When I was growing up and going through middle school in the early 1990s (back in the dark ages before we had internet in every house, restaurant, laundromat, etc.), I had this teacher who loved to tell us about the dreaded ‘cold cruel world’ and how much being an adult was going to suck. As a naive thirteen year old growing up in the farm belt of rural Nebraska (I lived at least 65 miles from the nearest Wal-Mart), I was by no means wise to the ways of the world. We didn’t even get cable tv in my town until the late 1980s, so all I got to see of the outside world back then was what Ted Turner chose to show us on CNN every night. As a child I was only vaguely aware there was a world outside of Nebraska and that people went to college for things other than becoming doctors, teachers, and lawyers. But practically everyone else I ever knew were farmers and had no real need for any real ‘formal education.’ So naturally I blew off my teacher telling me how lousy being an adult was because, quite frankly, my hometown had nothing to offer someone with my natural talents and abilities. I didn’t complain, I didn’t try to dispute my elders when they warned me ‘wait until you have kids’ or ‘wait until you have a job you hate’ or ‘wait until you have to pay taxes.’ I didn’t complain or dispute because 1) I was just a kid and what do kids know and 2) Starting about age 12 I looked all around me and saw many adults who literally could not think for themselves or long termed. I saw many adults who complained about living in a rural area, complained about work, complained about their spouses, complained about how their kids acted, complained about the weather (quite common among farmers), complained about politicians, etc. but I never once saw any adult try to do anything to change their situations or improve themselves. Once, being the curious child I was, I actually asked one of these wise adults why no one tried to do anything to change things. The angered look on this grown up’s face made me think I had committed some form of blasphemy like saying the Ten Commandments were a lousy idea. After that I made it a point to never to question an authority figure so blatantly.
Putting all of these observations together I became convinced that I probably wouldn’t like being an adult was as grumpy and unthinking that many of the adults I saw. But, I also hated being a kid. Oh did I ever hate it. I was constantly bullied for being smart and different. My teachers often didn’t like me because I often could find easier ways to solving problems then what they were teaching us. My football coaches didn’t like that I wasn’t Joe Rah-Rah. I didn’t have many friends because I just didn’t ‘go along to get along.’ And I didn’t like the fact that, as a kid, no one took my complaints and problems seriously. When I said I wasn’t being challenged in school, I was told I had a problem with authority. When I didn’t bring home straight A’s, I was told I was an underachiever. I wasn’t told that no one in the work world cared to see your high school report cards. And I certainly wasn’t told that adults are often as clueless as kids about what’s really going on and what they want out of life. The adults were just better at hiding it and lying to themselves.
Eventually, like all nightmares, my time as a kid ended. I went on to college. While I didn’t leave Nebraska or find the college campus to be completely full of people just as smart and quirky as I was (thank you for getting my hopes up, college recruiters), I did meet some cool and stimulating people. As it was a small college with people from all over the world as well as the United States in very close proximity, it was quite easy to socialize with many people with different backgrounds. It was also not so big of a college that international students, in state students, city kids, farm kids, etc. could get by with just socializing with people like them. To have any hope of a social life a person would have to socialize with many different people. Leave your biases and stereotypes at the door, I suppose. I met most of the people I have kept as friends to this day at college. I learned a good deal about business, economics, personal finance, accounting, writing, etc. that, in all honesty, I should have ideally been taught in college. I discussed this in an earlier post.
Yet, as much as I liked college, I came to find I enjoyed being an adult even more. As an adult, you can choose were you want to work. As a kid, your parents or the local government chooses where you go to school. We had only one school in our town, the nearest private school was over 65 miles away, and most of the schools within a 50 mile radius were exactly the same as mine. Home schooling wasn’t really popular back then. My best friend, and occasional dating interest was homeschooled until high school. Kind of funny, though, when she entered high school the school wanted to put her in remedial education and she wound up being an honor student within a few months. And for those who say that ‘home school kids have no social skills even if they are book smart’, I will say that two of my best and most stable friends came from home school environments. But maybe because these two were so well read and treated a nerdy outcast like myself so well makes them ‘have no social skills.’ I couldn’t leave the school I was in. My family would not have liked having someone with a GED in their family. It is far easier for me as a grown up to leave a job where the boss and I don’t mesh or if I don’t like that my coworkers hardly work and don’t care about the customers.
Other things that are cool about being an adult is I get to do cool things like vote, set up my own schedules, read whatever I wan to read, watch whatever educational videos I want, make whatever friends I want without family pressures or social limitations, write my own blogs (we didn’t even have blogging back in the mid 1990s as there was no easy access to internet), I don’t have to date if I don’t want to (whereas in high school I was often ridiculed because I couldn’t get a girl to date me besides my homeschool friend, and even then I was still ridiculed because she came from the proverbial ‘wrong side of the tracks’), I can form my own beliefs and don’t have to really fear if I share these beliefs or not, I don’t have to think anything I don’t believe or lie just to impress some authority figure who supposedly is wiser than me because he’s old and has more money and prestige. Shoot, I don’t even have to work if I don’t want to.
One thing I would have loved to have known about applying for Disability Insurance was, if I filed before my 22nd birthday, I would have had my monthly benefits determined by my parents’ income. I was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia at age 20, graduated college at age 23, but didn’t file for disability before until age 25. Financially I shot myself in the foot because I didn’t apply for disability before age 22 since both of my parents were medical professionals. I would be making much more than I am now had I not tried the John Wayne gut it out until it was obvious the cause was lost routine. Yet that is in the past. I still do well because I can choose to live a minimalist style of life as a single adult.
Even though I was set back for several years because I tried to work and be a productive citizen by not dropping out of college and applying for disability at a younger age, I am still free to make the choices in lifestyle to adjust accordingly. Yes it was hard to learn to live below what most Americans would consider poverty level and I did make some mistakes along the way. But I learned from those mistakes and adjusted my game plans and lifestyle accordingly.
To be quite honest, I don’t know many people besides myself who can live on less than $15,000 per year, which is $125o per month. At the average American hourly wage of approximately $13 per hour, that’s only 20 hours of work per week. I make even less than $1250 a month and I live quite well, especially since I’m debt free. Some may disdain me for ‘being on the dole’ and say ‘you just live off the government.’ But, you know what, had I never become mentally ill I would have achieved my dream of going into medical research, would probably be making six figures by now, would have gotten married, had kids, owned a McMansion, and been one of those ‘respectable’ types that pays more in taxes than most people. Not everyone on disability got there because they are lazy and want a free ride. Believe it or not, there are a few of us who got there because of things we couldn’t control. Maybe people like me who are smart and on disability in spite doing all the right things are as rare as unicorns but we still exist. Another great thing about being an adult is I don’t have to try to please people who think I am a leech and lazy for receiving disability. I hate being on disability, God do I hate it. But that is essentially the only option for people with mental illnesses in my situation besides homelessness or prison.
In closing, I know this post and rant was quite long winded and had a bit of a sharper edge to it than my regular posts. For this I don’t apologize because, as an adult without an employer, family, or a social circle I didn’t choose, I really don’t have to apologize for speaking the truth. As an adult I have far more choices and control of my own life. That alone is reason enough why I actually like being an adult.