was in my twenties and I felt work-life unready too. In fact, I did call, but I never made it through. So to console myself, I promptly got on and ordered his book (used, fortunately, and bought with a gift certificate. $12,000 a year doesn’t support many impulse purchases).

Actually, to tell the complete truth, I was going to call in and say that I had friends, colleagues, high school buddies, former home teachers, and a host of elders I served with who were work-life unready. Dr. Levine had described this phenomenon of 20-somethings moving back home, not knowing how to start a career, not knowing how to keep a job, feeling dissatisfied in menial positions, wondering where they went wrong, and still investing the bulk of their interest, passion, and energy in old college friends who got together for Alias nights or spontaneous road trips. He posited that this epidemic of work-life unreadiness is a result of an over-scheduled childhood in which kids rarely have to make independent decisions regarding their own activities, well-roundedness is valued over acquiring a specific skill set, and students feel responsible not for preparing for life but for preparing to get into college and do well on standardized tests. The outcome, he suggests, is that years of schooling and parenting miss their intended mark, and adolescents are profoundly underprepared to know what life is like and to develop the strategies to succeed in it. Enter from stage right societal breakdown, maladjustment, emotional instability, an emasculated workforce, and incompetent parents who continue perpetuating the cycle.

Okay, so I’m exaggerating his claims and extrapolations a little bit. But as I thought about this sociological peculiarity that he was pinning onto exactly my generation, a lot of his descriptions and analyses resonated to the social milieu of post-college, pre-marriage singles wards and populations. Does this phenomenon occur among Latter-day Saints? An unscientific survey of roommates and friends suggested that it does. Many of us have lived at home for a period during or following our undergraduate and graduate educations; many of us are in jobs that we know are not career-bound; many of us have not yet bought real furniture, purchased a starter home, or moved significantly beyond top ramen and corn flakes. Like Kip in Napoleon Dynamite, some of us even spend “I don’t know, three, four hours” talking to babes on-line (the lucky ones, that is). Indeed, the BYU joke about the 10-year bachelors degree may well point to this work-life unreadiness, this sticky transition from school to career.

Why does this happen? And is this necessarily a negative trend? Mel Levine suggests that it’s due to a fast-changing economy, recent trends in parenting, and not enough people buying his book; I’ve wondered if, within the LDS community, it’s due to a sense that life doesn’t start until marriage or a lack of narratives and patterns for this nebulous (and sometimes disapproved of) stage of life. Or on a more positive note, could it be due to our deep desire to be led by the Spirit in the major decisions of our lives and our reluctance to move drastically ahead without a strong sense of direction? Some of my friends who might seem the most work-life unready tell me that they actually felt inspired to live at home for a period during or after college, and that inspiration led to the blessings of tending to sick parents, spending time with troubled siblings, overcoming personal health problems, etc. Conversely, some of my friends who might seem to have jumped gracefully onto a success-bound train are now struggling with decisions that they didn’t take the time to commit to fully–including majors, career paths, even marriages. The failure of starter jobs, starter homes, and starter marriages leaves in its path a heart-breaking detritus of debt, discouragement, infidelity, and wasted time.

So is this a topic that we can discuss systematically? Or is the ultimate answer, “Take responsibility and keep your covenants”? I will admit that I haven’t completed an exhaustive analysis of Dr. Levin’s book, but I’ve been interested and stimulated by some of his catch phrases–becoming a student of adulthood, finding a good fit between minds and careers, helping emerging adults to weather the quarter-life crisis, finding good role models. Ultimately, it’s important to me to know if I’m becoming–or how to become–a productive adult because I care deeply about having something significant to give my future children, my future wards, my future Young Women, my future neighbors, my future communities. And, let’s be honest, because I don’t want to be earning $12,000 a year for the rest of my life.

54 comments for “Am I a Productive Adult?

  1. “I’ve wondered if, within the LDS community, it’s due to a sense that life doesn’t start until marriage or a lack of narratives and patterns for this nebulous (and sometimes disapproved of) stage of life.”

    I’m inclined to agree with the former explanation.

  2. Yep. I think there’s a lot of truth to the notion that many LDS young adults think life doesn’t really start until marriage. Take you and me, for example. Raised by the same parents, largely the same activities, and only 2 years apart. And yet I don’t think I ever went through any period of work-life unreadiness. Could it be because I was married at 20, owned my first house at 21, and haven’t looked back since? Maybe.
    This is a very interesting topic, in any case.

  3. In a larger, cross-social sense, I see what the Good Doctor points out as being a sign of Extended Adolescence. Our culture so adores the “mature enough to drive but not mature enough to be responsible” phase of life that it has extended it from high school through college clear into the early 30’s demographic of the “Friends” cast (all of whom are older than me). With so much focus on the permanent party and living La Vida Loca, it’s no wonder that so many people are brought up short with sudden thoughts of, “Hey, wasn’t I supposed to be mature by this point?”

    I think that, in large part, Mormon society forestalls this (I certainly didn’t recognize “Friends” as being any analogous to my own life than the average Star Trek rerun) with two big doses of Instant Maturity that have a strong cultural weight behind them: A mission, and early marriage. Both force a significant break with parental upkeep, and put the individual into a situation much more like what our culture pictures as “mature.” You’re going to find a lot more twentysomethings in Mormon culture who are already mimicking their earliest memories of their parents than you would in society at large.

    (None of which means I’m giving up my comic books, mind you.)

  4. Great post.

    These things did not make me feel grown-up:

    having a ‘real’ job
    having a child

    These things did:

    having a mortgage
    having a home not decorated in Early Modern DI
    taking a roadtrip with kids in a minivan
    having a third child

  5. Interesting post, Naomi. I too see the phenomenon you are describing within LDS culture, but I don’t chalk it up to an overscheduled childhood. I chalk it up to affluence. The affluent have many options available to them, and they have the resources to take advantage when those window open up. There is a long history of the affluent with their many options moving hesitatingly from one activity to another while living off the family estate. Most recently think of JFK, Jr. The affluent also tend to marry later as well allowing them the economic luxury to move from one activity to another without much trouble. We are seeing that among LDS singles, too.

    The adjective–“productive”–is telling. Within a captialist mentality all that matters is whether someone is producing. Get them into the work force quickly and they will maximize their profits over a lifespan and maybe get lucky with an early retirement. What rational agent wouldn’t want to be productive?

    Personally I question whether productivity is the point of life. The Book of Mormon advocates “industriousness,” but I doubt whether the activities in those markets are the kind we are being told we need to prepare us to enter today’s productive labor force. Frank will have something to say about this, I imagine.

  6. Good post, Naomi, and you raise some interesting questions. Does life start at marriage? Are you still in your pre-existence?

    I think it largely depends on the person. I’ve known people who were convinced that marriage would solve all of their problems. I’ve known people who were determined _not_ to get married until they had achieved certain other personal goals.

