What is Adulthood? From Choosing/Pursuing to Maintaining/Building

The definition of adulthood evolves as society changes. Today, we have a globalized world and adults are changing with it. In the past few years, this is especially true in regards to digital life which has given us much more free time than ever before but also created new challenges for what makes an adult today.

“The primary task of provisional adulthood” is the process of choosing and pursuing a career, while maintaining and building your life.

Poster by AOM regarding the crux of adulthood.

We have a tiny plot of wooded ground behind our home, and I decided to create a route through it a few years ago, leading to a “hidden” fire pit.

There were weeds to pluck, prickly plants to prune, and tiny trees to uproot as part of blazing the route. Then there was the work of carrying mulch sacks up and down the short slope that the pathway wound its way through, and filling the path with their contents. I did, however, appreciate the process. It was exciting to see the path take form, and when it was finished, I was ecstatic. It was amazing to take a step back and look at what I’d created.

It was a lot of fun forging the route. Maintaining it, on the other hand, has been an another story.

It turns out that you can’t simply “fix it and forget it” when it comes to trails. Each spring, thorny, thick foliage bursts out, entangling itself over the walkway to the point that you can no longer see it. Every year, it must be swept away once again. And I’m finding it far more difficult to stay motivated to complete that task than it was to create the path in the first place. Upkeep is just less enticing than invention. Still, if I want our family to be able to use the fire pit, I need to keep working on it.

The metaphorical route to maturity follows the same pattern as real pathways.

We have spent a lot of time studying, writing, and thinking about not just what it means to be mature, but also how to make adulthood a rewarding pursuit, since The Art of Manliness has always aspired to be a magazine about helping men grow up successfully.

I used to believe that the most important transition to make as a child was from consumption to creating: a mature adult sought to produce more and consume less. I still believe the concept has a lot of merit.

However, as I’ve grown older, I’ve come to believe that the true essence of being an adult may be defined in this way: going from selecting and pursuing to sustaining and creating.

Selecting and Pursuing

When you’re a kid, you’re gazing down a long corridor of closed doors, unaware of what’s on the other side.

What college will you attend? What are your plans for a major? What will you be doing for a living? Who are you going to marry? What city will you call home? What are you going to believe? Will you start a family? How many are there? What are they going to be like?

You have a lot of decisions to make, and the ambiguity around them might cause tension and concern. But there’s also a lot of anticipation.

Uncertainty has a dual impact on the brain, causing tension as well as the release of feel-good, motivation-boosting dopamine. Consider how much more often you check your phone when you’re waiting for a text from your crush vs a text from someone you’ve known for a long time. Uncertainty is what keeps you tugging on the arm of life’s figurative slot machine to see what happens.


Because these early ventures are full of novelty — another dopamine primer — the amount of excitement and drive you feel remains high even as you start opening the numerous doors before you and shift from the world of limitless potential to experimenting with particular options. Isn’t it nice when everything is brand new and shiny? When it comes to love relationships, we talk about the “honeymoon time,” but every venture starts with the same giddiness-inducing phase. Everything is exciting at first, whether it’s new friendships, a new location to live, or a new career.

It’s the excitement of the chase. There’s a riveting tension between initiation and conclusion, an enlivening drama that’s just exhilarating. The tension that builds up before a first kiss — the energy created in the will-we-or-won’t-we dance — is perhaps the best example of this emotion.

When the kissing begins, the tension fades a little (though the novelty of a first kiss keeps the thrill level high). The joy doesn’t end when the flame is extinguished; that brief time of chase and consummation is part of a larger, lengthier courting cycle that is governed by the same dynamic. As the pair takes their initial steps towards love, marriage, sex, and so on, there will be more stages of pursuit-tension-consummation to follow.  

Whether it’s a new love connection, a new friendship, a relocation to a new town, or a new profession, this dynamic of following a trail of thrilling new moments through the woods of some exciting new venture plays out the same way.

All of the “firsts” are ultimately realized in every situation. The primary aim has been accomplished. The unfamiliar becomes the norm. And as you become older, this occurs not just in one region, but in all of life’s key arteries. You get to the point when you’ve opened all the doors and seen what was formerly a mystery room’s contents: You have a good idea of where you went to college and what your major was. You have a good idea of what you’re doing for a living. You know where you’re going to live, at least for the time being. You have a good idea of what you believe. You know who your wife is (she’s now seated across from you). You know how your kids are (they’re upstairs sleeping).

While life will always move and change, new possibilities will always arise, and unknowns will always exist, the most significant uncertainties are now quite definite.

You come to the realization that “this is my life” as you glance about.

Maintaining and constructing

Dopamine and instinctive motivation drop after you achieve your objectives.

