Graphic depicting a man getting a haircut while contemplating his place in life. (Hustler Multimedia/Alexa White) (Alexa White)
Graphic depicting a man getting a haircut while contemplating his place in life. (Hustler Multimedia/Alexa White)

Alexa White

SAK: I got a haircut and now I’m an adult

Determining when adulthood begins is a complicated task. Sometimes the tiniest milestones can be just as impactful as the grand ones.

October 6, 2022

On Saturday, September 24 at 1:30 p.m. CDT, I got my hair cut. I maintained the same style I’ve had for years, and the appointment lasted less than 30 minutes. By most measures, this haircut was as unremarkable as any other.

But there was one thing different about this appointment: This was my first haircut away from home. In spite of the activity’s mundanity, something about this trip to Supercuts struck me. I felt independent, like I had taken a step towards my own autonomy. All that had changed was the length of my hair, yet somehow I felt like I had become more of an adult.

When I was a child, I used to think of adulthood as a completely different world. It seemed like when I woke up on my 18th birthday, I would be all grown up. I always pictured feeling different—like I would suddenly be a brand new person starting exactly at midnight. But that birthday came and went. Yes, I could buy spray paint, but nothing else in my life had changed.

I figured once I graduated from high school that things would be different. Although I was already legally an adult when I walked the stage, I was still a participant in the K-12 education system, a key component of childhood. When I walked across the stage and a superintendent I had never met handed me an empty diploma case, I felt largely the same. Proud of my accomplishments? Yes. Excited to move beyond high school? Of course. But even with all the pomp and circumstance that could be crammed into a local baseball stadium, I felt no more like an adult the day after graduation than I did the day before.

We were just children pretending to be grown-ups—no different than a toddler caring for a doll. Who am I to consider myself an adult if my greatest moment of autonomy in the last few weeks was getting a haircut on my own?”

So if it was not my 18th birthday and it wasn’t high school graduation, then going to college must be the difference. For my first few weeks at Vanderbilt, I felt like I might be actually experiencing adulthood. I was living on my own and had to answer to no one other than myself. Other adults were even beginning to treat me like a peer. I had finally broken down that mystical barrier between me and the new stage in life I had been longing to reach. 

After the first month of my new adult life at college, I decided to join the Commons Leadership Council (CLC) as the vice president of my house. At our very first CLC meeting, the confidence I had gained over my first month in Nashville began to falter. The meeting began with a brief icebreaker: We each introduced ourselves and our roles in the CLC. Once all of the student leaders had finished, the woman running the meeting announced her role by declaring: “I’m an actual adult.”

With those four words, she made it clear that, in her eyes, the rest of us were something other than “actual” adults. We were just children pretending to be grown-ups—no different than a toddler caring for a doll. 

Underhanded as that comment felt, she may have had a point. I don’t have a career yet or a family of my own for whom to care. When I go back home for Thanksgiving break, I will sleep in the same room I did when I was three years old. 

Who am I to consider myself an adult if my greatest moment of autonomy in the last few weeks was getting a haircut on my own?

As the year progressed, participation in CLC continued to erode my confidence. Despite holding a leadership position in my community, I still didn’t feel like an adult. Consistently being talked down to by those “real adults” made me feel just like I had in high school—like there was a bouncer standing between me and true adulthood. But this guard didn’t care about the date of birth on my driver’s license; he cared about something deeper, which was still out of my reach. 

In the midst of constant lectures from our CLC advisors about not being mature enough, something slowly changed. While the “adults” were talking, I worked with my peers in the CLC to navigate through all the bureaucratic nonsense Vanderbilt threw our way and finish the job I committed to doing. On top of that, I developed a real relationship with my faculty head of house. It wasn’t a relationship between a professor and a student or one between a real adult and some imposter—just two mutually respectful human beings with a semi-professional, semi-social relationship. 

In spite of what I had been told, I was being an adult. It didn’t require the arrival of some calendar date or some ceremony packed with excessive symbolism. I just needed to do the jobs that needed to be done and forget about anyone trying to gatekeep me from my own maturity. 

So what if I don’t have a family to provide for yet? Plenty of people live single lives. They must have reached adulthood at some point.

So what if I stay at my parents’ house when I visit for Thanksgiving? My grandparents stay there on Thanksgiving too. Are they not adults?

So what if I don’t have an established career yet? I’m at Vanderbilt to prepare myself for a career. I can’t think of anything more mature than investing in my own future.

Being an adult does not have to be about reaching some significant milestone or achieving some specific goal. If we wait for the “actual adults” to welcome us into their club with open arms, we may be sitting out in the cold for a while. It’s up to us to decide when we become adults.

So if getting a haircut in a different city makes you feel like you’ve finally made it to adulthood, then I’m thrilled to welcome you to the club.

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