    There is a distinct danger, in my opinion, to believing that life inevitably starts at marriage. How many women do you know who went to BYU, signed up for some softball major, and spent as much time as possible flirting with RMs, with the ultimate goal clearly being to find the right guy at college? That’s a strategy that works for a lot of LDS women, hence the joke about “going to BYU to earn her MRS degree.” But it’s a strategy that often fails, as well. And you end up with a graduate, with a degree in underwater basket weaving, looking around helplessly and saying “what happened? Where’s the guy who was supposed to marry me?”

    There is another potential danger as well. Not all marriages work. There are many marriage partners who are difficult or impossible marriage partners — they may be balanced, abusive, criminal, adulterous, homosexual, addicted to some substance, or chronically financially unstable. Many marriages fail. And suddenly the woman who tied her self-worth to her status as a Mormon Wife is a divorcee, in an odd social limbo.

    I’ve known enough people in each category to have come to the conclusion that it’s often a bad idea to wait for life to begin at marriage. So I would encourage you not to adopt that view.

    And don’t confuse the uncertainties of student life with an idea that marriage is the start of life. It seems that you’re conflating two types of uncertainty here. They’re quite different creatures. Just look at any student couple — they’ve also got lots of debt, no income, no insurance, etc, and they’re married. If marriage really is the start to life, it’s entirely possible to start life and still be broke and way out of pocket on student loans.

    You’re in a good program at a good school, you served a mission, you’re obviously intelligent. It sounds like your life has definitely started. So just keep on living it, you’re doing fine. :)

    p.s. I think that my own life started in earnest when I finally decided that I really wasn’t ever going to be a guitarist in a successful rock band. At that point, my backup plan (going to law school) ended up happening, And it wasn’t such a bad backup plan. I still daydream about being a rock star sometimes, though.

  7. While I would be hesitant to put my finger definitively upon any one set of factors, I strongly suspect that there is a lot of truth to the argument (implied by Jed) that the Bobofication of the baby boomer generation (to use David Brooks’s phrase) has created an environment where “freedom” is equated with commodities, controlled environments (in which the overly structed children of the middle and upper classes do very well), and technology–the responsibility of mature adulthood is a foreign country to people who never had to work a real job after school or over the summer before in their lives. We know plenty of people who seem stuck in that rut, and I’m not especially impressed by those who place a veneer of Mormonism upon their choices. (Not to say that someone couldn’t be “inspired” to live in their parent’s basement, but from what I’ve observed, poor and working class Mormon young adults don’t seem nearly as likely to be sucked into this syndrome as their wealthier and more secure peers, which suggests its more a class thing than otherwise.)

    Also, like Jed, I don’t think productivity is all it’s cracked up to be. Aimlessness–that I think, is a sin. But living on $12,000 a year, if you can figure out a way to do it and you’re happy and contributing to other people’s along the way? I can’t see any way in which that could be read as a failure in God’s eyes.

  8. I need to get married too, Naomi. Wanna hook up? I need somebody to… support me.

  9. Fifteen years ago as a graduate student, I felt both work-life-ready and -unready in different ways.

    about to complete an M.S. degree in a useful technical field
    able to frugally support myself from summer income + research assistantship
    I had done substantial reading of experts in my chosen field, to learn practical issues and challenges not taught in my college classes (joining a professional society as a student helps greatly)
    I was ready to move out on my own from the college apartment and roommate scene

    I felt pretty good making it to the lab or office by 10am on days when I didn’t have class
    (how was I ever going to handle 8am-5pm daily?)
    being single and without children, I was accustomed to operating on my own schedule
    wondering how I’d do at work on my own as the “expert” w/o professors to guide me

    For me, the biggest challenge was overcoming laziness that can creep in after classes are completed and only the thesis or dissertation remains. For others the challenge may be preparing their minds and skill sets for gainful employment that they actually will enjoy keeping for some time. I do remember wondering how I would like working at a place for years at a time, compared to one summer at a time. Oddly enough, I’m in my 15th year with the same company even though it has changed names twice since I joined.

  10. This isn’t directly related, but I’m reminded of an NYT Magazine article on what one sociologist has termed “parasite singles,” young 20- and 30-something unmarried Japanese, mostly women, who live at home with their parents. The NYT foolishly does not make archived articles available for free, so I link instead to this nice summary of the article. Some highlights:

    Parasite singles are a major force in the economy, as almost all of their income is disposable. Even in the midst of a recession, the demand for luxury items in Japan remained steady or even grew, due primarily to the spending of the parasite singles.

    The birthrate in Japan has plunged in recent years. Marriage is an economic sacrifice for these women, as is child-rearing. Women face gender-specific obstacles in their careers as well, so there is little incentive to have children or to pursue a career.

  11. Jed,

    Since you asked…

    You note that some people think of their productivity as being strongly tied to their income.

    “Get them into the work force quickly and they will maximize their profits over a lifespan and maybe get lucky with an early retirement.”

    I agree that this is, of course, nutty. The goal is to make people happier*, not just to record the highest GDP numbers. So anything that makes people happier is, in the most important sense, “productive”. Often people will pay us for doing these things, but that payment does not make the activity productive. The payment is just an inducement.

    So, for example, I enjoy teaching students economics. Even if I wasn’t paid, teaching students economics would be a productive activity. The fact that I do get paid is one of those blessed events that can only be explained by excess karma in a previous life**.

    * And the best way to define happiness in this case is probably that which fulfills Moses 1:39.

    ** or a careful modeling of supply and demand, which is about as transparent as karma for some people.

  12. D.,

    You’d better move fast. That sneaky Steve Evans already has expressed his designs (not for himself) on single Naomi. Something to do with getting rid of a roommate.

  13. As I stood in line waiting to graduate from the University of Illinois law school, I distinctly recall thinking of the old saying that 70% of success in life is just showing up. I realized I had gotten to that point not because of any great talent or brilliance on my part, but just by putting one foot in front of the other and plugging away. Turn in your applications, go to class, study the material, take the tests.

    I served a mission, not because I had a great desire to do it, but I’m fifth generation Mormon and it was the thing to do, and all my friends were doing it anyway. I got married less than a year after my mission. I had (two) kids. I graduated from BYU. I went to law school. I got a job. I bought a house.

    I’m only 46, but I have one kid in grad school and a second who will start college next year. So while I turned *adult* very early in life, one of the benefits is that I am still young enough to enjoy my empty nester years. I don’t know of any non-LDS peers with two kids who can say that. (grin)

  14. Naomi,

    I enjoyed your post, and it came right in the nick of time for me. I am just about ready to give everything up, partly because I’m so intimidated by the accomplished individuals here at T&S.

    I am a Mormon woman from a middle-class family who was never really “groomed” for marriage; my academic (if not intellectual) pursuits were always supported more than my romantic pursuits (this may be because my parents could tell from my early childhood that I was not going to be typical marriage material in a North American Mormon culture). My thoughts on marriage were odd: I simultaneously took it for granted and equated it with death.

    It has become quite evident to me now, at 26, that it is very possible that I will never get married. Since I never truly prepared myself for this single life, I feel suddenly at sea and vastly unhappy.

