Last Wednesday, I received a thank you card for something so small that I could barely remember doing it, less than 24 hours after I’d done the thing. Instead of making me feel warm inside, it made me panic. I had been on the receiving end of far nicer gestures that I hadn’t sent thank you cards for, so clearly, despite being in my thirties, I was failing at adulting – AKA, the latest Thing That I Was Supposed To Succeed At. To the uninitiated, adulting is what you’re doing when you have a sellotape drawer, a spare stamp and an encyclopaedic knowledge of the birthdays of everyone you’ve met in the last ten years, with an ability to get to the Post Office in time to post their presents, even if they live in a small village in India. Basically, any level of organisation that you would have laughed in the face of when you were 18, your life was a mess, and organisation meant getting home with both shoes on after 11 vodka Red Bulls. To make matters worse, adulting is also #adulting, which means you can’t escape it, even though it’s the world’s most boring life area to scroll through on social media and feel insufficient in. Essentially it’s the zeitgeist's latest answer to #squadgoals, if you swapped your cool, fun mates for a freshly-ironed bale of towels from John Lewis. There are times, obviously, when adulting is useful: I am all for having tissues without snot on them in my pocket, and sticking the cheddar in a bag before putting it in the fridge so it doesn’t go mouldy, but by cataloguing the grown up, sensible things we do with a hashtag, we’ve made it another area to compete in, another thing to beat ourselves up over and feel anxious about. “#Adulting is dressed up as something innocent and fun but there is an underlying message,” says psychotherapist Robert Stewart. “It can function as another way of proving our worth which is no different than someone showing off their body online. In this instance it’s not promoting body-shaming, but life-shaming instead.” Sometimes I suspect that the people who are busy #adulting away with their up-to-date address books aren’t the ones who are the most adult; just the ones who are the most militant about their tick-list. I have a secret preference for the f*** up friend; probably for the same reason social media accounts like @DeliciouslyStella are so successful: we see so much perfection, we need a bit of imperfect in our lives. It makes you feel better when you decant an M&S pie into a cake tin to pass it off as homemade at the work bake sale, or realise your hair is comprised of 85% dry shampoo. By focusing on the small #adulting wins – making our kitchen worthy of Pinterest, buying a designer purse – we’re also participating in the developmental version of shovelling down a brownie instead of sitting down for a home-cooked meal. We’re getting an adulting spike without any substance. “What’s easier, having a fancy spare room or working on our emotional self?” asks Stewart. “Everyone would take the first one because it’s a quick fix but the other is what adulthood is actually about. In most philosophy, becoming a fully-formed adult is about wisdom.”
He’s right – I have a friend who can barely get it together enough to reply to a text but when I had a hard time last year, she put a piece of cake (Sainsburys, obviously) in front of me and was wise, oh so wise, in the advice she gave, even when her own life wasn’t going smoothly either, and for all the hours that I needed. Perhaps, too, #adulting is rooted in the much-discussed Peter Pan effect of thirty-somethings living a far different life to the ones their parents did: Stewart believes that just because in 2016 our thirties are unlikely to be spent competing over who’s got the best conservatory on the close, we still have the urge to compare our achievements, just with a different value system. “The way to overcome it is by developing an internal locus of control,” says Stewart. “People have either an internal or external locus of control; external is when your mood is dependent on the world but internal means accepting that the world will be as it will be, but knowing that how you make sense of it is up to you. People who have an internal locus of control are generally happiest.” So essentially, engaging in hashtags like #adulting is ok, as long as we don’t take it seriously – or genuinely start measuring our achievements against other people’s. Until we manage that though, I would like to encourage that we all embrace the f*** up a bit more. Do the #adulting things sometimes, sure, but the rest of the time don’t worry about it. Wrap my birthday present in a copy of Grazia on the bus. Thank me via WhatsApp. Forget my birthday next year. If we achieve that, we can stop #adulting becoming another addition to the list of "stuff" we feel we need to achieve to be that better version of ourselves that we suspect we could become, if we could just get the right filter on this acai berry and chia seed topped granola breakfast. Sigh. That quest for perfection is why the hashtag #goals has over 17 million results on Instagram, why a whole industry has sprung up around "happiness" and why you’re reading this over the top of a Nutribullet while you juice some kale. The problem with this perfection tick list is that it will never end. The goalposts will move and we’ll need to do something else, achieve something else, buy something else, always, and it will be exhausting and expensive and it won’t make us feel good anyway because what we really need is that wisdom and internal contentment. Knowing what to say to the friend who’s just had her heart broken, feeling joy not envy when someone close to us gets a great new job, knowing who we are, what we’re passionate about and what we’re willing to stand up for – that's important. Making peace with the body part that’s bugged us our whole life is also important. If you've got this down, it doesn't matter how many shoes you get home in, you're starting to become an adult.