It’s difficult to know exactly when it happens but one day, we wake up and come to the stark realization that we are, in fact, old. I remember being little and hearing my mom say that she was turning 30, to which I ever-so-politely responded, “I’ve never heard a number that big before!” (I was a cute kid, but apparently more verbose than polite). What I wouldn’t give to be 30 again – body parts would look infinitely more proportionate and I could eat ice cream without first having to consult the clock. BRING BACK 30!

The strange thing about aging is that we rarely feel it. Ask any 30(ish)-year-old and they would believe that they could easily blend in with the high-school seniors of today. (Just as a side note, I advise against attempting this. You wandering the halls in your letterman’s jacket, looking like a creeper will likely land you in jail rather than the senior picture. But I digress. . .) We all think we are invincible and that age is “just a number”. . . that is until you try to do a cartwheel for the first time in a decade and end up with a sprained wrist and a black eye. Note: Gravity will always show your true age. Ooooh, that’s good. Can someone put that on a t-shirt?

As we age, we not only take on a new look but also a slew of new responsibility. We quickly go from worrying about part-time jobs and thesis papers to mortgages and life-spanning relationships. The transition is crazy and frankly, not super gradual. “What day did I wake up and just start doing critical things? Was I warned? Does this realization frighten anyone else? I’m hyperventilating.”

How do you know when you are ready to take on these responsibilities? Does priority mail arrive from some department at the IRS saying, “Congratulations. After careful consideration, we feel as though you are ready to “adult”.”? (That’s how you know it’s important – priority mail. Maybe that’s the sign? The first time you sign for a registered letter. . . Again, I digress.)

Some would argue that the government has already established this line of adulthood with the legal drinking age – you are officially an adult when you can enter a bar. That seems a little odd, doesn’t it? My ability to hold liquor is directly related to my ability to be responsible? I’m not sure about this.

As I’ve observed people around me “adult-ing”, I’ve come to realize that it isn’t that difficult to know if you are ready to join the throngs of others living out their lives in responsible bliss. I find these few indicators to be much more accurate than a thumbs up from Bubba the bouncer. How do I know this? First, because there are plenty of people above the legal drinking age that are yet to master these basic concepts. People may even reach the ripe-old-age of 30 (gasp!) and still not have them under control, which in my world means that you are not yet allowed to be called an adult. Second, these are more closely related to a person’s character than a game of beer pong, so there’s that.

“What are these principles?” you ask? “Tell us! Tell us now!” Ok, I’ll tell you. And this one’s on the house.

Principle #1: You are “adult-ing” when you can respect other people’s opinions even if, nay ESPECIALLY IF, they are different than your own. Now I know that every single person reading this is saying to themselves “Oh, that’s me, for sure. I’m totally that.” But is it? When is the last time you got into an emotional political debate where you were so heated that you threw out a “neener neener” or maybe a “you’re so stupid” or some other trite argument as if you were a brother and sister fighting over the last Pop-Tart (mmmm, Pop-Tarts)? Is that adult-ing? I submit that it is not.

Now don’t go sending me messages about how I’m a hypocrite because I, too, like to get into heated “discussions” about a variety of topics –healthcare, gun laws, the best flavor of Pop-Tarts. Any one of these can get me fired up at a moment’s notice. I just choose to get fired up behind closed doors rather than on social media. But I do have my sparks. I’m just learning to control them.

Being passionate about things is not a sign of weakness. Everyone should be passionate about something (unless that something is your girlfriend and you are 13, then stop it. Stop it right now.). Passion is what should drive us to learn and hopefully become better. I’m all for passion. Controlled, non-movie-theater passion.

Not to get cliché and all “‘Merica” on my readers but imagine what the country would be like if it weren’t founded on a variety of ideas and eventual compromise. If one person’s opinion were always right, we wouldn’t be a republic, we would be living in a dictatorship; and we wouldn’t be America, we would be an island in the Pacific that shall remain nameless because that movie already caused enough problems for us. . . Anyway, you get my point. Founding principle: various opinions and discussions (likely heated ones), and decisions made in compromise for the greater good. ‘Merica.