    Here is the stranger part: I am ostensibly doing very productive things with my life. I have supported myself financially since I was 22. I am now working on a masters degree. I have a few close friends, I am very active in church, I belong to book groups and film groups, etc. Somehow these accomplishments and activities do not make up for “failure in the home” (i.e. romantic failure) for me. I think this is because I’m Mormon, but it’s come as quite a shock, because I didn’t think I was “that kind” of Mormon woman.

    To sum up, I agree more with the idea that Mormon single adults have a prolonged adolescence precisely because they are single rather than with the idea that they are affluent (per Jed). I am not affluent and do not have the option of relying financially on my parents, so I know that my personal feelings of aimlessness cannot be thus accounted for.

    I firmly believe that getting rid of singles wards in areas where there are lots of singles would really help us feel less like we are living a prolonged teen existence. I know that a lot of my friends feel that they are stuck in junior high, which is a quite ridiculous feeling when you are 30 years old.

    Hoping that made sense!

  15. As some of you have noted, there’s a tendency among Mormons to think that maturity begins with marriage. So when I started my first job after law school, still single, I was surprised when people expected me to know what I was talking about. You know, there’s this expectation that the grown-ups have some secret store of wisdom that you can’t tap into until you get married and join their ranks.

    After six years of tax law, home ownership, president of the condo committee, teaching RS in a family ward, and staying single, I still sometimes get pulled up short by the knowledge that other people think I’m a grown-up. It doesn’t happen as often, so I’m getting used to the idea that I’m an adult in spite of my single status.

    I think the main contributor to whatever sense of maturity I have is my financial independence. My folks provided a car when I went to college and law school, and they paid for my mission. Other than that, I’ve paid all my tuition and living expenses from scholarships and working any job I could find, sometimes three or four jobs at a time.

    Subjectively, the fact that I’ve stayed six years in the same job is the strongest evidence that I’m an adult. While compiling a work history for the bar application, I had to ask if I could leave out jobs I worked less than two weeks in order to get my list of jobs under 30. I never stayed anywhere after I got bored. I’ve actually stuck with this job through some boring times. So I suppose I define maturity as an increased tolerance for boredom.

  16. Interesting points, Janey! I was also surprised when I began my first job after college, when people came to me as though I was the expert statistician. (Actually, I was the only statistician at a facility of 400 employees.) Likewise, the kind Midwest folks asked me about my wife and children, and if they had moved yet with me. I was just a 25-year-old single boy who had made many dating efforts during college that didn’t lead to marriage.

  17. The roommate has much better chance than I do. He’s young, cute, devout, has a job, and is probably heterosexual, all good qualities.

    I’m stuck with being societal detritus.

  18. Russell (#8): Do you think the pusuit of commodities is more like to keep singles single? You speak of “those who place a veneer of Mormonism upon their choices.” For example?

    Frank (#12): Would you say all productive activities are paid, but not all paid activities are productive? Are all happiness-inducing activities productive?

    Minerva (#15): Of course not all singles are affluent. I am speaking more particularly about single males who flit from one activity to another in their 20s rather than settle into full-time work.

  19. Thanks for your comments, everyone. I think I’m going to edit, collate, publish, and distribute them through home teaching and visiting teaching channels :). A few follow-ups on your comments:

    Davis Bell– do you live in Washington D.C.? Your name is familiar, and I think it’s possible we’re talking about the same population of the work-life unready.

    Gabrielle–I think you’ve always seemed more grown-up to me because, in fact, you are. Being a third child enabled me, in some ways, to think of myself as younger than perhaps my age would warrent. I wasn’t surprised when I began thinking of you and Rosalynde as adults and when you began doing more adult things (buying houses, having children) because, after all, you were two years older than me. On the other hand, I have some friends who are oldest children and whose younger siblings are now passing them up in some of these life events–marriage and children, specifically (the ones I’m thinking of have successful careers and graduate degrees). It’s frustrating to them that their parents, in some cases, now treat their younger siblings as though they were more grown-up or mature than them. I feel lucky that our parents haven’t imposed expectations and assumptions on us that would make me feel like I’ve somehow failed since I’m not married. More thoughts on this, but they’re coming more slowly than my fingers are typing…

    TOTAL Nathan (#3), you cited some life events that certainly bring “Instant Maturity,” including mission and early marriage, and I would agree that I grew up more on the year and a half of my mission than I had in the three years of college preceding it. But on the other hand, these types of significant Mormon events can also be disabling in some ways–many of us expect that being grown-up and adult and having everything that goes along with it comes with the precision of a mathematical equation: do well in high school, go to college, go on mission, work hard, and get married = being grown up. So when part of that equation is taken out, it can undermine the sense of being really grown up, as several other people have commented. So these events are simultaneously tremendous blessings and occasional obstacles when we have to come to a realization of our responsibility for our own lives apart from these structuring events. And I think this is an experience which everyone goes through, regardless of their degree of education, their life experiences, or other things (I’m avoiding saying “marital status” because I don’t want to influence the discussion too much in that way).

    Julie in Austin, thanks for your list–my friends are now starting to have their 3rd kids, and they are talking about how blase they feel about it all :). These lists that people are giving are both interesting and helpful–this might be what Dr. Levine refers to as the role models who help adolescents become “students of adulthood.” Where is one supposed to learn how to be an adult anyway?

    Jed (#5), it sounds like you’re describing the dilettante lifestyle of the upper classes. Interesting that this phenomenon parallels an overall increase in household GDP, etc. I’ve often reflected on the fact that I have a safety net (my parents, my roommates who let me use their laptops, my friends who give me rides when it snows) which allows me to not be fully grown up yet. That’s a tremendous blessing–and reminds me in some ways of older, more agrarian societies where generations lived together more. But this is a romantic, unscientific notion derived from historical novels, so don’t take my word for it.

    Thanks for the proposal, D. Fletcher (that’s what it was, right?). I don’t think I’m in any position to support a husband right now, but you’re always welcome to left-over top ramen and oatmeal.

    Bryce I., your example of the Japanese parasites reminds me of some research done by a BYU professor on the “bare branches” of China–a population of surplus, unmarried men resulting from traditional valuation of male babies over female and often leading to social unrest, including violence, lawless behavior, etc. It sounds like these parasite women and these bare branch men should try to alleviate their respective social ills together… Or actually, it sounds like you’re suggesting that their economic behavior supports the economy in some way. I’m sure I’m getting more hair-cuts and pedicures now than I will as a mother of small children (don’t worry, Mama, I’ve only gotten one pedicure in my life).

    Minerva, I’m glad that I’ve given a more human face to Times and Seasons. I can’t promise that any of the rest of them are slackers like me–maybe that’s why I’m just a guest blogger :). But I can understand your somewhat contradictory attitude toward marriage and work. I remember one Young Women’s lesson in which major life events were labeled on clothespins and then hung up on a line: birth, baptism, school, high school, YOung Womanhood Award, college, maybe mission, maybe job, marriage, children, death. There was a lot of space on that line in between children and death. I remember thinking, “So does my life end after I get married?” I was too young (and probably self-involved) to see how very alive my mom’s life was, how full and serviceable and active, but since then I’ve been able to see how my peers continue progressing and developing as individuals as well as couples. That gives me some hope. I also remember looking around my freshman year Relief Society at BYU and thinking that statistically, 1 in 4 of us would not be getting married. I wondered if I would be one of that group, and I could think of no good reason why I wouldn’t be. I’m sure you don’t need any validation, but it sounds like your life is full and amazing, and since we’re both just 26, I don’t think all doors are closed to us yet :). But I think it’s good to be willing to face the possibility that our lives are exactly what we make of them (as we seek the guidance of the Lord) and not what anyone else will.

