Saying Yes To Adulthood: How To Grow Up

Medically reviewed by Corey Pitts, MA, LCMHC, LCAS, CCS
Updated June 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

You might be an adult in the legal sense—maybe you even have a steady job, a stable relationship, and a place of your own—but that doesn’t necessarily mean you see yourself as “grown up.” Many people struggle with the feeling that they’re just “faking” adulthood, hoping desperately that one day they’ll have it all figured out. What can you do if you believe it’s time to grow up, but you’re not sure how?

While it can be understandable to want to feel mature and in control of your life, you may have to accept that “growing up” can be a lifelong process, rather than a one-time event. Making an effort to take charge of your responsibilities, pursue personal growth, and live up to your core values can help you feel more secure in your adult identity. A licensed therapist can guide you through this process with online or in-person sessions.

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What does it mean to grow up?

Though we often think of “growing up” in terms of getting older, even people in their 70s, 80s, and 90s commonly say that they don’t feel entirely grown up. You’ve also likely met people who still seem to be stuck in childish attitudes or behaviors despite being older than you. If growing up isn’t just about hitting a specific age, what does it really mean?

One way to define growing up may be becoming the truest version of yourself. The pioneering psychologist Carl Jung generally referred to this process as individuation. In his view, individuation typically involves recognizing and accepting even the parts of your personality that make you ashamed, uncomfortable, or afraid. This process of self-integration may enable an individual to seek fulfillment in life without constantly tripping themselves up.

You could regard growing up as a process of taking charge of your own life. As a child, you’re usually under someone else’s care. This often means following their rules, but it can also mean relying on them for your well-being and having less accountability for your behavior. To many people, the true mark of growing up is being able to successfully manage the challenges and responsibilities of adult life.

Figuring out what growing up means to you

It may be true that most people never feel entirely grown up. Still, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re wrong to believe that it’s time to move further into adulthood. It could mean that some part of you is recognizing that you’ve reached a moment when your life needs to change. 

You may want to reflect on why you’re currently experiencing a desire to grow up. Possible explanations include the following:

  • You’ve been behaving in immature ways.
  • You feel stifled and in need of independence.
  • You’re craving a more stable romantic relationship.
  • You want to make a change in your career.
  • You feel guilty about not working harder toward your long-term goals.
  • You’re insecure about your progress toward certain “milestones” in life relative to your friends.

These can be seen as simple examples to get you thinking rather than a comprehensive list. Once you realize why you believe you should “grow up” right now, your next moves may become much clearer.

Define your personal values

What kind of an adult do you want to be? Among other things, growing up can mean holding yourself to a higher standard than you would a young person. 

Thinking over what’s important to you and what type of person you’d like to be can help you move toward maturity. Do you place a high value on building a family and raising kids? Are you highly motivated to create a unique legacy? Is it important to you to give back to your community or work toward making the world a better place?

If you’re struggling to answer these questions, it might help to think about other people you respect and admire. What is it about their approach to life that you find meaningful? 

In addition to giving you greater clarity, reflecting on your values can often help you develop a stronger sense of personal identity, potentially boosting your self-esteem. This may be especially true if you can focus on the things you’re doing — even small things — to live up to your adult values in everyday life. 

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Assess your talents and weaknesses

Being honest with yourself and learning to accept yourself as you are can be crucial to the process of individuation. You might want to take a clear-eyed inventory of your personal strengths and personal challenges. 

Try not to bias the list in either direction. Don’t leave out good qualities due to false modesty or omit weaknesses because you want to feel better about yourself. No one else ever needs to see this list, but honestly affirming your abilities and acknowledging your shortcomings can be a great help in gaining maturity.

Sometimes, psychological questionnaires can help with this process. One widespread and free-to-use option that has been validated by research is the Values in Action (VIA) character strengths survey.

Seek opportunities for self-improvement and self-expansion

Being honest about who you are doesn’t have to mean giving up on changing for the better.  Since growing up can be a lifelong process, it’s likely never too late to pursue personal growth. While updated research may be needed, existing studies suggest that engaging in new, interesting, and challenging activities can help you develop your identity while yielding psychological benefits. 

Possible examples include the following:

  • Pursuing education
  • Taking on new responsibilities or challenges in your career
  • Getting involved in a new hobby
  • Traveling to an unfamiliar place
  • Exploring new ideas, viewpoints, and philosophies
  • Making connections with people different from yourself

What exactly these things might look like can vary a great deal, depending on your circumstances. For example, pursuing education could mean finishing high school, going for a graduate degree, or taking adult education classes.

Pursuing personal development on your own can be extremely valuable, but you can also do so in the context of a committed relationship. Evidence indicates that engaging in self-expanding activities with a partner can be vital to maintaining long-term happiness and passion.

Take responsibility for yourself

Independence and personal responsibility tend to be widely viewed as key markers of adulthood. Other factors traditionally associated with being an adult, such as marriage and child-rearing, are no longer considered definitive factors for many people. Taking the next step toward growing up may mean finding ways to take more responsibility for living the life you want. 

This can involve practical steps, such as finding a more fulfilling job, paying your own bills, or doing a better job of cleaning up after yourself. Planning for your future — for instance, opening a retirement account and making steady contributions — might also constitute a step toward growing up.

Accepting adult responsibilities can also mean making a greater effort to accept accountability for your actions and circumstances. While it may be true that factors outside your control can have major impacts on your life, it can be more constructive to focus on the ways you can effect change. Adopting this attitude of self-efficacy can be an important step toward adulthood. 

Here are a few ways you can work on taking more responsibility in your life:

  • Acknowledge when you make a mistake and try to make it right
  • Be honest with others
  • Seek solutions instead of complaining about problems
  • Think before you speak, even when you’re upset
  • Communicate your emotions rather than expecting others to pick up on them
  • Take care of those who depend on you (e.g., young kids, pets, elderly relatives, etc.)

You may slip up on some of these things from time to time. As long as you recognize your mistakes and sincerely strive to do better, you will likely continue to grow up.

Learn when to ask for help

It might seem like a contradiction to say that both assuming responsibility for yourself and asking for help can be signs of adulthood. However, the difficult realities of life often mean that it’s not possible to handle everything on your own. Growing up can involve developing the wisdom to recognize when you need help and the humility to request it.

Sometimes, this might mean seeking mental health care. It’s often easier to handle the pressures of adulthood with help from therapy. This can enable you to better regulate your emotions and behave with maturity in every aspect of your life. 

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Benefits of online therapy

Many people find online therapy more convenient and manageable than face-to-face treatment. Attending counseling remotely generally means there’s no commute, and it often allows you to choose from a larger pool of potential treatment providers than you could access in your local area.

Effectiveness of online therapy

Evidence from clinical trials suggests that online therapy can be as effective at improving mental health (both short-term and long-term) as in-person therapy. Connecting with a therapist online may provide you with a valuable emotional outlet and a helpful source of advice as you work to grow up.

Takeaway

Different people may define “growing up” in different ways, but for most, it involves discovering who you want to be and working to live up to that vision. If you’re wondering how to grow up, you may want to examine your goals, values, strengths, and weaknesses, then work toward becoming the best version of yourself. Working with a licensed therapist may be helpful, especially if mental health challenges make it difficult to achieve your goals.
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