I have learned over time that everyone has a different opinion because of their experiences (or lack of) with a given topic. Take my earlier example on healthcare (I know you were hoping I was going to say “Pop-Tarts””. If you want to know how I feel about those, read my book): my opinion on our healthcare system is likely very different from someone who has never had to research or pay for their family’s healthcare. It’s probably also vastly different from someone who has never had good healthcare. It doesn’t make any one of us right or wrong in our opinion, we only know what we know based on our experiences. And you know you are “adult-ing” when you can discuss those experiences and still walk away without sweating. Anger-induced sweat is really gross.

Principle #2: You are “adult-ing” when you learn to live within your means. This concept seems so simple and yet is mind-blowingly difficult for most people. Some thoughts:

I could write a series of blogs about what it takes to be debt free and the amount of freedom that it offers but I’ll leave that to those trusty late-night infomercials. The concept of living within your financial means is really as simple as this: if you don’t have the money, don’t buy it. That’s it. I know that sounds crazy with all of the low-and-no-payment options for financing but seriously, just don’t do it. People that are “adult-ing” work for what they have and pay for what they want. They manage their finances and do what it takes to avoid owing people money. (As the P.C. side note of the day: there are always extenuating circumstances for borrowing money. That’s why the system was created in the first place. I’m talking about long-term, no feel-bads dependency on borrowed cash, y’all. It’s no bueno.). Live within your financial means. You’ll be much happier. You can quote me on it.

Second example: if you only have the means to take care of three children, don’t have seven. While it would be easy to just call this a financial issue, it’s not. While finances are a Yuuuuuuge consideration (you see what I did there? You’re welcome.), you also need to have the “means” to support your children emotionally and socially and mentally. In fact, I think that we’d all agree that someone who offers a stable environment to a child but can’t buy them a new pair of shoes every six weeks is operating much higher on the “adult-ing” scale than the inverse. Kids need time and love and support and if you can’t give them an environment that provides that (however you give it to them), it’s time to rethink your breeding options. Live within your “means” – what can you handle emotionally, financially, physically?

My point here is this: know your limitations. Whether it be considering all of your financial obligations before buying a new jet boat or understanding your time restraints before opening a petting zoo, it’s critical that you are constantly assessing your life and exactly what you can handle. That isn’t saying that situations don’t change (note the constant assessment reference), but you need to know where you are at and what you are dealing with before you make any major life decisions. That, my friends, is “adult-ing”.

AdultingPrinciple #3: You are “adult-ing” when you learn to commit to things. I’m not talking just the “‘till death do us part’” kind of commitment although there is a major epidemic called “fear” or “wussiness” that surrounds that type of commitment as well these days. I am talking about committing to anything, even your Saturday night plans.

When someone sends you a text on Monday and says “Hey, we are going to an art show and dinner on Saturday, would you like to join us?” there are two acceptable responses: yes or no. Don’t text back, “Can I let you know in a few days?” because we all know that this translates to “I want to see if I get any better offers before committing to something.” This is rude and not “adult-ing”. It’s like looking at your Facebook feed in the middle of a conversation – you are basically telling the other party that you like them enough to consider the offer but if someone(thing) that sounds better comes up, you’re outtie.

Just to be clear, we all know that things come up. If you say “yes” to an activity and your grandma ends up in the hospital, it’s ok to change plans. If you agree to my art gallery date and you suddenly get front-row tickets to see Garth, you are excused (as long as you take me with you). But commit to something! Make plans, and then keep them.

You kids are about to have your minds blown: there once was a time when you couldn’t cancel plans at the last second because your sorry bum would have been in the car thirty minutes before any activity and you’d be looking and hand-scratched directions on how to get to the birthday party you are headed to, yelling at your mom that she took a wrong turn. . . whoa, flashback. I’m back. You wouldn’t have had access to call and cancel or to say that you were going to be late. You had to plan ahead and be on-time, otherwise everyone waiting for you thought you died in a fiery crash. You showed up on time and stayed the whole time because that’s what you said you would do. I know: Mind. Blown.

But seriously, while technology has lessened our fiery-crash worries, it has increased the amount of inconsideration. We are late, we cancel last minute, we change plans with little or no regret. You know you are taking a step toward “adult-ing” when you can commit to an activity, show up on time and keep your word.

That’s it. Three principles. This is easier to memorize than any pledge and easier to implement than the commandments. If you can honor these three things, I can honor you as an adult, regardless of what your ID says. Let’s all commit to get moving in the right direction and start being the adult-er-ers we always knew we could be. Er. . . strike that.