What Adults Never Tell You About Growing Up

UPDATED: May 27, 2017
PUBLISHED: May 27, 2017

From a young age, we’re taught that we can be whomever we want to be. We can be astronauts. We can be world-class journalists. We can be doctors, lawyers, rock stars. We can be the president.

Adulthood brings the realization that this is true—within reason.

Related: Adulting 101: 9 Life Skills You Need to Become the Ideal Grown-Up

You see, I recently accepted a position that strays from everything I thought I knew my future would entail. I earned degrees in journalism and Spanish, and I’ll soon be working in a communications and public relations capacity at a senior living community, focusing on social media and interviewing residents to share their life experiences.

Making this move in my career is not one I would have dreamed of as I went through college or after I walked across the graduation stage. Even my latest job as a reporter at a trade publication would have been a stretch.

Everything was always so black and white: You become a hardcore journalist, or you don’t. You stick with your major, or you don’t. In college, public relations was often ridiculed, almost vilified. Anything that strayed from what was considered noble and righteous in the journalism world was questioned or judged. There simply was no in-between.

That’s not reality, though. At least, it’s not the reality I’ve come to know in the three and a half years since graduation. I was lucky to work for the Associated Press immediately after graduation, albeit temporarily, and I was lucky to realize a dream of reporting abroad in Guatemala—about my passion for immigration, and on a scholarship, no less. I was lucky to head back to Iowa for the Associated Press for one last temporary term to report on breaking news. But that’s where my streak of “true” journalism ended.

I lived at home for a summer and spent my sister’s maternity leave with her, because taking on yet another temporary job in yet another state while driving a deteriorating car was a lifestyle I could hardly afford, let alone sustain. Full-time jobs at small-town newspapers were completely out of the question, given their low pay and limited benefits coupled with my student loan debt. And dropping everything to travel the world sounds more exciting than feasible. Even within my era of “true” journalism, there was a four-month stretch where I worked at Starbucks in order to receive the mental health care I needed at that point in my life.


No one ever told me what it would be like trying to get through day-to-day responsibilities when depression overcomes you, and no one ever told me how great of a weight student loans are to bear. No one ever told me how tremendously these would affect my dreams for the future.


I know I’m not alone in this. The latest student loan debt statistics for 2017 in the U.S. indicate that more than 44 million student loan borrowers hold more than $1.3 trillion in student loan debt. I personally had nearly $45,000 in loans when I graduated in 2013, and I entered the repayment process six months later when I wasn’t yet working full time.

Meanwhile, about one in five adults in the U.S.—43.8 million, or 18.5 percent—experience mental illness in a given year, according to data collected by the National Institute of Mental Health. In serious cases, mental illness costs the country approximately $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year, a 2008 study in the American Journal of Psychiatry found.

No one ever told me what it would be like trying to get through day-to-day responsibilities when depression overcomes you, and no one ever told me how great of a weight student loans are to bear. No one ever told me how tremendously these would affect my dreams for the future.

So I’ve done what I’ve had to do for myself. In 2015, I accepted a job at a business-to-business publication writing about senior housing, and I was ashamed of that, because it wasn’t in line with everything I believed journalism to be. And for the past two years, I’ve picked up countless freelance assignments for a marketing company, writing and editing content about cars to make ends meet. Recently, I picked up my mental health care treatment again, vowing to stay put in Chicago rather than seek job opportunities elsewhere.

Related: 13 Simple Steps to Land the Job You Want​

In the process of coming to terms with where I am in my life and my career, I’ve discovered so much about what it means to grow up—things that didn’t come up in high school classes or around the family dinner table.

I’ve learned that not everyone will become a Pulitzer Prize winner. Not everyone will work for The New York Times or the Washington Post. Not everyone will break national news or become foreign correspondents. I respect anyone and everyone who does, and I truly admire and look up to them.

I’ve learned that people come to their own realities on their individual paths. I have friends with the talent and tenacity to snag jobs at the Washington Post. I have friends whose parents continue to support them so they can roam the world or plan a trip at the drop of a hat. And I have friends who have little to no student loan debt, meaning they can cushion their savings or take unpaid internships or low-paying jobs if they so choose.


I’ve learned that people come to their own realities on their individual paths.


Not everyone has that. Some people have had to support themselves from day one after college—or even high school. Some people simply aren’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary to reach their childhood dreams after getting a taste of the real world. Still others simply lack the level of raw talent required to attain such high-profile positions, or they don’t have the personalities or wherewithal to make such dreams reality.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t follow your dreams and aim high. By all means, shoot for the roles at NASA. Go for the jobs at The New York Times. Forge a path toward activism or political greatness. If we don’t work hard to achieve such successes, there would be little motivation at all. I truly believe that anyone who sets their mind to something will figure out a way to reach their ultimate goals.

Related: You’re Killing It! 15 Quotes for an Unstoppable Attitude

But with the amount of people graduating with journalism, engineering or any other type of degrees each year, it’s simply not realistic that we can all attain such careers. There’s also the realities of adulthood that come into play—bills, student loan payments, day-to-day living expenses. And our definitions of success and happiness in the working world and adulthood in general don’t have to be equated with these top-tier jobs. Goals shift and transform over time, and that’s perfectly fine. Success is, and always will be, relative.

I thought these flashy, glamorous aspects of working as a journalist were supposed to adorn my path, but they haven’t. I used to get down on myself because I truly believed that my reporting in Guatemala at age 22 was the peak of my career, but it wasn’t.

I never really knew the alternate career paths I could take, or maybe I just ignored them for fear of doing something “wrong.” I also feared compromising my goals, my passions and myself. I feared judgment and disappointment.

But there is no right or wrong way. My education and experiences can propel me in so many different directions, and all of them more than OK. I’m not a failure. I’m not doing worse than everyone else. I have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of, no matter which direction I go.

At my new job, I will still get to tell stories. I will still get to have real, raw human connections that fuel my fire. I will still get to learn and grow every day.

Growing up doesn’t necessarily look exactly like you might have expected, and it teaches you a lot about the gray areas in which you spend so much of your time. Acceptance and self-compassion are so crucial. Most important, though, is to remember to always follow your own path.

Related: How 5 Successful People Define Success

Kourtney Liepelt is a freelance writer and PR professional at a senior living community in downtown Chicago. She earned bachelor’s degrees in Journalism and Spanish and a certificate in Latin American & Caribbean Studies from Indiana University. After graduation, Liepelt spent three months in Guatemala as a freelance journalist reporting on immigration. She has work published with The Associated Press, Indianapolis Monthly and The Des Moines Register. Follow her on Twitter.