post written by: Marc Chernoff

What is Adulthood? 20 Defining Characteristics of a True Adult


What is an adult?How can one classify a true adult?  Many people directly attribute age to adulthood.  The problem with this methodology becomes evident when you discuss the topic with various people of different cultural backgrounds.  If you ask each of them what age they believe constitutes the point at which a person progresses from childhood into adulthood, their answers will always be different.  Why?  Because every one of the answers are based on subjective opinion.  Adulthood is not based age; it’s based strictly on emotional maturity.

So what constitutes emotional maturity, and thus adulthood?  Here are 20 defining characteristics of a true adult:

  1. Realizing that maturity is an ongoing process, not a state, and continuously striving for self improvement.
  2. Able to manage personal jealousy and feelings of envy.
  3. Has the ability to listen to and evaluate the viewpoints of others.
  4. Maintains patience and flexibility on a daily basis.
  5. Accepts the fact that you can’t always win, and learns from mistakes instead of whining about the outcome.
  6. Does not overanalyze negative points, but instead looks for the positive points in the subject being analyzed.
  7. Is able to differentiate between rational decision making and emotional impulse.
  8. Understands that no skill or talent can overshadow the act of preparation.
  9. Capable of managing temper and anger.
  10. Keeps other people’s feeling in mind and limits selfishness.
  11. Being able to distinguish between ‘needs’ and ‘wants’.
  12. Shows confidence without being overly arrogant.
  13. Handles pressure with self composure.
  14. Takes ownership and responsibility of personal actions.
  15. Manages personal fears.
  16. Able to see the various shades of grey between the extremes of black and white in every situation.
  17. Accepts negative feedback as a tool for self improvement.
  18. Aware of personal insecurities and self-esteem.
  19. Able to separate true love from transitory infatuation.
  20. Understanding that open communication is the key to progression.

Above all, true adults do what they have to do when it is required of them, and they do what they want when they can.  They are able to distinguish between the two and manage their time and efforts accordingly.

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21 Comments

  • Raising kids.

    It may not be an official description of adulthood but it sure changes your priorities.

  • If it’s an ongoing process, then it can’t ever truly be “defined”, as adults tend to die once they reach the stage where adulthood can be viewed objectively.

  • Honestly, even though I agree that all of those points go into defining a decent human being, a good portion are very much opinions. For example, one does not have to view the good in every situation. Being optimistic does not define an adult.

    Even so, all of those qualities make for a decent person. However, not all are required to be considered an adult or even be a respected addition to society.

  • I realized I was an adult when I hit 30 and my insurance rates went down.

    It wasn’t turning 30 and it wasn’t even that the insurance rates went down, it was me catching myself getting excited that my insurance rates went down.

    “Woo! My insurance went down! Wait, what?”

  • @FishPoisonCon: A process can be defined and people can objectively differentiate between levels of maturity before they hit their death bed. Your viewpoint is extremely negative.

    @Stephen: I agree that these points describe a decent person, but at the same time, they also describe a mature person whom is capable of constructive thinking… an “adult”.

  • “Above all, true adults do what they have to do when it is required of them, and they do what they want when they can. They are able to distinguish between the two and manage their time and efforts accordingly.”

    One of the best lines I have ever read!!!

    @Stephen going thru life in any other way then positive is a waste of time, energy and effort…as the Jamaicans say “Eree thing is iree iree” That means positivity can be found in every thing…the extreme is (input) Damn Bob died…(output) Bob had a great life and at least he got to get married and have a wonderful kid plus he got to drink Fat Tire Amber Ale (aka the nectar of the gods)…see positivity exists every where…

  • […] Via Marc and Angel […]

  • This is a great guideline.
    They pertain to me as well as;
    my spouse,
    my children,
    my grandchildren,
    my soon to be great grandchildren,
    my friends,
    my enemies,
    my mother in law,
    and Marc.
    We all backslide ( with the exception of Angel of course :) ).
    These should be reviewed by us all as often as possible. A great way to create the future. (We’ve already created the past).

  • @Thomas: Great points! Thanks for the comment! ;-)

  • The best guide I’ve ever seen. There should be a class on this in high school. It takes a lot of patience and self esteem to get through the list though. Nevertheless, these are good things to devote time too.

  • I’m not there yet, but soon hopefully. It’s like that game BrainAge which distinguishes between your birthday age and your brain age, there should be a game which will help calculate your grownup age.

    I’m 38, but my grownup age is only 17. I’m still stupid in so many ways (ie self-sabotage, pettiness, insecurity…) Thanks for a great post.

  • @michaelwong38:

    Being an adult can be really fun when you are acting like a child. ;-) I do it all the time. I’ve just learned how to effectively switch gears when required. Thanks for the comment.

