THE BLOG
02/01/2013 02:47 pm ET | Updated Apr 03, 2013

What Does It Mean to Be an Adult? Being Realistic vs. Optimistic

I've thought a lot about this question in the past year and thought about it again two days ago when I read this blog post by this girl, Farah. Basically it all boils down to this: Is being an adult coming to terms with what life is actually like (a.k.a. being realistic) or is it never giving up on your dreams (a.k.a. being optimistic?) This is my favorite line from her post:

If part of adulthood is accepting responsibility and due drudgery, is the bravery part of adulthood holding on anyway out of hope that something good's coming along?

I think it's a fine line. Like Farah, I used to have crazy dreams. In the third grade, I wanted to be both the president of the United States and a model like Cindy Crawford. Then in fourth grade I wanted to be a nurse because I thought becoming a doctor was too much work and I'd just meet one in the hospital and marry him. (Yes, apparently I was already lazy and gold-digger-esque at the age of nine. Lovely.) Even now, sometimes I get these crazy ideas like creating my own website that will lead to my own media empire a la Oprah. Sometimes it's not even a dream, but it's like I'm a fortune teller and I just get a flash of an image and it's me on the cover of a magazine. To make a long story short, I still have crazy dreams.

But other days, like today, I just bum around all day and do a bit of work, and then I start thinking that I should go to the gym around 6:30 p.m., but then somehow it's 9:30 p.m. and I've wasted three hours just screwing around online and I'm too tired and just go shower and get ready to watch some more TV. I didn't even leave my building all day and wouldn't have even left my apartment if I didn't have to go pick up a package from the doorman downstairs.

I've been realizing a lot of disillusionment this past year of "real world life." After talking with my friends, it seems apparent that everybody hates their job on some level and no one does anything of real importance. I also come from Silicon Valley where the startup culture is huge. It's a place where people revere drop-outs because it just means you're a secret genius and look down on MBAs because it means you weren't smart/hard-working enough to get to where you are without huge opportunity costs on top of tuition. I hear stories all the time of how 20-something CEOs made it big or even if not yet, that their company got another round of VC funding and got $1 million more into the company and the whole company (where the average age is 24) went to Vegas together to celebrate. This seriously isn't an exaggeration at all. This stuff actually happens. A lot.

And whenever I hear about things like this, I can't help but look at my life and job and go, "What am I doing?" and my job isn't even so bad. At least it's a step towards a career and not just a dead-end job. But I don't feel passionate about my job and I honestly don't know the point of it other than for rich people to make more money. I understand a job is to make money, but come on, there must be more to it than this! Most of my friends are in investment banking and they're doing what they do because they want to make money, which is fine. To each their own. I remember talking to a guy once who wanted to go into banking and he just said he felt like he was a good worker and would hate anything he did, so he might as well make a lot of money doing it. That was probably the most depressing thing I've ever heard in my life. I would hate to be him. To not feel anything? To not be passionate? God, that's terrible.

So where does being an adult draw the line? The likelihood of me becoming president or a model are slim to none. I know that. But what about being a writer? What about starting my own website? These dreams are technically somewhat reachable, but... it's still a huge risk. No matter how many successful startup stories you hear, there are still a million failures for that one billion dollar idea. I, of all people, know that better than anyone.

I've talked with a lot of 30-somethings and they all seems to have the same story of how hard they work and how quickly time passed and now they're 30. They're actually all quite fun people who have traveled a lot and partied all over the world, so they're not even the "oh, got married, got a mortgage, did the right thing, and don't know where my life has gone" type. (I mean, I met them all while I was out at bars, so let's be real, they're having a pretty good time at 30.) But I can see how they all look at my tender age of 22 with envy. They wish they were back in my shoes. Even knowing all this, I see myself heading in their direction and I'm so scared I'm going to wake up tomorrow and realize suddenly that I'm 30 and have no idea where the past eight years of my life went. To what? A job? To earn a quarter million a year? So what? As they say, there are diminishing returns on happiness once your annual income reaches $75,000. I learned early on that money doesn't really matter in the end. My parents told me that it's enough to just be comfortable and happy. Or is that just contentment talking? Is thinking like that the dream killing side of things or just the realistic side?

Will Smith once said, "Being realistic is the most common path to mediocrity." If people were realistic, we'd all be accountants or have a safe job of some kind and the whole world would just be a brownish neutral color. Blah. But there's something to be said for a steady paycheck. Will Smith made it big, but think about how many starving artists, musicians, and actors there are in LA and NYC. When is it time to be realistic?

I'm still trying to figure it all out. Even deciding if I want to go for an MBA is such a difficult question right now. But seriously, where is the line between being realistic versus being optimistic? Where is the line between going for your dreams versus being crazy stupid? Where is the line between being content and happy with your life versus settling and being tired of life?

I don't know. And feeling confused, is this what being an adult means? To be okay with the not knowing?

I simply do not know.

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