    Janey–So that’s the key–a tolerance for boredom. I think I’m ready to be an adult after all. I mastered that during my babysitting days :). On a related note, I remember the first time a child referred to me as a “lady” (as in, “That lady said…”). I could barely contain my disbelieving laughter.

  20. Jed’s point about affluence rings true to me. Not that I would know about affluence. On the contrary, I know about the fear of poverty (no rich parents here!) pushing me to get through college and law school quickly. Incidentally, now I think I went too quickly. If I could go back, I would have studied much more history, philosophy, economics, etc., etc.

    My independent streak was also a factor: from a young age, I was determined not to live in my parents home longer than absolutely necessary.

    Total Nathan’s point about instant maturity also hits close to home: some of my colleagues are astounded to hear about the last ten years of my life (mission in Brazil, college, marriage, law school, baby, couple years as an attorney). Many of them are older than me and have not done half the things on my list. They think they are living large and feel sympathy for me. I think of not being able to go home to my wife and daughter, and I feel for them.

    Kaimi’s lost dream of being a rock star and Janey’s point about tolerance for boredom also struck a chord with me. One of the things that prevents me from fully committing to being a mature adult in my mind—I have committed to it in every other possible way, I am afraid—is the memory of how I saw adults as a teenager. I distinctly remember watching Dead Poet’s Society and commiting myself to always being “passionate” about life (“seize the day, boys! make your lives extraordinary!”). I absolutely dreaded the idea of becoming one of the robots that populated the adult sunday school class at church. You know, Thoreau’s “lives of quiet desparation” and all that. I was going to be the first mormon romantic poet—bohemian and brilliant, yet temple worthy.

    These days, I admire the sacrifices and plodding hard work that tends to dull adults’ “passion” for life. And I think Dead Poet’s Society (my favorite movie for a time) is rather light-weight fare. Still, something tells me that the teenage me would hit me upside the head if he knew I was an attorney, sitting in an office all day every day, toiling away at arcana. “What you don’t know …” I would tell him. “Besides,” I would explain, “I still write, even if most of it is dry legal stuff.”

  21. Jed,

    “Frank (#12): Would you say all productive activities are paid, but not all paid activities are productive? Are all happiness-inducing activities productive?”

    Actually the exact opposite, not all productive activities are paid (example: raising a child), but all paid activities are productive (by somebody’s definition, namely the person who is willing to pay for them). Obviously, there are going to be some exceptions but as a general rule I think that works.

    For example, I might do something that is expected to be productive (litigate a case), even if it turns out that it wasn’t (we lose more than if we had just settled). You can still get paid for that, if the contract is based on the expectation of usefulness.

    As for happiness, above I am using a somewhat tautological definition where one assumes that people are only willing to pay for things they want, and so providing what someone wants is how we define productivity. But if we use a happiness definition like Moses 1:39, then we’re pretty much at sea. There would then be no necesary relation between happiness and payment, since many people will pay for things that move them away from God.

    It is very unfortunate how common it is is for people to try to infer how society values someone as a person based on their wage. I see this most often with the inference that because women’s salaries are lower than men’s, this implies that we value them less. No it does not. Paying teachers less than garbage collectors also does not imply that we value trash collection over education children. Societal value has no necessary correlation with observed wages. This is because societally valuable occupations may be much more personally enjoyable, and so the wage of the lame jobs gets driven up to compensate for the meaninglessness of the job.

  22. Naomi, your post is an interesting one, and I believe we have had many a discussion about this in the past. I have a couple of thoughts to share in response.

    I do not think this problem is limited to the LDS community. I know plenty of non-LDS professionals who have no idea what they are doing. You would think after investing three very difficult years into law school, one would be committed to that profession, or at least a profession that puts that degree to use. But no, one of my greatest friends here in Skadden-land wants to quit and open a restaurant. No, this is not limited to the LDS community, but there is one thing that does tend to be prevalent amonst us as young LDS adults: the cop-out that we don’t feel like life starts until marriage. Up until a few months ago, I was a heavy user of this cop-out.

    Of course our tendency is to pin our lack of progression or inability to make a career decision on something out of our control, namely marriage. And while it does and should factor into our decision-making process, its existence or non-existence in our lives should not be an excuse for not having a plan.

    I am one of the masses who did not have a plan when I graduated from college. I have had really great jobs since graduating from college, but they had nothing to do with what I actually went to college for. Feelings of inadequacy plagued me everyday as I bided my time until I could exit the working world and fulfill my true calling as wife and mother. It was a day of great awakening when I realized I could very well never get married in this life. Panic briefly ensued, then the question: Would I rot as a legal secretary, all the while wishing I had gone back to graduate school to pursue my real interests? I decided that I would not rot, but would take control of my life. Thus I find myself landed in graduate school, working and going to school full time. Tired, but happy.

    My point is not one of anti-marriage, rather that we should be willing to work at being happy, suffer through a couple of dead-end jobs, and take responsibility for our life path. There is no magic date, event, or situation that signals “life” beginning. We’re in it, like it or not. My mother sent me a quote when I first moved out to the D.C. area that sums up what I’m trying to say. It reads as follows:

    Happiness is neither virtue nor pleasure, nor this thing or that, but simply growth.

  23. I’ve thought a lot about real life. I spend a fair amount of time with the burgeoning idealists that make college the effervescent community that it is. They, we, are so eager to make a difference. We talk ardently, stridently, brazenly, and, ultimately, impractically about the things we can do to change the world and ourselves. Most of the people are intelligent, passionate, and in many ways contributing members of their communities. But they are not grown up – at least, not in my own adolescent eyes. Why not? Well, I feel like they are ignoring reality. Reality sometimes makes me feel insignificant and depressed, but I feel more permanent when I look at it honestly. Seeing reality clearly means saying “this is what is, this is what will be, and this is what can be” and making your decisions accordingly. It means being able to to see the connection between what we want and what we do. But I don’t want reality to lose its vision. I think adulthood should be full of creativity and movement.

  24. And, actually, I feel like many people that post here demonstrate that adulthood CAN be that – full of imagination and progress.

  25. Naomi, weren’t you taught as a good Mormon girl that all you need to do is marry someone who is (or clearly is on their way to becoming) a productive adult, and have kids, and then you’re set? ;)

    Sadly, of course, this is what many young women were taught even in the 1990s, and probably still today too.

  26. Lots of the commenters have talked about what they think it means to grow up. Taking responsibility for your own choices and your own life is a common meaning of being an adult. I’d like to add another idea. Being a productive adult means being in a role to help others more than you need to be helped yourself. This help could be offered in any medium – emotionally, financially, physically or spiritually.

