A Brief Meditation on Growing Up
Merriam-Webster defines The American Dream as the following:
A happy way of living that is thought of by many Americans as something that can be achieved by anyone in the U.S., especially by working hard and becoming successful.
Ex. With good jobs, a nice house, two children, and plenty of money, they believed they were living the American dream.
When you live in New York, the American dream isn’t exactly within reach. It’s a bit ironic when you consider that millions of people, myself included, moved there precisely to achieve the most extravagant of American dreams. It’s one of the most expensive cities in America, and even if you work hard and find some level of success, there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to enjoy it. If you want to live comfortably—by comfortable, I mean living in or near Manhattan and making enough money to pay your rent and living expenses, with a few pennies left over for savings—you need to make six figures. In New York, the American dream is survival. If you can keep your head above water for most of the calendar year, you’ve “made it”.
Because of this astronomical cost of living, New Yorkers get stuck in a state of arrested development. On one hand, we feel accomplished because it takes a certain amount of grit, focus, and determination to live in the city. But on the other, there are a lot of adult benchmarks that are foreign territory. I was proud to ditch my three roommates and sign a solo lease by 30, but all the kids from my hometown probably bought houses and had their own kids long before then.
Only when you leave, for vacation or permanently, do you see how the rest of the nation lives—more reasonably and maturely. Living in New York distorted my idea of adulthood. By definition, I was a grown up (over 30, employed, no longer on my parents’ dime). But even with a nearly six-figure salary, I was still living paycheck to paycheck. I owned nothing. I could barely save and plan for the future. I was still living like a college student.
As a kid, I saw grownups not just as adults, but as adults who could own things. My parents designed and built our house. They owned their cars. They saved money. They worked hard, achieved success, and found several ways to reap the benefits of all they’d earned. They could enjoy the present, plan for the future, and take care of me. That was adulthood. That was what it meant to be a grownup.
Now, at 33 years old, I feel I’m finally joining the ranks of other grown folks. Less than two weeks from now, my husband and I are set to close on our first house together. I have a car. And after crunching some numbers, I realized that I can now afford to pay my bills, save, and buy myself a nice thing or two. I can finally shift my focus from survival to living.
And this isn’t to say that everyone should share my definition of adulthood. I understand that my fellow millennials are redefining established life stages, spending more time on their careers, questioning the need for ownership, and all-around disrupting what it means to be a grownup. We view the world as one big playground, where we share homes, cars, products, and services. But, as a late-stage millennial, I still hold onto the old school American dream. I find pride in knowing that I’ll own a home, that I’ll be building a life. It’s a life that can serve as a foundation for a bigger family, for stability, for sustainability.
I don’t regret the time I spent surviving and struggling in New York; without those years, I wouldn’t have a true appreciation for my new life stage. But I’m happy to move forward in life. I’m no longer a big kid. I’m a grownup now.