You’ve got to chart your own course; you’ll get where you’re going when it’s tine for you to get there…

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

    a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,
    a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
    a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
    a time to search and a time to give up,
    a time to keep and a time to throw away,
    a time to tear and a time to mend,
    a time to be silent and a time to speak,
    a time to love and a time to hate,
    a time for war and a time for peace.

What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. 13 That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.


It’s a fun little non-word invented by my ilk (oh, us youngins!) that is a stand in for many things. Personal and social responsibility, leaving the nest, jumping the broom…spending the moneys (cmon’, you knew I was gonna say that.)

Yup, the very core principle behind adulting is that you’re the responsible one now. If something needs fixing or doing or planning or cleaning, it’s not mom and dad’s problem. Some different contexts we tend to use the word in aren’t really issues specific to being an adult, though, but more are issue of being responsible. You can be responsible or irresponsible at any age.

DETOUR: Yes, But Doesn’t Adulting Have Some Specific Adult Themes?

I know what you’re thinking. Regardless of how “responsible” a teenager is, it’s highly unlikely that they’ll ever be in the position where they are faced with some challenges that are unique to the world of adultier adulting. They probably aren’t waking up with the kinds of obligations in terms of employment obligations, or interpersonal stressors that legal adults are. (This is a generalisation, of course, since there are many child headed households in SA, but let’s pretend we lack context and go with it…)

Adults are more likely to have financial obligations pertaining to shelter, transportation, food, educating non-adults, health care…Adults are also more likely to be able to decide independently where they choose to spend their time and money. Nobody needs to give them permission to disappear for months on an epic adventure (except their employer, that is) or to tie themselves permanently to the current love of their lives (except, well, that person). Adults can navigate all of these major decision-making areas with very little external input, providing certain prerequisites (like money, time, legal autonomy) are in place.

Does that mean, by default, that if you don’t engage in all these activities immediately you’re not fully Adulting?


Here are a few “default activities” that people in my age group often use when referring to adulting:

Default activity: Buy a car
Default time: As soon as you earn money (or even sooner)
Oops, not even close

I don’t own a car yet. It’s a little complicated  (that’s a different post entirely), but I felt really silly considering buying one when I started working because I would obviously need to take on some debt to do so and I was already well acquainted enough with owing stupid amounts of money, thank you very much.

I walk to work every day (I deliberately set up my living situation to facilitate this) and have a 30 minute walk to buy groceries twice a month at the local Shoprite (I take a taxi back). If I need to go into town for anything, I use a taxi. I’ve visited family and friends in another nearby province thrice since I started working and on each occasion I used different means (long distance taxi for one, bus for the another, and I drove down with a friend for the third). I love to take long walks and don’t look down my nose at public transport, so this is really quite easy for me. I used taxis throughout high school and university so I’m quite familiar with all the benefits and drawbacks of this method, and I’ll probably continue to use them even after I eventually buy a car.

How soon will that be? It depends. I plan to buy a car second hand for cash once I’ve saved up enough. How much is enough? Not much. I have no interest in fancy, bourgeois models. I can’t really tell a BMW from a Merc from a Toyota (true story), so I’m fortunate that I really don’t care either way. I want something reliable and fuel efficient (like a Tazz, but those are tough to come by right now).And since I live about a five minute walk from work and will continue to for the rest of my internship (my ‘away’ rotation is done, and taxi’s served me just fine throughout, bar a strike or two) I really don’t have any need for the convenience of my own vehicle just yet. I might have a different set up in my Community Service year, but I’ll cross that bridge when I get there.
Adulting? Poor form, you carless cheapskate! Ten points from Ravenclaw!

Default activity: Buy a house
Default time: As soon as you earn money, no later than mid to late 20’s
Not yet. Unlikely in the future, even later in life…

I’m renting right now, sharing with a couple other colleagues in a comfortable three bedroom, one bathroom house with a fireplace that sadly nobody used all winter. And all for the ridiculously low price of R900 per month per person, utilities included. This is obviously not a realistic long-term solution (it’s staff housing that is available to most interns working in public service) but I’m milking it for all it’s worth! It frees up more money for ridiculous luxuries like a once a week cleaning service (the wastefulness of it all!) and a really great internet/data package. I also get to send more money home. I’m not currently saving the difference in rent if I’m honest, just diverting it to other wants.

