We want to know how young people become adults. The question we ask is “What’s your coming of age story?” Every Thursday, we’ll bring you the story one young Nigerian’s journey to adulthood and how it shaped them.
There are a lot of things you don’t realise about life and growing up when you’re a child. It’s worse when you’re a sheltered child, like I was. I grew up in an old city in south-western Nigeria, in a family of thirteen. My family was comfortable financially, but this changed and got progressively worse as I got older.
Because I was smart, and because I hung out at a school close to my house, I started school early. Most of my early memories are dominated by this — school: of the awards I collected, the friends I made, the crushes I had. Which is ironic because I hate school now.
I’ve never had a grand plan for life, so my thoughts for the future were shaped by older people with influence over my life. People like my literature teacher who believed I should study law because I was good in government and argued a lot. I was fascinated by his belief in me and followed this path until I failed to gain admission into the university on my first attempt. I settled for English and continued riding that wave and winging life from there.
Growing up, the only big picture I saw for myself was that I wanted to be comfortable. I didn’t want to be trapped in the same struggle-driven lifestyles many people around me lived. I have never been able to work out how to reach that state and stay there, but I know it’s important that I do.
I think about adulting in two phases — the point when my parents first regarded me as an adult, and the point when I started regarding myself as an adult. The day I got my first NYSC allowance and travelled back home from Taraba was the day my parents regarded me as an adult. I was 22 at the time and they stopped giving me handouts after. It’s not like they completely kicked me out of the nest and neglected me, but they never offered anything and I never asked. In fact, I started sending money home to my mother soon after. I felt weird the first time I sent money to my father because it was such an adult thing to do and I still felt like a 12-year-old at heart.
For me, adulthood started when the post-NYSC struggle arrived. This was the point when I knew I needed to actually do something with my life but I still had no plan. I was still actively winging things which made things worse. It was the most confusing period in my life.
I eventually moved to Lagos because there was a job waiting for me; well a low-paying internship. I don’t think I should need to explain why I chose it. The only other offer I had was from that literature teacher. He offered me a position teaching government.
I hopped from a bus to sleeping on a distant stranger’s cold floor to another even more distant stranger’s couch. I was living the adult dream; I was an intern at a media firm at this point, making barely enough to just eat. Things got better, and I made great friends who were along for the ride.
At the same time things started to settle, I lost my father. It sucked because he deserved to get more out of life. But the universe doesn’t concern itself with giving you your dues. That’s one of the things I’ve had to learn from becoming an adult. You get it or you don’t, you still die.
Since I’ve been forced to grow up, the most obvious realisation that’s hit me is that you can’t live for just yourself. With my father gone now, I’ve taken up more responsibility for my mother and sister. People call it the black tax. It can sometimes be really stressful, but I don’t know how you can do it any different for the people you love.
Most fundamentally, I think adulting has made me grow more cynical with everything you can think of, so I tend to dissociate a lot and it sometimes bothers me.
There’s no grand plan to life. I might be saying this because I’m a heathen, but I don’t believe anyone sat down to map out anyone’s destiny. It’s a luxury to think they just jump from one stage to another as designed. Things happen to you, and you just wing it; or you’re deliberate about life, and it works out for you or it doesn’t. You’d expect most people to be envious or concerned but my cynicism will not allow me feel badly about my peers doing better than me.
Only one thing could make me jealous. It’s that some of them live deliberately with plans that sometimes work almost as well as designed.
I’ve been lucky at life and enjoyed certain privileges many would kill for, but I’ve also held the short end of the stick from time to time.
When life deals you a hand or several hands, you wing it and hope you luck out.