    Being a parent automatically puts you in an adult role, because the new baby requires more help than you in every way, which is why parenthood is such a defining event. Marriage requires so much contribution from each partner that it requires putting aside the natural selfishness in which we live our childhoods.

    Leadership roles in Church or work require that we focus more on what we have to give than what we need others to give us.

    One thing I have really liked about being an attorney is being in a financial position to help others. My baby brother has a wife and four kids, and I gave him the money to buy furniture. I helped a brother-in-law with tuition.

    I feel like an adult when other people lean on me, and I help them stand on their own.

  27. By the time I was the age my children are, I’d probably ridden ten thousand miles on my bicycle away from home. I had gotten myself in and out of innumerable scrapes, some really dangerous. I had built dams and treehouses, turned caves into hideouts, climbed and hiked and caught lizards and snakes, learned not to ride my bicycle stretched out on the seat prone with my feet behind me down a steep and busy road. I had fended off a would-be molestor. I got into a few physical fights with bullies and made them back down (even though I lost the fights) from continuing to bully me. I learned to talk my way out of other fights. I watched out for my brother and defended younger children. I saved a toddler from choking to death. I was in seventh grade I think before I had appreciable amounts of homework; I watch my 2nd grader struggle to get through three and four hours a night worth.

    I don’t need to read this book to tell me why my children are not going to be ready for the real world. I see it. They can’t problem-solve their way out of a wet paper bag despite having high intelligence. They have no initiative. The sex offender who lives one street over and the ones I don’t know about guarantee that I would feel like a horrible parent if I gave them a tenth of the freedom I had as a child. I saw the reaction to the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping–the parents were villified for everything from giving an itinerant work, to allowing daughters to share a bedroom when they could afford a separate room for everybody.

    I see the problem. I don’t know how to fix it because I’m convinced that if I ever relax my guard I’ll be seeing my daughters’ faces on milk cartons.

  28. Interesting additions to the thread.
    Carleh (#25), you suggest that growing up is seeing reality, accepting the limits of idealism, negotiating between what we want and what we do. But you amend that further to say that having a fulfilling growing up, being a happy adult, is maintaining some level of imagination and growth throughout your life. Kind of like Dead Poet’s Society meets…hmmm, now that I think about it, I don’t know that Hollywood gives us all that many examples of true grown-ups. I think for many people, including stay-at-home mothers, that imagination and growth comes through meaningful, stimulating work. Should all of us become covert novelists?

    Christian (#27), your quick, somewhat flippant comment about what’s taught in Young Women’s begs another point: how gender-specific many of the comments (and indeed the original post) have become. Is this gap between school and career/life something that afflicts women more than men? The examples that Dr. Levine gave and other examples I’ve read about in articles use men as the quintessential “Twixters” more than women–how has it that our discussion has become so centered around the female experience? And are LDS boys better prepared than girls, or just less vocal?

    Janey (#28), I love your idea that service is what constitutes being a grown-up. I think that’s what constitutes living up to the measure of the stature of Christ, too, although my seminary teacher mother would undoubtedly be ashamed that my paraphrase is so inaccurate. It seems like you’re suggesting that becoming an adult is a process of acquiring certain virtues, such as unselfishness, generosity, independence, self-restraint.

    Finally, Sheri Lynn, you sound like the perfect parent to raise fully actualized adults, especially if they take after you. But your concern about letting them have the free rein that gave you your competence and self-reliance brings up the responsibility that Dr. Levine places on parents for this phenomenon. Do you agree with that? Do you think it’s your responsibility to ensure that your children grow into adults? I might be asking an obvious question here, but (1) I’m not a parent, and (2) I was intrigued by some of your feelings about being a parent in this world.

  29. Naomi: Is this gap between school and career/life something that afflicts women more than men?

    I think the answer, among Mormons, is yes. On the flip side of the teaching to Young Women to set their sights on temple marriage and stay-at-home motherhood (and subsequent bewilderment when it doesn’t happen) is the expectation drilled into young men that they must prepare to be able providers. They’re expecting that desirable Mormon women will want to marry someone who can bring home the bacon—and with marriage being the gateway to sexuality for a Mormon male, there’s powerful motivation to get one’s act together.

    Also, the experience of preparing for and serving a mission contributes to Mormon men’s “can-do” attitude and sense of self-motivation. In this regard, it may be unfortunate that Pres. Hinckley explicitly discouraged women from serving missions a few years back. Fortunately he also encourages them to get all the education they can, so if a result of not serving missions is that more women finish their education before having children, it might be a net positive.

  30. I largely agree with Christian. I remember during my short time as a bishop’s counselor, I had the opportunity of conducting interviews with the youth. I specifically recall a few young women who expressed absolute befuddlement at making correct decisions for the future. They wanted to get married, but knowing that nothing was certain, wanted to make good educational and career choices. Some of them struggled with their perception that those choices that would prepare them to be good mothers and wives were not necessarily the ones that would make good careers, or that correlated to their actual interests. Some of them felt pressure to pursue a “mommy major” (on the assumption that they would be married in a few short years and might end up never finishing school) rather than follow their dreams and shoot for graduate work and professional degrees. I remember counseling them that marriage did not have to mean the end of education, which was stunning to some (perhaps because there weren’t always ready examples to point to in the ward). I also wholeheartedly encouraged them to choose a major and a career of their liking, not one that they felt was being imposed on them by some abstract ideal. Success as a mother and wife is certainly not absolutely dictated by pre-marriage educational and career chioces, although I’ll admit there may be some correlation (this might be interesting to analyze, if I had any idea how to do so. Is anyone aware of any study looking at parental aptitude as a function of major or career choices?) (This is starting to remind me of the themes involved in Melissa’s earlier piece on powerful women. Is the choice between being a productive vs. reproductive adult woman? Apparently some perceive it as such. It seems like a false choice to me, though.)

  31. MDS,

    The choice between productive and reproductive SEEMS like it should be a false choice, but for some of us, it is sadly true. Actually, now that I think about it, I mostly feel like the choice has been made for me.

    I have spent most of my life excelling academically and, because I am not a person who can handle a lot of things at once, other areas in which I may have excelled have fallen by the wayside. One of these areas is physical fitness. And because of this, it is very likely that I will not be chosen for a reproductive partner (in this life) by someone that I am physically attracted to. Because I unfortunately find the “typical” American Mormon male very attractive, and they do not find me attractive, I am at an impasse (and I do feel that I am in a position to lump the American Mormon male into a category; I grew up in SLC, spent my undergrad years at BYU, and since then have been socially involved almost exclusively with Mormons and have been asked out by this category of men a mere six times). I feel very powerless in the whole affair and thus I feel that my only choice is to be a “productive” rather than “reproductive” female. And because I find this very difficult to accept emotionally, I have become quite depressed and not very effective in said productive role. And that is pretty much why I personally feel that I am not living as a productive adult, although it may look like I am from the outside (as mentioned before I supported myself financially before I became partly dependent on student loans that I took out for my masters program).

