How do I become a mature, professional adult?
July 29, 2013 1:10 PM   Subscribe

I am a woman in my late 20s. Lately I've been feeling like all of the adults I know are more mature and adult-like in the way they hold themselves and behave than I am. I don't know how to get that or be more like that. What am I doing wrong? What to do?

These details are important, so I'd read this if you have time:

I am in my late 20s. I have a full-time job. It's a lower salary, but I am also in school part-time working on my first BA. I live in a major metropolitan area, married, self-supporting, etc. By all accounts, I am an adult. I even dress well and have excellent hygiene!

There's just something about the way a lot of my friends and other adults behave that I haven't figured out yet. Part of me wonders if it's because I'm still in college and that I supervise and am surrounded by college students all day at work. Also as I hinted at above, my husband and I are much more broke than most of our friends; we get along well on our own (i.e. we are saving, budgeting, and out of debt, etc), but we don't have a lot of money for going out with friends or for cultural events ever. I also haven't really figured out my career yet, though I know it will be related to my field of study, of course. Most of my friends are either in tech fields or creative fields are are passionate and successful. I am in neither field, and frequently feel lost/clueless if they are talking about their work. I could also imagine that I tend to laugh more and be a little sillier, and perhaps that's because I feel a little nervous around groups of people.

Sigh. In this sense, I just feel like a mess, and it really affects my confidence in social situations and at work. It would be nice to have some hacks, especially behavioral things I can change, to feel more like a mature adult. Any advice is welcome at this point. What can I do to fake it 'til I make it? Or is it just a matter of being in a different place in life? Help!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
This is totally an instance of you comparing your insides to everybody else's outsides. Hardly anyone in their 20s feels like they've got it together, and even if they do feel that way they'll realize later they didn't know what the hell was going on at all. You're doing fine. I promise.
posted by something something at 1:13 PM on July 29, 2013 [18 favorites]

Good posture, speaking slower, telling instead of asking, and smiling instead of laughing when you're nervous. But I think we all feel childish and whatnot really. I feel like an "imposter" all the time.
posted by windykites at 1:21 PM on July 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

we get along well on our own (i.e. we are saving, budgeting, and out of debt, etc)

I suspect that at least some of your friends have an apparently more adult lifestyle precisely because they're happy to get into debt and they don't have any savings.

Turns out, investing in your future by studying and saving and all that is a pretty adult thing to do.

I bet you could find at least one of those friends who will say that they always thought you were the adult one, and that they feel less mature than you and look up to you for your sensible lifestyle.
posted by emilyw at 1:26 PM on July 29, 2013 [13 favorites]

I have to agree with something something. I know this isn't a practical, how-to kind of answer, but I just wanted to tell you that I feel the exact same way a lot of the time. Oddly enough, despite my constant internal flailing and anxiety and tendency to eat cereal for dinner more often than not, my close friends and co-workers tell me I am mature for my age and I carry myself well. I do not have any idea how they could perceive me that way (I feel like I laugh more than others, tend to be a little silly, and my extroversion sometimes comes across as me just being loud) but I've heard it from different people on different occasions.

Cut yourself some slack. I don't necessarily want to be an adult adult - whatever that means - but whenever this kind of thinking stresses me out, I try to remind myself that I'm doing pretty okay. I pay all of my bills on time, I am not in debt, I am in a very healthy and happy and secure relationship, I floss daily, etc. I still panic over silly things (How do I not own a proper pair of dress pants at this age?! Why don't I know how to cook fancy foods, and what is a "reduction" anyway? What if I never understand retirement savings/investments?!) but I try to give myself some credit from time to time too.
posted by gursky at 1:33 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

I was hoping you would provide some greater level of detail, so all I can say is, cut yourself a break. What you are looking for is going to come only with time and perspective. Don't rush yourself! You will get there soon enough, and then you'll be older and wishing you were younger again. I'm 47, and occasionally I still feel clueless like I were 25 again.

If I can give you any advice, it's A. trust your feelings, and B. be kind whenever possible.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask a Manager asked this of her readers recently and got some pretty good answers.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:44 PM on July 29, 2013

I'm 38, married, no kids, a practicing lawyer (though I haven't figured out what I want to do when I grow up), renting an apartment. Sometimes I look at my friends, with their two kids and mortgages, and I feel like I am not a productive adult. Before law school, I worked for five years in the arts, so a number of people my age are significantly senior to me at work, and some of those who are my level are significantly younger.

Don't give yourself a hard time about being an adult. It sounds like you have more figured out than a lot of people.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:46 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

Adulting Blog is a fantastic resource in both how to be an adult and what being an adult actually means.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:01 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

posted by deanc at 2:03 PM on July 29, 2013

When you are younger, it seems like there is some point at which you will "be an adult" that will feel different somehow.

There isn't.

Do try having good posture though.