But what happens when I no longer qualify for this perk? Administrations are notorious for kicking ComServe and above MO’s (medical officers) out of accommodation to make room for new interns, which I think is fair. What happens when I actually have to rent from a private party? Will I consider “investing” in a house then like a good adult?

Well, this remains to be seen. I like the renter’s lifestyle. I worry about very little in the way of maintenance issues. If something doesn’t meet my standards (which aren’t ridiculously high, but also aren’t non-existent) I can have the landlord either fix it or I can shop around for a better place. I also have no fixed location due to the nature of our post-graduate training structure in South Africa. I’m doing two years of internship in a place I never imagined working (government internship allocations should consider your preferences, but they don’t always), then I’m going to be shipped off to another place entirely for my ComServe year. None of this is entirely within my control and I can’t predict where I’ll be even after that. If I want to specialise, it depends where I can get a good MO post or even where I get accepted for Registrarship. That’s another four years or so in a place that is likely not of my choosing. All this considered, I’ll be in my early to mid thirties before I know where I’ll actually be living for the rest of my life. Buying a house to live in would be a poor decision financially and professionally as it would tie me to a region and limit my options and opportunities to anything within reasonable distance from my permanent residence.

Any house I buy would therefore have to be with the sole intention of diversifying income streams as a property investment, not as a home. In other words, I have no intention of buying my dream home for the next ten or so years, I’d rather buy-to-let if at all and then continue renting wherever I find myself.
Imagine having children and no house! The horror of it all!
Adulting? No self-respecting full-time employee should rent indefinitely. Another 10 points from Ravenclaw!

Default activity: Inflate de Lifestyle
Default time: NOW
Barely, if my peers are to be the yardstick. Tremendously if we measure lifetsyle by quality and not quantity.

This one is a wash as far as I’m concerned. If I look back at how I lived as a student and compare that to how I live now, the excess is embarrassing to say the least. I always say I chose to “live like a student” during internship so I could pay off my debt faster, but the former’s only partially true. Yes, I’m living frugally. Rent wise, I’m spending less than a quarter what I paid/owed for res. Food wise, I’m spending pretty much the same amount surprisingly. My day-to-day transport costs have pretty much remained even as well.

But, let’s be real. I’m living a pretty inflated life relatively. For example, I barely spent R50 a month on cellphone/internet in Varsity, but that was mainly because I used the on-campus wi-fi for all my educational/entertainment needs (certain sites were free) and I needed all my extra money for food. Now that I’m paying for my own internet and data needs, that price tag is nearly ten times higher a month. Some of it is work-related expenses, but who am I kidding? YouTube is my constant companion. And having a (very cheap) smartphone after years of using a (even cheaper) dumb-phone feels like an extravagance so high, I can barely believe it!

I also have a nicer living arrangement. I used to live with seven other girls, sharing a kitchen, two bathrooms and a communal living area. My tiny little room wasn’t much, but it was a sanctuary. We didn’t scuffle much, but my introversion made the living arrangement a little overwhelming at times especially since I actually liked most of them and so would feel guilty if I didn’t spend time with them. Now? I’m living with people who work where I work but don’t work with me. We’re friendly, but we’re not buddies. Almost everyone works ridiculous hours, so we’re hardly in each other’s way. Minimal semi-compulsory interaction is required, besides discussing who will report an issue like a clogged toilet to admin. We share living space/kitchen/bathroom but there aren’t as many of us so it’s more manageable. We each have our own rooms, which are rather spacious compared to the student digs. Privacy is respected and we pretty much leave each other alone. Life is nice on the home front…

And when I’m not home? Look, as a student I barely went anywhere that wasn’t church or a friend’s house. My entertainment was local. If a friend in another town or Province had an event, I may have squeezed enough savings to attend but it was rare. Now? It’s ridiculous how often I’ve gone to “visit” people for weekends. It’s not clubbing or exotic trips, but it feels as decadent. There’s a lot more money going to this discretionary item, even if I travel frugally and do very little rainmaking.

And, most importantly? I can help out more at home. As a saver, I used to even help out as a student when I had money saved and someone needed money, but it was never enough. It may never be enough–it’s interesting how much larger the amounts people need to ‘borrow’ are now that I’m working–and I’m admittedly a bit of a sucker for my family. But I count that as part of my personal lifestyle inflation. I care way more about helping my grandmother hire an electrician than I care about new clothes. Could I do both? Probably. I just don’t care for the latter.
Adulting? Let’s be generous and give five points to Ravenclaw.