  32. There was an interesting article in today’s Chicago Tribune about a young black man in Washington, D.C., who is 17 years old and both going to high school and raisinig his two-year old daughter by himself (with some babysitting help from his mom). We see the reverse situation all the time, so this was kind of interesting. The article detailed how difficult it has been for him to continue going to school while he takes care of his daughter. I thought of this thread when I read the article.

  33. My experience has been that of Shawn (#22), where I look around at my office of books too boring to admit to have read–another attorney whose consoliation for the “writer’s dream” is writing legal reviews that even the managers and supervisors who need to follow my advice can understand them. Life is not what my dream was; marriage brought heartache as we were not able to have children, and other medical expenses have threatened to overwhelm us (thanks, Congress for making it harder for even those of us who are insured to imagine relief through the last-chance choice of bankruptcy). Adult? Yes, because of assuming responsibilites I fear that I am whining about when I discuss them.

    On the other hand, I have the best job I could imagine for me–a civilian attorney on a military base. My first day (a Tuesday), I was handed a file and told that the brief needed to reach the administrative board by Friday, and no, there were no examples in any files. I am often looked to as the expert in meetings, which I am, mostly because I read something about the topic years ago and nobody else in the room is willing to express an opinion. It scares me sometimes because there are senior officers who are unwilling to move forward until they have asked my boss what I think about the issue.

    Am I productive? Some days. Am I an adult? Yes, because I make hard decisions when those around me are unwilling. Are those decisions the right ones? I hope so. Making and living with decisions, whether at home, work, church, or in the hospital is the hardest part of “growing up.”

  34. Sister Frandson, I see my choices now with respect to protecting my children as both necessary to protect them and damaging to them. It is a paradox I cannot resolve. An antinomy.

    My oldest has high-functioning autism, and so is delayed with respect to normal self-protection skills. About the time we were coming to terms with his diagnosis, a horrid thing happened in the military community where we were stationed in Germany. A 2 year old named Elora McKemy was taken from her bed, raped, and murdered. The father was the lead suspect for most of the next year until DNA analysis identified the real culprit–one of the father’s coworkers, who had turned out that morning and “helped search” for the body of the little girl he’d killed. This man, Patrick Smith, had just walked into that apartment, picked up the sleeping toddler from her bed, and did unspeakable things to her. When he was finished, he threw her body in a gravel pit where a German had to find her late that morning. At trial, he claimed he had been so drunk he did not remember doing this thing at all. He got sentenced to a handful of years, thanks to wrangling between the military justice system and the Germans over jurisdiction. The Germans would not allow our military system to try him if he could get the death penalty. He ended up getting a sentence of less than a dozen years, so he’s probably free now. I have done some searching, but there are too many federal prisoners with the same name, and I never could figure out which one he was. I had hoped he’d be in a sex offender registration program, but I suspect that because he was sentenced overseas, he’s not in any system. (And those systems don’t work well anyway–they are cluttered up with people who are not actually *dangerous* to anybody.)

    Elora’s death made a huge impression on me, as did the kidnapping of Morgan Nick, whose mother was then a neighbor of my mother’s. They have never found Morgan, or her kidnapper–even though she was kidnapped at a Little League game and many people saw it happen. How do people live and go on with their lives if they have no answer to the fundamental question: where is my daughter? is she alive or dead?

    I do not know how to answer your question. I just see that my children are far too accustomed to being supervised every minute, and to having an adult see them through every challenge. Their unstructured time is always spent in risk-free activities in safe places. How can I cherish the freedom I had as a child and see it as valuable, and deny it to my children because we have given clear title to the sidewalks and streets to the criminals? If I start thinking about this too much I’m left with no alternative but to pray that the Lord take this Gordian knot out of my hands. I can’t untangle it. And someday, whether I like it or not, my kids ARE going to need real freedom. I just wonder sometimes if they’ll even know enough to want it or seek it.

  35. I empathize with your situation, Naomi. I’m 24, but in more or less the same boat. I lived on my own for about a year (plus a long time in the dorms) before coming back to my parents’ house (I feel I truly was inspired to live in the basement — but probably only because I can lock the cats out at night ^_^) The idea of living here is that I can take a real shot at getting rid of my student loan debt (thanks to some unfortunate decision making and a complete lack of planning, I already owed the US Dept. of Education about $10k on the day I turned 18 — now it’s about $40k.) Though actually, the substantial savings I can net from living in Ohio instead of Los Angeles means I can probably move out sometime soon, if I really want to. In LA I spent $400/month to rent a room from a divorced man and his teenage daughter — between the sudden surprise screaming visits from the ex-wife, the spiders, and the gunfire in our neighborhood on every major holiday, I’m quite glad I came back here, even with the loss of much of my (nominal) independence.

    I’ve mostly made peace with the idea that I might never get married. Everyone else from my YW years has a husband now, and the one Priest from my ward at the time is living with his girlfriend (and has been for some time.) Moreover, my sister (who’s 18) only has a half dozen unmarried friends left. I’m only on this planet because my mom was extremely impatient to grow up, get married, and have kids — and I refuse to give divorces and “unaccompanied minor” flights and two of everything and parents who can’t talk to each other and questions over whether liking a particular food means they really love Mommy or Daddy more, to any kids I might have. I freely concede that my dating life has been largely limited by my overwhelming need not to screw things up.

    As to being productive — I have a self-imposed deadline for finding a “real” job. I’m sure my blog will become very depressing when August comes and goes without said real job having been obtained. Every day I’m not doing something more meaningful than waiting tables or doing data entry, I feel like I’m failing my cosmic destiny or something. In 2004 I made a little over $11,000, between Disneyland and working at Steak n’ Shake. Woohoo!

  36. I blame old people for trying to be young. They let society start telling young people that they have it good. Old people try to be young, look young, be “young at heart.”
    I’m 34 now. My son happily tells strangers how old I am after telling them he is five when he’s asked.. Last year a checkout person told him he’d better not tell people that. Like I’m supposed to hide it. Be embarrassed about it.
    People proudly say that they look younger than they are. No one proudly says, “Everyone thinks I’m in my mid 40’s even though I’m only 31!”
    But how many of us would trade places with our younger selves. Unless we’d go back simply to make better choices because we are wiser now…in which case we’d want our current self to go back in time. And that means we prefer our current selves, to our younger, more stupid self.
    I wouldn’t trade any of what I’ve learned from 19 to 34.
    Yet, the older I get, the less respect society gives me. I’m told that wrinkles are bad, grey hair should be covered. That I should tell people my age. Look at who is worshipped on TV.
    How can young people look forward to becoming adults in this atmosphere. Becoming these old people who they don’t respect, because old people don’t respect themselves.
    Adults show this by saying as they get older, “I don’t feel old.” “I don’t feel like an adult and yet I’m here with a job and a kid, etc.” “I don’t feel old enough to….”
    How exactly did you think older people feel? What is it that you thought being an adult meant. It doesn’t mean you change so much that you don’t enjoy like, don’t have fun, don’t want things, need love, don’t have desires, aren’t tempted to be selfish & lazy, etc. I’m not much different from my teenage self, except I am wiser now. I can work harder now. I know what is important. I know what I can do. I’m a little less insecure.
    I remember when my husband was dragging his feet on the having a kid issue. He kept expecting to feel “grown up” enough to have a child. DOes that actually happen? Did he think one day he’d change into a different person. A person who didn’t want to play computer games, or one who thought supporting a family was easy and would never want to sleep in instead of going to work?
    I remember ask a kid thinking that as an adult I would get to do whatever I wanted (because they seemed to have no rules). I, of course, couldn’t understand what having so much responsibility would mean. My kids can’t know when I am upset about grown up issues and how it is difficult to give them my attention when I have big worries. But I also think that isn’t it sad if I don’t play with them enough, don’t talk with them or listen to them, and they think that adults are another species. Something that they don’t want to become.
    Growing up is a process. Experience is needed for wisdom. And just because their worries are small to us, to a 1 year old, or a 7 year old, those problems are as much as they can possibly handle. Their problems cause them just as much stress as adult problems do to adults.
    We adults got our experience somewhere, and it happened day by day.

