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Am I There Yet?

I moved to Colorado Springs from my little hometown in Iowa

when I was 23. In some ways, that season was the best of times … and the worst

of times.

On the “best of times” side of the ledger, God had opened a

door for me to serve in a really interesting support role to several executives

in the international office of The Navigators. I’d diligently raised financial support

for about eight months, and when I moved out, I had just enough income trickling in

to almost make my meager ends meet. The

job proved to be fascinating and deeply formative as I rubbed shoulders daily

with some of the most godly, gifted and focused people I’ve ever known.

On the “worst of times” side of the equation, however, I

moved to “the Springs” (as it’s colloquially known) without knowing a single

person here. I rented a studio apartment in a decidedly low rent complex, and

it took me all of about an hour to unload my belongings the day I moved in. They

consisted of some clothes, some books, some CDs, some dishes and my lone piece

of “furniture”: a bean bag chair.

As excited as I was to start my new job, I still remember

the first month or so of coming home after work, sitting in my bean bag chair,

staring at the wall, listening to my neighbors fight through the wall and

wondering when my glorious post-college life was really going to begin. Eventually, I landed at a local church and

began to make new friends, but it was anything but instantaneous. At times, my

lowly apartment and even lowlier support system and financial situation left me

hovering on the brink of deep discouragement.  

These days, according to a new study examining 18- to

29-year-olds entering this “emerging adulthood” season, the majority of folks

in this demographic feel something similar, namely that the perks of genuine “adulthood”

are still somewhere in the future.

Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, a psychology professor at Clark

University, has been studying the young adult phase of development for 20

years. He recently surveyed 1,029 folks between the ages of 18 and 29, asking, “Do

you feel that you have reached adulthood?” In response, 48.6 percent said yes, 4.6 percent

said no, while the remaining 46.8 percent split the difference, choosing the answer, “In

some ways yes, in some ways no.” Alana Prant, who’s 23, represents the 47 percent of

those who still get some or a lot of financial help from their parents when she

says, “I’m about to be 24. I should feel like an adult, but I don’t. My parents

completely support me.”

Those surveyed were also asked what the most important

element defining adulthood was. Thirty-six percent said, “Accepting

responsibility for yourself”; 30 percent said, “Becoming financially independent”; 16 percent

said, “Finishing education”; 14 percent said “Making independent decisions.” Just 4 percent

said that they felt getting married was the most important aspect in becoming

an adult.

It was this last statistic that caught my attention the most. A generation

(or perhaps two) ago, adulthood was largely defined by the intertwined events

of completing college and, more or less simultaneously, getting married. These

days, however, the emerging generation’s understanding of what constitutes

adulthood has shifted, and marriage barely even makes the list. For many, it

would seem, it’s just a distant blip on the horizon.  

Indeed, Arnett told USA

Today that virtually every major milestone on the road to adulthood is

happening later these days, whether it’s getting established in a career,

getting married or having children. “None of those [trends] are going away in

our lifetime,” he said.

In some ways, my own experience split the difference when it

comes to these trends. By God’s grace, I had significant career opportunities

open up early in my 20s. On the other hand, I didn’t get married until I was 34

(though it wasn’t for a lack of trying), and my wife and I didn’t have our

first child until we were both 36. If you’d polled me when I was 23 regarding

whether I felt like an adult yet, I’m not sure what I would have said. Maybe

yes. Maybe no. Maybe somewhere in between.  

How about you? What has your process of “emerging adulthood”

been like? Do you feel like a “grown-up” yet? Whether your answer is yes, no or

maybe, what would you say are the markers that best define for you what it

really means to be an adult? 

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About the Author

Adam Holz
Adam Holz

Adam R. Holz has served as an editor and writer for Plugged In for 20 years. He also spent a decade working for The Navigators, mostly as associate editor for Discipleship Journal. Adam is the author of the NavPress Bible Study “Beating Busyness.” Adam and his wife, Jennifer, have three children and enjoy watching movies, playing board games and playing music together.

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