How to be an adult
About the author
Teela Clayton worked as a teacher before studying for a Master's degree in Public Relations and Strategic Communication. She now works as an account executive for a public relations agency in Leeds.
‘I wish I was a grown up’, my eight-year-old will say to me, his mind full of the things he’d – not limited by the time constraints of bedtime – buy with a seemingly endless disposable income. He’d spend his days not eating his greens and building. Lego or Minecraft. He wouldn’t have to do any chores or homework and could watch YouTube all day if he fancied. He would, if I’m understanding this idiom correctly, live the life of Riley.
But reader, we all know the reality of being an adult, don’t we?
The sleepless nights doubting your life choices. The tossing and turning brought on by the pressures of a job or career.
And at some point, in your said career, you are forcibly made to draw your line in the sand. It’s the point where your moral fibre, your integrity and values are tested to their breaking point. The point where your power is stripped down to its bone and its flesh is jauntily handed back to you by some toothless grinning loon. The point where you say: THIS. IS. ENOUGH.
It happened to me in 2017. And as I filled in myriad job applications, I couldn’t help but feel there was something lacking. I’d fulfilled society’s expectations of me and yet an existential crisis was brewing…
Luckily, I secured a new job within a matter of months. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I wanted more for myself. Perhaps this was exacerbated by the feeling that I had no value at my new place. Perhaps the damage had been done and I had irrevocably fallen out of love with my profession. Perhaps it was kismet and I was always destined for this path. But before the Autumn term had concluded, I applied for a master’s degree at Leeds Beckett University.
It wasn’t my intention to leave teaching forever. I thought a master’s in a different discipline – one I enjoyed – might have two-fold benefits: to rejuvenate me and to extend my offer to future employers. I thought a little hiatus would knock from me my weariness, my cynicism and that I’d be able to build up my resilience reserves which were depleted.
You probably want to know was it worth it? It’s a question I’ve been asked by former colleagues, friends, Twitter acquaintances and myself on more than one occasion.
We tend to judge value by monetary costs and that is easy. I left a job at the top of the pay scale, took out a £10k master’s loan, paid £7k for my MA and am now earning half my teacher salary. But in the next five years, if industry projections and my mentor are correct – and I’m any good at PR – I could easily be earning much more. That doesn’t help my cause when I’m doing the weekly shop and trading down to supermarket own brands. I feel the pinch when my friends are planning holidays and I’m working out how much I’ll have left over. I’m no different to lots of people in the UK you might say. And money is no measure of happiness.
But I sleep. I sleep for uninterrupted blissful stretches of eight hours at a time. I sleep when I lay my head down on the pillow, there’s no sweating or anxiety or racing thoughts. I sleep until my alarm wakes me up the next morning, no need for pacing my room or pillow sprays, or just writing this down before I forget. I sleep and am not filled with nightmares or dread.
I sleep and I dream.
And I eat. I’m not obsessed by the calories I consume. I don’t skip break and lunch because I’m just too busy with other stuff. I don’t live on a tin of lukewarm lentil soup hastily snorted before I return slavishly to my classroom.
And I notice things now. I see the world in colour. The bats that fly low and close to my neighbour’s house at twilight. The explosion of colour in my garden and how each fuchsia bush radiates a different purple. The way my boys exchange wordless glances in secret code. The little sneeze my sister’s dog does to get my attention.
And I am happy.
In fact, you could say, if I’m understanding this idiom correctly, that I’m living the life of Riley.