Art + Design

The Moment I Realized I Was Indeed a Grown-Up

Bridget Watson Payne is a beloved art book editor here at Chronicle Books. She also happens to be the author of The Secret Art of Being a Grown-Up, an engaging book filled with eclectic, bite-sized bursts of advice paired with quirky illustrations. 

She shares with us here the very moment she realized that she was, in fact, a grown-up.

The Secret Art of Being a Grown-Up

Realizing you’re a grown-up is a little bit like realizing you have a super power. You’re just going along about your business when unexpectedly something clicks and the truth is revealed to you. I remember the exact moment when I suddenly understood that I possessed the power of adulthood.

It was a few weeks after my twenty-seventh birthday, and I was meeting some friends after work at a bar. I’m a compulsively punctual person, and the place was just around the corner from my office, so I arrived first and was guessing my pals wouldn’t be joining me for at least another twenty minutes or so, maybe longer.

I got a glass of wine and looked around for someplace to sit. The establishment was crowded and finding a spot was going to be tricky. I wandered through the scrum without much hope of getting a table, when what should I see but the perfect seating area: a nice big sofa and an armchair with a coffee table in between, totally empty and just waiting for me and my friends to sit down and relax. I hesitated by the arm of the couch and had a little conversation with myself:

“I don’t know. Can I do this? Can I sit here in this great big area that’s clearly meant for like six people, all by myself for like half an hour holding down the fort until everyone else gets here? While loads of other patrons mill around and look for seats and maybe glare at me? Can I get away with this?”

And that’s when it happened. A voice I’d never heard before, my own grown-up voice in my mind, answered me loud and clear. Nearly fifteen years later I still remember exactly what it said:

“I’m twenty-seven years old! I can do whatever I want!”

I dropped my bag and jacket on the chair; sat down on the couch; put my wine on the table. I think I may even have crossed my legs, leaned back, and stretched my arms out along the back of the sofa like an evil nineteen-eighties movie business man.

I sat there for half an hour, sipping my wine and people watching until my friends arrived. No one else in the place paid even the slightest iota of attention to me. I was embodying one of the great, most wonderfully freeing lessons of being a grown-up: 95% of the time no one is looking at you!

The Secret Art of Being a Grown-Up

 

The reason teenagers are embarrassed by their mothers’ unfashionable blue jeans or goofy laughs is that they, mistakenly, think they are the center of the universe and that everyone, everywhere, is looking at them all the time. And not only looking at them, but also judging them, harshly.

For me to realize my grown-up status in that moment meant simultaneously allowing myself to believe, on the one hand, that I deserved to take up more space in the world and, on the other hand, that I neither deserved, nor would receive, the unrelenting attention of the people around me. And I was lucky enough, in that particular time and place, to have both of those things be true. I was granted the privilege of being met with indifference.

I love this memory because, to me, it sums up the perks of being a grown-up perfectly: you are free to do what you want, and strangers probably care about you much less than you previously thought—sit down, get comfy, and have a glass of wine.

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The Secret Art of Being a Grown-Up

Explore The Secret Art of Being a Grown-Up for yourself here

When did you know you were a grown-up? Or are you still figuring it out?

 

Bridget Watson Payne

Senior Editor, Art Publishing. You can follow her at @WatsonPayne and read about her latest projects at pippascabinet.com.

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