  37. A note for Minerva: Thanks for describing your frustrations with having a body that is uncooperative with your desires. I’m sure you can look around yourself and see that you’re not the only one with that frustration–that seems to be one of the challenges of this second estate. And you describe something that I’ve been trying to convince my mother of for years–I’m doing the best that I can with the time and resources that I have. I especially feel this way when I turn in papers late: I’m sure I could have figured out a way to turn the paper in on time, but I weighed in my mind the cost of asking the teacher for an extension and the cost of not doing the various other things that presented themselves, and I decided that the cost of asking for an extension was less. This is part of the complex economics of working out, too–I know that as a graduate student, I don’t have the money or time to spend on fixing South Beach foods and I can only squeeze in a few opportunities to work out or be active during the week. So in a way, I’m procrastinating certain important areas of my life–including getting in my best physical condition (which I believe is important), spending a lot of time in social settings where I could meet more people and date more, learning German, taking up another instrument, writing a novel, etc., etc. (all important things)–until I’m in a stage of my life where the demands of school don’t exact so much of myself. Am I deceiving myself? Probably a little–I know people find a way to make their lives work. Am I not making some of the hard decisions that Eric suggests comprises being an adult? Probably–I still choose creature comforts a lot of them time. But I suppose that’s what a lot of people have been pointing out–growing up is a process, not a sudden state. So I’m gradually learning to make better, harder decisions more often. At least, I hope I am. I had one other thought in connection to your response–often I feel like I need to wait to fully grow up until I’m ready. For example, a part of me shies away from marriage because I don’t think I’ve conquered my weaknesses, insecurities, and ignorance enough to be a really good spouse yet. A part of me shies away (okay, the realistic part of me) from buying a car because I don’t think I know how to wade through all of the issues and paperwork yet. So I have a tendency to put off some of these markers of being grown up until I feel like I’m ready. But in the most profoundly maturing experiences of my life–a mission, for example–I really wasn’t ready, and I just chose it because I loved it. I’m about to lapse into stale truisms about life here, so I’ll pull myself up short :). But thank you and good luck in all you described to us.

    Kevin–interesting article. A lot of these “twixters” or “emerging adults” I’ve been thinking about are pictured as white. This could be connected to the affluence that was mentioned earlier. Do minorities grow up faster, I wonder?

    Eric, I like your suggestion that being an adult is making hard decisions. Whenever I think about how my sisters have to get up at all hours with their children and how I can choose when I want to sleep in, get up early, etc., I realize how few hard decisions really force themselves on me on a regular basis! Not that I’m complaining about getting 8 hours of sleep a night…

    Sheri Lynn–It seems like the quandry you describe is knowing that you are disadvantaging your children by being over-protective but feeling that you would be irresponsible to be doing any less. What strikes me as interesting, though, is that you aren’t the type of image-conscious, work-absorbed, detached parent that articles suggest are raising these over-stimulated, under-empowered children. Rather, you are facing the real and new demands of living in a world which is much less safe than the neighborhoods our parents raised us in. In other words, there are new demands on parents these days, and there’s a need for new parenting skills and approaches. Of course, we would hope that this new parenting style would still produce independent, creative, energetic, self-motivating children, but perhaps the way that’s accomplished is necessarily different than it was in the 1950s, 1960s, even 1970s and 1980s.

    Finally, Sarah (#38), we’ve had an interesting range of responses on this post–people who are grown up and who share how they arrived there, and people (like me) who self-identify as not grown up and are trying to figure out why. You raise yet another dimension in this complex explanation: yes, our generation is experiencing the results of having very structured childhoods and being able to fall back on the affluence of parents, but our generation is also experiencing the sometimes debilitating results of not wanting to mess up. This is kind of what Sheri Lynn was talking about in her frustrations with raising her children. We don’t want to make bad marriages–or even mediocre, sub-par marriages–we don’t want to become indentured servants to a wage machine and find ourselves depressed, surly, and increasingly imbalanced as the years pass, we don’t want to raise kids whose lives we might mess up, etc., etc. ad nauseam. Since I’ve been assuming a (wholly unmerited) authoritative stance for this entire post, I’ll say that personally, I think it’s wise and responsible to open our eyes to these possibilities. But I also think it’s embracing a lot of fear that can stymie great good. Perhaps fear, not irresponsibility, ADD, or lack of commitment, undergirds a lot of this phenomenon. If that’s the case, then Latter-day Saints are in the best position to overcome that, because we have doctrine which teaches us how to overcome fear through love and faith, and we have a deep belief in priesthood authority that can cast out fear and offer us blessings like the gift of the Holy Ghost. And on that appropriately pre-Sabbath sentiment, I think I’ll go start being a productive adult with the rest of my Saturday.

  38. Without having read all of the voluminous comments here, I have to say that I often ask myself the same thing. I am 30 years old, and on Monday the 14th I am about to start the first “real job” that I have ever had. Most of my friends and colleagues seem like they have been working since age 23.

    True that I have been in school nonstop until last this last December. But wasn’t there some point in the past where I should have said “enough school”! and started working to support my family?

    Many times I feel like a kid in a (semi) grown up body (I say “semi” because I could *still* easily be mistaken for a high school senior or a college freshman).

    WILL I EVER GROW UP?!? (and will that entail that I stop blogging?)


  39. It occurs to me that I’ve been framing my thoughts on this subject entirely in the context of helping my children to become productive adults. It never occured to me to take the question “personally.” I started babysitting at age 12. I married at 17 instead of taking a full-ride scholarship to Harvard-Radcliffe–just didn’t want to go to Boston and it didn’t occur to me that it was no shame to take something lesser, closer to home. And I was “in love.” Just after I turned 18, I had to sell a house by myself, and then I traveled alone to Turkey to join him there. I was an independant government contractor while I lived there. By the time I was 27 and had my first child I’d moved ten times at least, been through several natural disasters (hurricanes and tornadoes) and somewhere along the line I started thinking of myself as a grownup. That doesn’t mean I don’t waste much time on the computer or that I’m always productive, not by a long shot.

    I think it means you stop waiting for the fairy godmother to wave her wand. The dress you need won’t be made by helpful mice. Either you do without the things you need, or you make it happen. Is that all it really means to be a grownup?

