There’s an assumption that when one reaches adulthood, one knows how to handle life and all the challenges it throws at us. Older isn’t always wiser. The truth is, most of us are just fumbling our way through life, navigating without a map.

Growing up in my generation, we were taught as children to respect the authority of adults, usually without question. Being a precocious little child, I can remember multiple instances of being skeptical about something an adult told me to do or think…but ultimately I followed, because the adult respect concept was ingrained in me. As I grew older, I continued to develop my skepticism, as most children do, which evolved into full-blown teenage rebellion. But this skepticism also came from the harsh realization that many adults did not, in fact, know what they were doing. As a child, learning that adults are not infallible can be devastating.

I grew up in a house of women, and was raised by my mother and grandmother. My grandmother was one of those adults who had it all together: widowed suddenly at a young age, and having been a housewife since the age of 15, she simply picked up the ball and ran. She got a job. She paid all the bills, She fixed air conditioners. She laid wall-to-wall carpet in my college dorm room as if she had been laying carpet her entire life. She was unstoppable. Any hurdle that popped up in front of her was cleared with grace, authority, and moxie. If she failed, she popped right back up again. She was an incredible role model. But then one grows up and approaches adulthood oneself, and the proverbial wool begins to fall away. You realize you are surrounded by adults who clearly have no idea what they’re doing. “How is this possible?”, you think. As I’ve arrived at middle age and observe the adults around me, and think about the ones who impacted me as a child, I’ve learned the truth: EVERYONE IS WINGING IT. Even my grandmother was winging it. She did so many things that she knew nothing about — because she had to (in her case though, she really was exceptionally good at everything).

The myth of adulthood

We all buy into the myth that adults have figured it out: that they have reached a certain age, and with that age comes a prize: Wisdom. When we reach that allegedly magic time ourselves, we realize that the box is empty, or maybe half-full of “I told you so”s, “Fool me once”s, and “I won’t make that mistake again”s. Wisdom is definitely a wonderful prize; it is something that we, especially as aging women, have earned, and often dearly paid for. We wouldn’t trade it for the world. Occasionally I have a fleeting thought (although admittedly this thought appears with much less frequency these days): “If only I could go back to 25 with the knowledge I have now…how different my life would be.” I believe a thought like this is cathartic: it shows that you have leveled up. You are acknowledging that you have gained some wisdom. To be honest, though, I have approximately ZERO desire to go to any younger age in my life. I’m loving the way I have turned out!

What IS adulthood anyway? Reaching a certain age? Being responsible? Doing the right thing? Paying all your bills ahead of the due date? Dusting all your furniture every week? We may never know.

Mistakes were made

Mistakes, wrong turns, and ill decisions are all part of growing up, and we all deserve to make them. In some cases, a lot of them. We’ve all heard the phrase “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and though trite, it is true: but only if you refuse to let your wrong turns consume you and you learn from it. Repeating mistakes is not wisdom, and it certainly isn’t strength. One of wisdom’s many virtues is the ability it gives you to know better.

I made so many mistakes and wrong turns in my youth. But it is part of my fabric, and I accept them all, knowing that I would not be who I am today without those mistakes. No one is born with a guidebook. If we were, the world would be perfect.

Winging it: the struggle to keep it all together

Even as a middle-aged wise woman (ahem), I am still winging it. I have my mental parcels (doesn’t that sound better than baggage?) of all the lessons I have learned over the years, and they often help me, but unique issues come up sometimes that I have absolutely NO idea how to navigate. I have to remind myself that I am not unique in this struggle. Although so many “adults” seem to have their shit together, remember that they’re probably winging it, too. It’s easy to observe our friends and colleagues from afar and compare ourselves to them; when we do, we frequently fall short in our own minds. Comparing oneself to others is dangerous territory. We need to give ourselves a break. So what if your acquaintance just bought a vacation home and you’re wondering if you can pay the electric bill this month? You are not the other person. You may not know what they’re dealing with. Maybe that friend is in debt up to her eyeballs, or maybe she really does have her shit together. It doesn’t mean you are less than.

Kids at heart

I have often been told that I am child-like. I hope to retain this characteristic as long as I live. I will always shout “HORSEY” when I see one on road trips. I am an easily-distracted magpie. My husband and I have a running joke; sometimes when we go grocery shopping, the contents of our cart are hilarious. The joke is: we shop like a couple of 12-year-olds with paychecks (full disclosure: we eat healthy food as much as possible but we both have a weakness for candy, ice cream, pop-tarts and such!). I believe that many nonconformist women fit into this category. Because we largely reject society’s rules for normal, well-behaved women, our whimsy is often mistaken for naiveté, a lack of responsibility, or (GASP) immaturity. As we frequently do here on Eccentric Dames Society, we call bullshit. Be a kid forever…as long as you are doing the things you need to be doing.

We all fail sometimes

Little shipwrecks are a part of life. I’m not a huge fan of the word “adulting,” which seems to be something all the kids are saying these days: i.e. “adulting is hard,” etc. Well, truthfully, adulting IS hard, which is the point of this article. But recently my husband and I had something that I could only describe as a massive adulting FAIL. Both of us are lifelong renters who have been homeowners for three years now. When it comes to routine home maintenance, we definitely have no idea what we are doing. We acquired a secondhand upgraded fridge, which was thrilling. We measured and it seemed it would fit with maybe one small adjustment. Well, we catastrophically mis-measured. Combined with a quirky old house with weird, unlevel faux terracotta tile, this is (and was) a recipe for disaster. In a nutshell: we should have covered everything in our house with tarps before pulling out the floor grinder. The entire kitchen and every surface in the living area (which is open concept) was covered with a superfine, claylike dust. Some things required multiple cleanings to get this relentless, gluey dust off. It was a home ownership nightmare. We couldn’t even be upset about it. We threw up our hands and cleaned…for dayyyyyys. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. Oh, if only I had had the wisdom to cover everything. A week later, I am still encountering dust. I expect to encounter dust for as long as I live in this house. Maybe an aspect of wisdom is acceptance. We screwed up BIG TIME. But we can admit it. And boy, we’ll never do that again, I can assure you of that. Lesson=learned!

Go easy on yourself

Remember that achieving “adulthood” does not mean you get a special badge and suddenly you know how to Do Everything Correctly. And other people’s Correct may not fit your paradigm. Remember that there is no manual. And remember that basically, we are all just winging it. Do the best you can, and create your own definition of what is Enough. Sometimes good enough is the best you can do, and that’s okay. Keep winging it, girls!

by Stacie Herndon

Stacie is a writer, graphic designer, and web developer. Legend has it that she was born old. She has always loved outrageous older ladies, often befriending them over people her own age. She is a devoted Francophile, loves a good Sauvignon Blanc and can mix a mean cocktail. She will have red hair until the day she departs this earth.