Also, it's almost certain that some of your friends are very much in debt and becoming more so at each event that you forgo because of your budget.
posted by yohko at 2:13 PM on July 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

What can you do to "fake it until you make it?" Keep doing exactly what you're doing. Seriously, you're doing fine. You can tweak some stuff: being mindful of your posture is a good thing, so is trying to buy the best quality stuff you can afford when you have to buy...clothes, shoes, household goods, whatever. Maybe work on deepening a few of your friendships? Because under the surface, I bet a lot of your friends feel the exact same way - I know my friends and I did, and in many cases, still do.
posted by EvaDestruction at 2:48 PM on July 29, 2013

You sound very mature for your age to me. You're responsible and not only living within your means but doing it while you're in school. That's awesome. Being silly and laughing a lot will keep you young forever, but in the best way possible. When you reach my age (53), you'll have people telling you that they thought you were much younger. And it's all about attitude. Look at you, laughing AND being responsible at the same time. Trying to do both shorts out the brains of most people.

I think it's very common to feel young, or dumb, or ill-informed when we're around people in different fields, but to be very honest, the people in my experience who have tried to make me feel uncomfortable or who have given the impression that they were smarter than average because of their field or their degrees are usually kind of jerks anyway and would be so in any field. If you feel like you don't know enough about the things your friends know, ask them to explain them to you. People love to talk about the things they're interested in, and even the jerks (maybe even *especially* the jerks) like to be asked about themselves and their interests.

Please don't stop being silly. It gives permission to the people around you to also be silly, and there's too much seriousness where there needn't be. I'll be serious when it's called for, but silly is way more fun.
posted by janey47 at 4:02 PM on July 29, 2013 [4 favorites]

Could you share what region you live in? I feel like that might be relevant because of cultural norms.
posted by bq at 4:02 PM on July 29, 2013

There is something about being in school. I spend all day at my grown up professional job kicking ass and taking names and in the evenings, at class, have to fight not to be the petulant, sarcastic student, fighting the man, man. But it's fun so I don't fight it too much
posted by atomicstone at 4:21 PM on July 29, 2013

I'm a lot older and a lot broker than you are. Yeah, I'm in a career field that I've been in for a long time and I make decent money, but by the criteria you've set for yourself, I'm less an adult than you are. You're married, in school, saving, budgeting and debt free or getting there. Those are all pretty mature, grown up and responsible to me.

The point here is that this is strictly in your perception of yourself and social anxiety/fit with a particular group of people that has little nothing to do with what's actually happening. It sounds like you're doing great to me.
posted by cnc at 4:32 PM on July 29, 2013

To start, I would look at "why" you want to be a "professional mature adult", and what values are attached to that idea and why they are important to you.

For example, when I was very young, I felt that need. I wish I had know enough to see that I needed to feel like I fit in, that I was accepted by others. It aucked because i wasnt really doing it for me. Now, at 48, having let go of that need, I live I an rv, sing and dance inappropriately, etc., and pretty much do as I please. And I fit in (somewhere).

Turns out all my professional and mature friends see me as even more mature, because I took a risk to live my dream, etc., and yours might be appreciating you for your ability to laugh more than they can. You just don't know.

Late twenties is still early be fully aware if who you are, which leads to the need to fit in. It will pass with time. And I agree with the poster above who mentioned that it is mostly your own perception. Keep doing what you are doing, as you do sound very mature, just be sure to do it for the right reasons.
posted by Vaike at 6:26 PM on July 29, 2013 [2 favorites]

You sound like an adult to me, or at least you sound like the kind of adult I am. I'm silly and I laugh a lot and just yesterday I picked up this book and I can't wait to read it. At the same time, I'm setting up a law firm and some of my friends have told me I'm more mature than them! Why do you feel the way you do? Have you read C.S. Lewis' essay, The Inner Ring? Does that describe what's going on? Otherwise, I'm having trouble understanding the problem from your post. You're saying that you lack self-confidence, but it seems that the reason for that is...a lack of self-confidence. And from your circumstances and behaviour, at least in this post, it's hard to see why that would be.
posted by smorange at 9:08 AM on July 30, 2013

Some things that helped me realize I feel like a grownup:

- We're financially independent.
- We take care of our pets, including making the awful decision to put our first cat down when she developed stomach cancer.
- I'm realizing I really don't have to be perfect, and that's ok.
- Similarly, I'm internalizing that my job is JUST A JOB, it is not my life, it doesn't define me.

I hope those thoughts help.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 12:27 PM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Your question is very interesting and I also identify myself with some of the feelings which you described.

The way I read your question (maybe I am wrong) is that you are probably referring more to the concept of status instead of maturity. Maybe you simply infer somehow higher status of other people based on their career or standard of living? Maybe those other people play high status in social interactions?

If this is the case then all I can tell you is that big part of Improv is about dealing with status and manifesting status. Also, I can assure you that if you manage to get in front of other people in an Improv class and do an improvised scene – your confidence in social situation will grow significantly. You may even not recognize yourself any more :-)

>> windykites
>> Good posture, speaking slower, telling instead of asking,

Could you please elaborate more on this “telling instead of asking”? I am really interested in the concept of conversations and status and your comment stroke a chord with me. Could you give some examples (social situations, dialogs, etc) where we should go for telling rather than asking?
posted by dogbert at 2:55 PM on July 30, 2013

Does the phrase "working on your self" mean anything to you? Because it didn't to me until two months ago, and I'm 35.

I don't know if everyone actively takes a hand in their self-growth (resolving issues, becoming self aware, mindful) - but I've only got one friend who's clearly invested a lot of herself in the process, and she is, in many ways, more mature than I or many other people I know. She seems to have direction now, whereas the rest of us still seem to be wandering.
posted by unmake at 1:43 AM on July 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

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