I turned 26 recently and had the sudden realization that I am closer to 30 than I am to 20. For some reason, that scares the shit out of me. I keep expecting to hit a certain age and suddenly feel like an adult, but it hasn't happened yet. For all intents and purposes, I am an adult. I have a full-time job, my own health insurance, bills I have to pay each month. Still, I constantly find myself feeling like I'm not a real adult.
I don't know what the parameters are to be a "real" adult. It seems that whenever I think I have them figured out, they shift beneath my feet like quicksand. There's no point at which someone hands you a badge and says that you are officially licensed as an adult, but knowing that doesn't help with the imposter syndrome. Is it getting your own apartment that makes you feel like an adult? Or is it buying property and getting a mortgage? Is it having kids of your own? I'm not sure what the answer is, but I'm beginning to suspect you might never really feel completely like an adult.
When I was thinking about all of this, my mind kept drifting back to the 18th and 19th century European rite of passage known as the Grand Tour. For those who aren't familiar, the Grand Tour was a rite of passage that young aristocrats undertook when they had come of age, in which they toured cities like Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome. The tour was a culmination of a young man (or occasionally) woman's classical education, after which they could be a well-rounded adult, ready to take on the responsibilities of their positions. They travelled, visited new places, met other wealthy young people, tried new foods, and had more than a little fun drinking and gambling. Beyond being a transformative experience for the young people that undertook it, the Grand Tour can be credited with elevating British art and architecture as a whole (see the Met Museum's page on the Grand Tour here and the Getty Museum's page here).
While I don't think that visiting Italy and studying antiquities, classical architecture, and Renaissance art will suddenly turn you into an adult, it is the idea of a sort of maturity gateway that is enticing. For Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Grand Tour was a kind of threshold of experience that, once breached, allowed young people to enter society as equals in education and experience with their adult peers. Of course, the Grand Tour wasn't required and it was a phenomenon common only among the rich who could afford the expense of traveling for extended periods of time.
That said, there isn't a similar equivalent in today's world, though one might argue that college provides the same purpose of rounding out a good education and providing new experiences. Still, there is no longer any Grand Tour to embark on, no experience that definitely marks you as an adult. So, where does that leave me? I'm not sure if I'll ever wake up one day and feel like a finished, complete adult. But I think I'm inching closer.