    My kids sit and wait for the bibbity-bobbity-boo. Sooner or later they’ll realize there never really was one, just adults doing too much for them.

  40. Sheri Lynn,

    Fascinating. I think you’re right that being grown up has to do with knowing that you aren’t going to be rescued. I know that is one the biggest thing I struggle with: the desire for someone to just swoop in and fix it all.

    I think part of the reason I want someone to just take care of things is that when I was a kid, someone DID just take care of things. My house was a house of chaos and we had no rules. My parents tried occasionally to make me do things like clean my room, etc., but it was really ineffectual. They were, I think, sick of raising kids (I am the youngest of 8) and just gave up. Every so often, they would harp on me to clean my room or something, but I, knowing there would be no consequences for not doing it, wouldn’t. Then one day, I’d walk into my room and it’d be clean: my mom would just get so fed up she’d do it herself. Fairy godmother indeed.

    I don’t know the exact point I’m trying to make, but something that jumped out at me in an earlier post is this idea that too much structure makes your kids incapable adults. I can’t say how much I wish I’d had more structure and discipline in my house growing up (though it was fun at the time!) Maybe the point I’m trying to make is that too much structure or not enough structure gives way to similar results, perhaps because in both instances development of choice-making is stunted. With too much structure, kids may not get enough practice making choices. In unstructured situations, kids make a lot of choices but don’t always have to deal with the consequences of these choices. I don’t know. Just rambling thoughts…

  41. Naomi,
    Your comment about not buying a car because you are afraid of the paperwork reminds me a lot of some of my concerns about “growing up.” I remember as a child wondering how in the world adults knew how to do so many things. How did someone learn everything involved in buying a house? How did someone find a doctor? How in the world did anyone ever figure out how to file tax returns? Who taught you how to do all the many things necessary to “be an adult?” But the fact is, no one teaches anyone these things. We all have to learn just by jumping in and doing it. I realized that there are experts all around who will help you figure it all out. Want to buy a house? Walk into a real estate agency and someone there will lead you through the whole thing. Need a doctor? Call the number on your insurance card and someone will help you figure it out. Tax returns? Just jump right in– go to your county office building, pick up the forms, and follow the instructions. Or better yet, buy Turbo Tax. Need to do home repairs? Go to Home Depot and ask someone for help. Being an adult is not being afraid to ask for help. Just jumping in and doing what needs to be done. Throw out all the timidity and self-consciousness and insecurity, and just DO what needs to be done. The more you practice this, the more authentic it will feel, and before you know it, you will actually FEEL like an adult instead of feeling like an imposter teenager in an adult body.

  42. Nooooo–don’t buy turbotax! Go to and you can use it for free :)

  43. At that point, my backup plan (going to law school) ended up happening, And it wasn’t such a bad backup plan. I still daydream about being a rock star sometimes, though.

    Well, I overlapped in law school with Lisa Cannon, ( ) who is still trying to be a rock (or at least a pop) star and had a guy who dropped out to be a rock star come back and start law school again in the class after mine. It seems to work for some.

    But I’ve been paying attention to what seems to be a loss of the technology of being an adult, something that isn’t being passed along. A friend said there needs to be a book What your Grandmother would have taught you about the things that aren’t getting transferred, from how to change a tire to similar things — especially that it isn’t all about satisfaction.

    The real issue is “gaining traction” — how do you do it, what does it mean, how do you cope with parts of your life where you don’t seem to have any traction and how to get it back.

    Interesting thread, especially as I try to help my 16 year old get ready for college.

  44. Naomi, great post! (And sorry to be getting to this so late; as you know, I’m away.) I owe it to the T&S readership, however, to correct you on a few points: your self-description is charmingly self-effacing (and perhaps true in one or two ways), but you yourself are as accomplished, clear-eyed and motivated–in worthy pursuits–as they come. (And for what it’s worth, I’ve been known to eat rice krispies for dinner and feed my kids on ramen at lunch.)

  45. Rosalynde, you should replace the rice krispies with the Malt-O-Meal knockoff of frosted mini-wheats, which are cheap in large bags at Wal-Mart!

    Our daughters love ramen, which drives my wife crazy since they won’t eat anything “healthy”; nevertheless, we have a long-standing tradition of letting them have ramen every Sunday as something quick immediately after church. (And they’re threatened with losing their ramen if they’re not reverent!)

  46. That’d make a great commercial for the Utah/Idaho market.

    “Today’s Reverence Child–Well-Fed on Ramen!”

  47. Naomi-

    Great post! It was particularly great to hear from Rosalynde and Gabrielle! It is feeling like a family reunion. My husband (J. Stapley) didn’t believe me when I commented that you were all cousins and was greatly amused!

  48. A lot of people have been talking about how the perception in the Church is that adulthood begins with marriage.

    I would disagree with that statement. I think adulthood for active Mormons actually begins when you start having kids.

    Think about your average American ward (this rules out single-adult wards and other wards overrun by student turnover). Where’s the action at.

    It’s not in Elder’s Quorum. Neither is it in High Priests Quorum, or Gospel Doctrine Class.

    The real scene in your average family ward is in Primary and the Youth organizations. That’s were some of the best talent gets sent and that’s were most of the activities people are talking about happen.

    Like it or not, our religion is family oriented and there’s a real tendency to subordinate the needs of the adults for the children. “No success can compensate for failure in the home” after all.

    Unfortunately, I think that unless he works for it, a single adult brother in a standard ward is not going to have much of an identity. I’m not saying he’s doomed to annonymity, but he won’t be automatically handed full inclusion in the ward community.

    He gains more community identity once he gets married. But even then there’s often a perception among the more established families that these couples aren’t available for the real heavy lifting as far as callings go. They aren’t considered grown up yet.

    This is just a stereotype of course, but it’s based on some very real considerations:
    -They are often still students, which means they’ll skip town temporarily as soon as summer break rolls around and will leave permanently upon graduation.
    -They don’t have kids which leads to the (perhaps unfair) perception that they are still just “playing around.” In any case, they do not yet have a vested interest in the Primary or other auxilliaries.
    -They often reinforce the lack of confidence when they skip sacrament meeting to attend mommy and daddy’s ward. In essence, the diagnosis is that “junior hasn’t been weaned yet.”

    Once they have a kid, innumerable financial and life changing things come into play. Vacation is over and it’s time to get to work. Their identity (I say “they” because our hypothetical Brother is now considered as an extension of his family identity) in the ward community has increased.

    From this point on, the parent’s identity increases as their kids enter Primary and then the youth program. The greater the adult’s connections to the various ward programs (via his kids), the greater his community identity. Take a look at your own “family ward.” Chances are that a big chunk of ward activity focuses around 3 or 4 core families.

  49. I have to say that I don’t think it’s right for older people to judge what it is that classifies an adult. I am recently engaged and I don’t feel the rush of a marriage. I have a game plan of my life cycle and I don’t see what the big deal is to put myself in debt, be stuck in a crappy, endless job have children when I’m not at the mental level to handle that and marry someone that will most likely change into someone I don’t know in ten years. Why do labels have to classify an adult status?

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