  • This is a nice article, however, the fact of the matter is that most “adults” are a combination of both adult and child. I don’t know if we ever “outgrow” childhood, but indeed, like you suggest, it is important for us to incorporate as many of the above qualities as possible, that is, for smooth sailing through our “adult” years. Regards, Keith J, Web Entrepreneur, “FreeMathRescue.com”.

  • Divorce is an adult thing. Definitely. I can tell you all about that… twice in fact, I can tell you about two of them. Yup. And uhhh, living in your car is an adult thing to do when you lose everything or 1/2 of everything… twice…

  • #19 of distinguishing traits - “true love” vs infatuation.
    I have experienced infatuation a number of times in my 54 years and have concluded it is a spiritual high unrelated to its object. Love is NOT an emotion but, at root, a moment by moment decision to act with generosity, acceptance, and concern. I do not believe love requires a “soul mate” but rather some basic compatibility - the rest is a daily commitment to act and think in a loving manner.

  • @Latebloomer:
    I could not agree more with your point on soul mates. I believe everyone has a set of personality traits that creates compatibility with certain other people. It’s quite hard to logically visualize there being only one possible mate for each person.

  • I’m 19, emotionally immature, and I lead an undisciplined lifestyle. Because of this, my first attempt at college after highschool this past summer is looking gloomier and gloomier as I end up turning things in late or not at all. “If I live through the consequences which are sure to follow, I will have suffered a net loss despite the gain of experience” is what I’d normally say. Because I have an unrealistic definition of “too late,” which allows me to bypass my conscience and give up. Because I always think things are worse than they are. But “things” certainly aren’t going good! I’m sure if I were an adult, I would be able to get myself to do the work that I promised to complete as a matter of habit. Maybe I like learning things the hard way. How will I learn to work hard? “Just try harder to get yourself to” just doesn’t cut it, as I’m sure you probably know.

    I have a clue that I want to test regarding this: I seem to have no trouble getting to my full-time job on time every day and doing my very best. I begin to suspect that I’m just not academically oriented, that the highest kind of job I could hope for would be a manager or something…

    I really don’t know if that’s correct. It would be nice if I could someday have a well-paying job in a professional career, but not everyone can be a Ph.D, right? I guess “money isn’t happiness,” but how trite!

    I’m really interested in writing music and writing books, but that’s so unrealistic it’s laughable. The odds are entirely against me. I mean, you know what kids sound like when they write and when they compose music. It makes you wince! I’m sure I’m not an adult yet because I still think of myself as a “kid”.

    But I’m not entirely oblivious. I am somewhat aware of where this despair feeling I’m getting is coming from. There are two sides to perfectionism: a constructive side, and a destructive side. I only have the destructive side, in which I convice myself at every turn that my efforts are useless and that fate governs my future.

    At this point, I really must apologize for two things. One, that this comment is way too long. Two, that I said things confusingly (and out of order) and was unable to say what I wanted to say well. But I couldn’t have said it any differently. I’m guessing that many adults will agree that teenagerhood is primarily confusing, but my peers seem to be doing much better than I am in handling it.

  • Here’s a few extra thoughts (taking in a couple of things mentioned in comments):

    Accepting that love is given, not taken, and is a choice (ie not something out of our control)

    The ability to stand apart from the crowd when necessary

    To have our actions dictated by reason alone, not emotions - this doesn’t mean not having emotions, just not being rules by them

    To never stop trying to improve yourself

    To always be aware of how you are feeling and what you are thinking (though this ties in with several of the other items)

    Accepting others’ frailties but not necessarily their destructive behaviour

    …but I’d cross out no 12 (confidence) as confidence isn’t an absolute (eg I’m confident at my job but shy around women). One can work to build confidence but we all rely at least in part on others giving us validation to grow the confidence.

    I’d say the list could be summed up as ‘the attainment of self mastery’ - what do you think?

  • How do we manage jealousy??? I’m actually jealous of those who aren’t jealous!!

    Thanks for the wonderful blog and inspiration.

  • What a thoughtful blog ! (wish I’d found it sooner) As an adult of advanced age, if not a mature adult, I find your list to be an excellent standard by which to measure progress toward maturity. I’d add to the list, exercising critical thinking, resisting the temptation to over-think, and perhaps the most important to me, as you’ve stated, retaining the ability to be child-like and recognizing when the time is right to do so.
    I disagree with @ Stephen, optimism is essential to health and growth. Finding the positive in any situation does rule out recognition of the negative, it is a matter of balance and falling toward the positive as a matter of personal choice.

  • I believe the thought of maturity set in after giving birth at the age of 17yrs. old for me. I did not really transition from child to adult; according to the list until i was 30yrs old.

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