Taking my time to grow up

Being an adult means becoming the person I want to be and forging my own path

There's nothing like a looming birthday to put you in the reflective mood. Mine - just two weeks away - happens to also be the final hurrah of my 20s before I hit the big 3-0 next year.

Looking back, it has been a pretty good decade for the most part.

Over the past nine years, I made my first investments, learnt I will never grow to like lentils and figured out my signature scent.

In between all that, I have had the privilege of graduating from university, travelling extensively, starting my career, getting married and being rather selfish about my own wants and desires.

I've learnt valuable lessons along the way, such as not everyone will like you, try as you may to impress them. That mixing whisky and wine will always be a recipe for disaster. And that laundry needs to be done more than once a week if you do not want to run out of clean socks.

It has been a wild ride of periodically failing spectacularly, sheepishly getting up and trying not to make the same mistakes again.

ST ILLUSTRATION: ADAM LEE

But in my moments of quiet reflection, I cannot help but think how, despite my best attempts at trying to be an adult, I still hardly measure up to what my parents were like at my age.

Sure, by most measures, I am a relatively independent person. I have never been unemployed, I have savings stashed away and I pay my rent on time.

That being said, I still have my parents on speed dial. My mother will get a ring when I need advice on what blender to buy. Dad gets a call when I am trying to figure out how to set up the cable in my house.

Just a week ago, my father-in-law helped me pick the best vacuum cleaner to buy - "Get one with a lithium battery," he advised - and directed us to the store that would give us the best price for it.

When I opened the box at home and realised I needed a screwdriver to put the appliance together, it dawned on me that neither I nor my husband had the foresight to buy tools for our home.

As expected, my father-in-law was on hand to help me out, with a spare screwdriver in hand.

I, like most millennials around me, generally operate with a let's-just-wing-it mantra in life. Our parents, on the other hand, seem to always think five steps ahead.

In many ways, I feel like I am part of a generation of kidults - a group of child-adults locked in a limbo where we want desperately to be adults, but seem lost on what that entails.

It never fails to astonish me that at my age, my mother had graduated from university, gotten married, had a five-year-old daughter and was expecting me a few months later.

Three years after I was born, she and my dad moved to another country - their two young kids in tow - and figured out how to prudently save, so they could raise the family, buy property and give their daughters an education.

I, on the other hand, have to think twice about whether I can keep a houseplant alive.

It is unsurprising then that as I grow older, I look to the generation above me as role models for what a grown-up looks like.

My mother gave up on building a career so she could raise my sister and me. When we got home from school, she went through our schoolwork and then usually whipped up something interesting for dinner.

There would be homemade focaccia one day and do-it-yourself pizza the next. On the off chance that her recipe went wrong, she would laugh it off and try again.

The generation before mine is, in many ways, fearless. For all their penny-pinching or risk-averse ways, they seem to be more laid-back than my generation - which tends to suffer more than ever from self-doubt and chronic anxiety. They seem to have learnt by trying. We, in contrast, define ourselves by the result.

Compared with the generation before me, I have hardly checked off any "grown-up" milestones.

I have prioritised my career over starting a family. I am likely to buy yet another pair of heels that I do not need. And yes, I spend more time poring over Instagram than my investments.

Yet, if you ask my mum, she does not compare herself with me - she simply marvels at our differences.

For all the risks we take - with our careers, finances or love lives - our parents are likely to champion and remind us that we can make it work. Despite being part of a different generation, they want us to have every advantage possible, many that they did not have themselves. They remind us that failures do not define us, just as much as a screwed-up recipe for dinner did not define them.

I might not ever feel like I measure up to the high standards set by the elders in my life, but then again, does anyone?

It would be easy to dismiss millennials as kidults - overgrown children who are focused only on selfish, hedonistic play.

But the difference is that many of us have the freedom to focus on our own lives and work on becoming the kind of people we want to be. When we take our time to try different jobs, partners and personalities, we are making sure that when we do settle down, we do it the right way, our way.

The biggest takeaway from my 20s is, therefore, that everyone feels like a kidult at some point and that is okay. That I do not need to follow in my parents' footsteps to make them proud. And that the art of being a grown-up is in forging my own path, just like the generation before mine did.

So for my birthday, I am going to keep my chin up and learn as much as I can from the real grown-ups around me. Because being an adult is just a state of mind.

And for everything else, there is speed dial.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 11, 2017, with the headline 'Taking my time to grow up'. Print Edition | Subscribe