Default activity: Fall hopelessly in love
Default time: PUBERTY
Eh…way behind

Not to get too weird, but I find romance more fascinating than I find it enticing. Having never been in love but being an avid reader on the subject, I really like to study relationships of the non-platonic nature and make mental notes as I go along. This is an area where I am decidedly behind by the world’s standards. Twenty-five and never been in love?! Something must be seriously wrong with me, right?

Maybe, but I’ve never bemoaned my lack of experience. I think relationships are fantastic, and I think people are important. I’ve just never felt that indescribable pull towards a specific individual, or that gnawing sensation that I’d like something deeper with any of my male friends. My friends make good-natured fun of me for it, but I’m in no hurry. In the mean time I’m quite happy to watch and dissect the dynamics of others’ relationships, so that I can make all my own foolish mistakes when my time comes around!
Adulting? This is ridiculous, fifty points from Ravenclaw!

Default activity: Follow your dreams!
Default time: NOW
Currently living one lifelong dream. Working on fulfilling my 7226 others, but no concrete progress!

This is a bit of a philosophical matter, so I’ll get into it at length another time. Some might consider pursuing dreams the stuff of adolescence and Disney fantasies. Others might consider it quite distinctly part of the adulting developmental milestones. I’m somewhere in the middle. Do I feel really accomplished for realising a lifelong dream of being a doctor? Is the sky blue in the daytime? Depends. I’m proud of myself and I worked really hard, but the value I find in medicine has nothing to do with that. I always wanted to be a doctor and now I’m doing that. But I also always wanted to be an artist and I barely scratch the surface of that dream. Am I any more of an adult because I pursued the “practical” dream as opposed to the whimsical one? I don’t think so. I think it’s more about fulfillment and purpose. I had to get the degree to do the doctor part, there’s no way around that. Writing and creating are things I can do with an equal amount of hard work but less professional qualification hurdles. There’s no way to be a ‘doctor on the side’–I needed the degree, unlike with art where I technically don’t. I’m not better off or more responsible for dedicating a decade to one instead of the other. It’s just what needed to be done. Hopefully, once I’m an MO I can structure things to where I can spend the next decade on the latter dream. But that doesn’t mean I have to finish or stop one to do the other. I worked on my art all through University, and I will work on become a better doctor even as I start to focus more on art. It’s not all or nothing, and I look forward to seeing how far down that rabbit hole I can go in the next decade or so.
Adulting? No points to Ravenclaw, but hey, ten points to Huffelpuff!

Bonus activity: Travel the world
Default time: As soon as you earn money (or sooner)
Ironically travelled more as a student than I have since working

That’s all I have to say on this, for now. 😉


On an overall, net basis, I’m probably not going to win the House Cup for Adulting. I’m too behind on too many ‘fundamental’ things that society says you have to get in order to be a successful, well-adjusted adult. I don’t care enough about some things (yet?) and I care too much about other things. I’m obviously developmentally stunted with my taxi-taking, shared-house-renting, money-saving, people-watching ways!

But you know what?

I’m okay with this. More than okay.  I believe in flow and patterns, as esoteric as that seems, and I really don’t think that life is a race or a relay towards the Next Big Thing. I think a quiet sort of contentedness, or happiness, is the ultimate pursuit, and even that’s a flawed pursuit because we as human beings are notoriously bad at ascertaining what truly makes us happy.

But instead of this realisation making me anxious or aimless, it excites me. There is a time for everything. Each life stage, experience, acquisition, relationship, heartbreak, breakthrough, accomplishment, failure, check mark or milestone…they’ll all happen if they are meant to and when they do, I want to be present. I really want to be able to experience everything as it’s meant to be experienced, instead of forcing myself to squeeze them onto an already packed schedule because other people tell me I should.

The rush of doing things on an accelerated timetable isn’t worth the value you lose from not savoring each stage. I’m embracing this stage, not chasing after the next thing at the expense of not truly valuing what I have in front of me right now. I’ll never be a student again, and I’m so grateful for all the non-academic lessons I learned from being one. I’ll never be an untethered twenty-something again, and I want to really go through this time on my own terms. Maybe one day I’ll be fifty with a husband and a house and a car and all the usual creature comforts. But that’s for then.

There’s no rush.


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