Consider the build-up to a highly wanted sex experience: the intense drive and build-up to climax… and then the dullness that follows. When you combine that dynamic with longer-term goals in life, you have the transition from adolescence to maturity.

That may seem a little sad. And, undoubtedly, some individuals can’t seem to let go of the thrills and surprises of their youth. They want the pre-first-kiss jitters back in full force. When a relationship, career, or other activity loses its lustrous newness, they start anew with a new relationship, work, or goal (which they’re certain will be their lasting passion this time).


These people have the advantage of never losing the spark of inspiration that marks the start of anything new, but they don’t get the gratification of seeing it through. They begin undertakings but never complete them; they dabble in things but never commit to them. As a consequence, they stay shallow and superficial in all aspects of their lives. They have partners, but not lovers. They know each other, but they aren’t great buddies. Every year, they adopt a new religion or spirituality. They know a bit about a number of locations, but they’ve never made a permanent home in any of them. They remain employees, not professionals, on the bottom rungs of their career ladder.

Fortunately, this isn’t the only technique to cope with the drop in enthusiasm that occurs once important life decisions are made. Rather of always beginning again, you might focus on preserving and expanding what you’ve already started.

It’s up to you to determine if it’s more important to have a lot of options or to do something with the ones you currently have.

It takes more effort to move from selecting and chasing to maintaining and creating, but it doesn’t mean you have to give up your enthusiasm for life; rather, it’s a question of altering the fuel your enjoyment system operates on.

While the joy of chasing is in obtaining something in general, the pleasure of building is in improving oneself.

So now you know who will be your bride. What can you do to make yourself a better spouse to her?

You already know where you’ll be living. How can you come to really appreciate that location?

You’re aware of who your children are. What can you do to make yourself a better parent to them?

You seem to be a firm believer. What can you do to become a greater follower of it?

You’ve decided what you’ll do for employment. How can you improve your performance at work?

You’ve “earned” a new companion. What can you do to make him a better friend?

Building on what you’ve started isn’t as exciting, and it lacks the immediate, visceral, neurotransmitter-driven desire and rewards that come with trying something new. Instead, the desire to preserve and develop life’s current structures, as well as a sense of fulfillment from one’s efforts, must be consciously decided and actively considered.

The pleasures that come with construction labor are not lesser; you just have to learn to see and appreciate them. They don’t just appear out of nowhere. As you improve at your duties, you must pay attention to how you feel. You must take time to consider the meaning you get from them. You must learn to enjoy the delights of deepening after experiencing the pleasures of growing. After experiencing the joys of initiation, you must learn to enjoy the joys of mastery.

After you’ve sparked life’s smoldering embers, the task becomes keeping them alive. And then carrying them on.


What’s fantastic about maturity is that after you’ve gotten your bearings with a variety of things in life, you can strive for greater control over them. This is not only beneficial to you, but it also helps you to become a mentor to others, allowing you to enter a creative period of life when you can make a meaningful difference in the world.

Continue to Strive

Even while I believe that the key to transitioning from youth and immaturity (regardless of age) to a meaningful, mature adulthood is to change from pursuing pleasures to constructing satisfactions, I don’t believe you should ever completely abandon the former.

Being focused does not imply getting complacent. Complacency is the death of a person.

The process of maintenance and upgrading isn’t without its share of drama and conflict. Even when you commit to particular people and things, your love for them, your zeal for the commitment, waxes and wanes; you have smoother and rougher seasons, moments when you’re closer to someone and others when you’re farther away. Commitment is seldom a one-time decision, but rather an ongoing process.

This ebb and flow is normal, and maybe even desirable; a meaningful existence needs a certain amount of tension and drama; otherwise, life would become monotonous.

However, if a hard period lingers, it’s time to reevaluate your situation.

That doesn’t mean you should give in to the impulse to throw everything out and start again. Sometimes all you need to do is change the way you do things.

If you give something your all and it still doesn’t work, it’s time to try something else – a new career, a new location, or a new belief system. Adulthood is mostly about preserving and improving what already exists, but that doesn’t rule out fresh possibilities for what may be.

This applies not just to modifying one’s present commitments, but also to being open to new ones – new friends, new activities, new vacations, and new experiences of all sorts. You never lose the fire of youth in enhancing what you have while seeking for new frontiers, no matter how old you are. As Bruce Barton said it once:

“The minute a man stops growing—no matter how old he is—that is the moment he becomes old.” He is still youthful as long as he can look back on each year and say, “I grew.” The moment he stops growing, the moment he thinks to himself, “I know all I need to know,” youth ends. It doesn’t matter whether he’s twenty-five or seventy-five. On that day, he becomes elderly.”

Not only the trailblazers, but also the trail tenders, are blessed on the route to maturity.



21 epigrams art of manliness” is a book that talks about the stages of adulthood. The book is written by John David Anderson and it was published in 2017.

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