Growing up, a day home sick from school meant a day lying on the couch next to my dad’s home office, listening in on his numerous conference calls, taking comfort in the ringing phone and faraway voices. Now many years older and generally wiser, it’s amazing how much my concept of adulthood still relies on the idea that to sit at a desk and talk on the phone is to be an adult. And so, over the past year, as tomorrow’s graduation ceremony crept ever-closer, I found myself growing more and more anxious about the phone call of my future that failed to come.
You see, no matter how many stories I heard about the wonderful adventures Iowa students went on to have after their own Commencement ceremony, I could never shake the sense that the only adventure I was supposed to have was to find the cubicle that contained the answers to the rest of my life. To answer that telephone call from the future that would change “growing up” to “grown-up” as I became a fully formed adult.
And yet, as I agonized over the continuous dial tone of confusion that haunted me throughout my post-graduation planning, I realized that if adulthood really were to call, my “hello” would more likely be answered by a superficially soothing computer voice listing menu options. Press 1 for grad school, 2 to join the corporate ladder, 3 to backpack through Europe, 4 to beg my parents for a spot on the couch. Graduation, at its very core, seems to be a question, not a statement, as we all decide for ourselves where the next few years will take us.
Faced with an endless amount of questions and not a single answer, my anxieties surrounding the end of my senior year did eventually begin to diminish. It seems even uncertainty can become calmingly monotonous if taken in large enough doses. And as my self-effacing jokes about my futureless self became more and more common, something incredible happened. I finally realized that no one- not even my friends who already had jobs awaiting them at amazing companies or my dad with his phone that continues to ring- has it all figured out. And that “figuring it all out” isn’t something that can be checked off a to-do list or completed on a final degree audit.
I finally began to understand that becoming an adult is something that happens far away from a desk. That, if done right, growing up is a process that should never end.
In reality, there may actually be some truth to my smaller self’s version of adulthood. This next chapter of our lives probably will be filled with numerous telephone calls. But my wish for all of us is that they be more often to friends and family than to business associates- phone calls filled with the details of recent adventures, of job promotions, of upcoming weddings and visits with college friends. Graduation, for many of us, may mark the end of essays, professors and all-nighters, but it certainly does not mark the end of growing up.
And what a relief it is to know that growing older and growing wiser does not stop today.