The Magazine

Upgrowing

Wisdom for would-be Special Snowflakes.

Nov 11, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 09 • By ZACK MUNSON
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Let’s face it, we millennials need all the help we can get. We’ve spent our 20s either engaged in Apatow-ian bromances or trying to figure out if we’re Mirandas or Samanthas. We invented Facebook and insist on using it at all hours of the day, for no earthly reason whatsoever. Heck, we even believed that we were, indeed, the ones we had been waiting for. 

Kelly Williams Brown

Kelly Williams Brown

But it’s not our fault; it really isn’t! Raised as we were on hours of Super Mario Bros. and gallons of Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, having lived through the trauma of the early 1990s (“Can’t touch this!”) and come of age in the post-9/11 world, it’s no wonder that we’ve had a hard time adjusting to grown-up life. But, fortunately for us—and even more so for those who are not “us”—Kelly Williams Brown, a former advice columnist for the Statesman Journal (Salem, Ore.) has the answer. Or, rather, she’s got the answers. Four hundred and sixty-eight of them, to be exact, which she has graciously compiled into this humorous book. 

Remember books? No? Well, it’s available on Kindle, too.

While the title, Adulting, is fairly groan-inducing, furthering as it does the obnoxious trend of turning nouns that should remain nouns into verbs, Brown can be forgiven somewhat, since at least she provides a rationale: “Adult isn’t a noun, it’s a verb. It’s the act of making correctly those small decisions that fill our day.” And she can be forgiven even more when she starts by taking dead aim at millennials’ worst impulse: “Step 1: Accept that you are not that special. This is the most difficult thing to accept if you wish to be a grown-up: You are not a Special Snowflake.”

Brown, who is 28, insists that she’s not attacking her generation. As she recently told the New York Times: “The people I know in my age group are not aimless man-child caricatures.” But as anyone who’s been on a college campus in the last decade, or seen an episode of Girls, or spent 18 seconds on the Internet can attest, this type of straight-talk is long overdue. 

Step 1 is, without a doubt, the most useful of Brown’s several hundred steps; but she’s got a few more well worth any twentysomething’s time. Some of them, like Step 1, are bigger-picture advice, such as when she counsels, “Don’t get hurt when the world doesn’t care about you” (Step 5). And her explanation of Step 17 (“Get used to giving more than you get”) is good advice for anyone, really, not just benighted millennials: “When we’re little, all this love flows to us, and none is expected back. This ratio has now changed, and if you don’t acknowledge it, you will not be a pleasant person to be around.” Other steps are more practical in nature: “Replace things when they become disgusting. .  .  . Buy toilet paper in bulk. .  .  . Make non-bullshit potatoes.” 

“Master oatmeal,” she declares in Step 74, because “[i]t gives you an amazing amount of energy, like cocaine, if cocaine were really good for your digestion and didn’t ruin lives.” And her comment on moving is amusing and particularly true-to-life: “If you’ve ever moved anywhere, which obviously you have, you know that moving is the second worst process in the world (ethnic cleansing is the first).”

Brown’s funny, chirpy, rat-a-tat-tat style initially makes Adulting easy and pleasant reading, and the book has enough F-bombs and Young Jeezy quotes to retain the attention of twenty-somethings who may be skittish at the sight of complete sentences. But, ultimately, there are just too many steps, and Brown’s chipper patter starts, at times, to feel like nagging: “When you get a prescription, read all the enclosed information. .  .  . Keep hydrated, especially on airplanes. .  .  . Never start smoking, and if you have, quit.” Some of her advice trends toward the downright obsessive-compulsive, such as instructing the reader to “put on sunscreen daily,” or offering Howard Hughesian hand-washing instructions:

A reminder that good hand-washing involves at least thirty seconds and vigorous scrubbing—that’s what breaks down the cell walls of the bacteria. Also, if you can avoid touching things that a million other people have touched—if you can open the door with your hip, for example—you’ll be better off.

Right. Anyway, Adulting is, on the whole, good-spirited, well-intentioned, entertaining, well-written, and useful—a combination that makes Brown’s overzealous moments easy to forgive. And while we millennials may still have a lot of growing up to do, at least now there’s some help that even underemployed, Nintendo-addled, bullshit-potato-making narcissists can handle.

Zack Munson is a writer in Los Angeles.