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A New Class in Portland Teaching Adult Skills They Don't Teach In School

Rachel Weinstein Adulting school co-founder teaching a class in Portland.
Patty Wight/Maine Public

Becoming a grown up isn’t easy. There’s a career to pick, money to manage relationships to navigate. The transition to adulthood isn’t new, but there is a new term for it: “adulting.” And a school has opened in Portland that’s dedicated to teaching people how to manage the realities of life once they’ve fledged from adolescence. It’s called The Adulting School, which recently held a day-long summit.

Do a quick search on social media, and you’ll see the term “adulting” is popping up everywhere. It was even nominated for the 2015 word of the year by the American Dialect Society. As for how it’s used, here’s a sample:

Allison Morrill: “Hey I got out of bed today, I’m adulting.”
Sarah Savage: “Oh, I wanted to go out Saturday night, but I had to buy my groceries. #adulting”
Sarah Steele: “Bringing your car for an oil change is adulting.”
AM: “We went to the grocery store and made our meal instead of going out, we’re adulting.”
Scott Whiting: “Just ya know, draggin’ it in, let’s go. Doin’ all these things, I’m adulting. We’re doin’ it. We’re doing this now.”

That was Allison Morrill, Sarah Savage, Sarah Steele, and Scott Whiting — all attendees of The Adulting School’s day-long summit, which offered workshops on everything from from money and time management, to relationships and meditation. Rachel Weinstein is the co-founder of the school. She says she got the idea through her work as a psychotherapist.

“I noticed as a therapist that a lot of my client’s well-being seemed to be affected by a lack of some really important skills,” Weinstein says. “And I know over the decades with teaching to the test, and other changes in education, schools have had to cut a lot of Home EC classes. And that’s some of the stuff that people really need to learn and aren’t necessarily taught unless parents really impress those skills upon them.”

Weinstein also noticed that a lot of her clients thought their problems were unique. She wanted to bring these people together to learn grown up skills in a fun way, so she started The Adulting School and offered happy hour workshops. Since July, burgeoning adults can head to a designated restaurant or bar once a month to sip a cocktail and snack on appetizers while learning grown-up essentials.

“We did a happy hour workshop on how to be an improv cook,” she says. “How do you open up our refrigerator and make a meal from what you have? Or, how to network - we had another one, ‘How to Network Like a Pro.’“

The Adulting School also offers monthly memberships to access private social media groups and experts. It open to anyone, but the target audience is millenials. That demographic made up the bulk of attendees at the summit, as did women.

“I find myself feeling anxious a lot, that I’m not doing what I should be doing,” says Morrill.

She 29 years old and has a steady job as a surgical tech, but she also has huge debt.

“Credit card stuff, which I didn’t think I would have at this age,” she says. And I really don’t have the skill set, how to pay for our rent, and our food, on top of paying off that debt.”

Finding a pathway to financial security is also what brought 24-year old graduate student Sarah Savage to the summit.

“The balance of paying loans, and then you hear about saving for that six month cushion if something were to come up, and I have a very generous mother who is allowing me to live with her right now, so even the idea of saving for an apartment sounds out of reach,” she says.

31 year old Sarah Steele, a single mom struggling to balance her budget and her time, summed up what she thinks is the over-arching question as young adults reflect on the past achievements of their parents.

“How did they do it?” she says.

This anxiety about being an adult is actually nothing new, says Holly Swyers, Associate professor of Anthropology at Lake Forest College who’s writing a book about adulthood.

“And I think labeling it with a word like ‘adulting’ makes it feel manageable,” she says.

Swyers says even in the 1950s, there was hand-wringing about how to be a grown-up. Part of what drives the phenomenon is that there’s no dedicated place in society to learn adult skills.

“Ya know, the most teachable moments are in young adulthood, and that’s when we decide to stop teaching everyone. There’s no more school then — you say, OK kid, figure it out. That’s when you’re finding your partner, that’s when you’re figuring out what job you want, that’s when you’re figuring out how do you run a household, that’s when you’re figuring out how to not spend all your rent money in the first week.”

Many of the attendees at the Adulting School summit say they’re glad to have a dedicated place to go in Portland to help get their adult life in order. And single mom Sarah Steele says she’s learned that being an adult isn’t just about chores and responsibility.

“Getting to go to the playground and enjoy the weather and the leaves changing and falling is also adulting in my parenting world,” she says.