the moment I felt like a grown-up
Six artists, writers and creatives share their hilarious and heart-wrenching coming-of-age stories.
It's not just you – growing up is awkward and weird for just about everyone. To celebrate the Immigration Museum’s exhibition Becoming You: An incomplete guide, we asked a few of our favourite creative people to reflect on adulthood, the unexpected events that led them there, and whether we ever really grow up at all.Olana Janfa
I got my first taste of adulthood when my mum passed away in Ethiopia. I was 13 and suddenly alone with my little brother Bubu. I had to be responsible for him and really felt it because he looked up to me. When the two of us migrated to Norway a year later, I felt like I had to know everything – I had to be the big brother. It was embarrassing because Bubu was way smarter than me and figured stuff out anyway. He taught me that it’s OK not to know everything, and to be humble. When I turned 18, we got our own house. I learnt to cook, do laundry, pay bills and also go to school and be responsible for my brother. We didn’t have our parents, so I learnt a lot from my friends and their families, especially the other migrant families in our town. If I could talk to my younger self, I’d tell him to focus on school more – it gives you better choices in life. Adulthood doesn’t arrive in one go, and there's always something else to learn. I’m about to become a father, so I’m sure I’ll be learning much more soon.Michelle Law
Adulthood is definitely an ongoing process. For me, a lot of that process has been coming to terms with having alopecia, an autoimmune disease that causes hair loss. I developed it as a teenager, and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster to accept the permanency of the condition. When I’ve felt self-conscious or insecure about my hair loss (when I’m not wearing a wig), I’ve always repeated the mantra “Who cares what people think?” which is far easier in theory than in practice. But I can happily say I’ve come to believe that mantra over the past five years or so. With each passing year, I care less and less about being bald, and want to instead pour my energy into leading a fulfilling life with no inhibitions. I feel like I’m making up for lost time. I don’t want to have regrets about things I felt like I couldn’t do, like going to the beach, dating, or anything that involves grappling with your self-image. To me, that’s a large part of being an adult and a sign of maturity – having less tolerance for people’s shit (especially your own), knowing what you deserve, and doing something about it.
Radio and TV presenter, DJ and musician
The year I was 18 and fresh out of high school was incredibly formative. My parents got divorced, and I discovered a different relationship with each of them as real people; flawed and insecure, hurting but growing, too. At the same time as my dynamic with my parents shifted, I started university and began presenting on community radio and DJing. I found music I truly loved and a platform to share it. I found a passion for creative projects with like-minded young people. I found the exhilaration of dancing all night and emerging at sunrise. That excitement is contagious! For the first time, I felt trusted, independent and no longer looked at as a child, but as an adult with new ideas and value. I look back at photos and think "OMG Lindy you were still such a baby!" but I know that my internal shifts marked the moment I became my own person. This passion and buzz for life is something I’ll chase forever. The journey to adulthood never ends, because when you stop growing, you start dying, right? Right.
I've never felt like an adult. In my head, I never progressed past 17. It’s weird because I act like I’m 84 (I’m in bed by 8pm and have a fondness for those tasteless Milk Coffee biscuits), but my internal image of myself has been stuck in my late teens for the whole second half of my life. When I watch footy, I think about the players’ home lives and how some have babies, mortgages and do grown-up things, without realising that I, too, have those things and am actually older than every one of them (except maybe two who are constantly injured). I remember on one ridiculously long family drive, I drew what I thought I’d look like every year from the age of eight to 17, my hair and clothes changing dramatically, but my eye colour and tooth gap staying the same. I stopped at 17 because pfft, all adults are the same with their brown shoes and tax file numbers. Once you’re an adult, you stop changing, right? Sure, I deliberately buy dark chocolate and enjoy birdwatching these days, but I guess in some respects I was right. I haven’t changed (in my mind, anyway).Eilish Gilligan
I think the moment that pushed me further into adulthood more than anything else happened in my early twenties. It was a slow, sad realisation, years in the making: that even the truest love is not enough to keep a relationship alive. What a bitter disappointment it was to learn that love alone is not enough to sustain a relationship, even though it’s said to be the strongest force in the universe. Becoming an adult doesn’t have to mean undertaking a series of great disappointments, but this was a big one. Sometimes, becoming an adult is also realising that you can stay up all night with no one to tell you off in the morning, or that you can just waltz into the supermarket and buy that packet of Oreos your mum would never let you have. To be honest, though, those Oreos might come in handy when you learn the whole ‘even true love isn’t enough’ lesson.
Comedian and writer
My coming of age is so many things (Midori, a Volvo, Hotmail, Greater Union Cinemas Wollongong), but when I think about the greatest moment of instant, forever change, I think of this: I was on our street, maybe 7 years old. I had taken off my rash vest for the slip ’n' slide (aerodynamics) and Kathy (Harry's Mum) rushed across the road, took my arm and said very nicely, "How about we put this back on?" I did, and I went way slower.
Explore over 70 coming-of-age stories at Becoming You: An incomplete guide, a new exhibition at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum. More info here.