People Share The Greatest Life Lessons They Only Understand Now That They’re An Adult

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Life is a constant learning experience. As teenagers, we often think we have the world figured out and no one can tell us differently. But then we get older and learn that, no matter how mature we become, there’s always another lesson waiting for us just around the corner.  Regardless of what we’re taught throughout our lives, there are some lessons we simply have to learn the hard way.

Experiencing life and making mistakes is part of growing up. It’s a reality everyone faces, but it’s also not something that’s always clear at the moment. Sometimes, the biggest lessons are ones we learn way after the fact. Just take it from these people who recently shared some of the harsh life lessons they only understand now that they’re an adult.

#1 Work Comes Before Play

Vacations and breaks aren’t a given. You don’t just get to stop working for a few weeks randomly throughout the year, and no one plans around your break—you must plan all of your own (and sometimes other people’s) work around your departures. Oh, and vacations are expensive. There’s probably a reason why Billy down the block is able to take his family of five to Disneyworld: because they have money.

I’m a violin teacher now and blew this poor kid’s mind this past weekend when he asked me what I was doing for spring break. I sort of stared at him for a second, and then remembered that spring break is a thing that kids get… I told him that I would be working because I don’t get a spring break and he was just completely aghast. Sorry buddy, the adult world isn’t as fun as being a kid.

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#2 The Wrong Right

The whole “my right vs. your right” thing confused the heck out of me as a preschooler. Somehow I got the idea in my head that when you turned 21, your lefts and rights switched. I have no clue why I specifically thought 21… I had this image in my head of blowing out 21 candles, then everyone saying congratulations and handing you some kind of certificate to officially switch them. Well, I’m 21 now and my lefts and rights never switched.

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#3 Benefits Of A Best Friend

The Alanis Morissette lyric: “You’re my best friend, best friend with benefits” from Head Over Feet. I told my parents that my best friend was my best friend with benefits when I was like, eight years old and they laughed hysterically. I just assumed it’s because they weren’t cool and into Alanis’s music and didn’t understand that it clearly meant… well, you know.

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#4 Maximizing Gifts

I didn’t get why my parents couldn’t just double the presents this Christmas even if I told them it would be okay with me if they did not do anything for the next Christmas. At this point, I already knew Santa didn’t exist, so I guess I was just trying to maximize the number of gifts I’d receive. My parents would just look at me and say, “That’s not how it works, sweetie.”

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#5 Financial Frustrations

The stress of paying bills and budgeting. My parents tried to keep this hidden from me, but I could tell how much they carefully budgeted. They also sacrificed so much for my siblings and me. Because I had been so babied and sheltered growing up, it took me a while to adjust to adult responsibilities once I got older. I didn’t understand any of that until I had a dog first and then children.

#6 The Sweet Sound Of Silence

As a kid, I thought being quiet was boring and the worst possible thing. I always felt like I needed to be loud and rambunctious. Now, I work in a library and cherish the silence more than anything. In fact, I think as I grew older, I became more and more introverted. I really prefer to just keep to myself and be with my own thoughts.

#7 Problem With Printing Money

Why can’t we just print more money and give it to everyone so that nobody ever had to worry about not being able to afford stuff? A worrying number of adults couldn’t answer this one for me. I always thought, why couldn’t the solution to poverty be as simple as that? If everybody had access to money and was put a level playing field, wouldn’t that eliminate a lot of the problems that arise due to social classes?

#8 Cartoon Character Backstory

Not sure if this has already been mentioned, but Helga Pataki from Hey Arnold. As a kid, I thought she was an ugly weird girl. As an adult, my mind was blown when I realized how neglected she was. Her mom was a workaholic and her dad was a narcissist who favored Olga and made her the golden child. Most of the characters have pretty sad stories, honestly. That show was deep and I never realized it as a child.

#9 Not Always A Happy Ending

That not everything turns out ok. Every movie ends with basically all of the issues resolved, and more often than not, a happy ending. It really wasn’t until adulthood I realized that some people deal with certain problems that just never get better. No matter how much you hope, something must turn out sad and that’s it.

#10 Sick Of Sleepovers

When my parents said “no” to something like letting me host a sleepover, it was always just because they just didn’t want to deal with all the nonsense. Sometimes parents just want to be left alone and have time to themselves without having to babysit the rest of the neighborhood. I understood that more as I got older, but I also think letting me host once or twice couldn’t have hurt either.

#11 Content With Compromise

Compromise. I used to be a very black-and-white, right-and-wrong, with-me-or-against-me sort of person, with the high standards and liberal application of judgment to match. I’ve mellowed out, and I’m at a point in my life where empathy matters more to me than principle, most of the time. The hills worth dying on are far between; I find an honest exchange of perspectives much more worthwhile. In the words of Vonnegut, “…babies, you’ve got to be kind.” Fifteen-year-old me would call me a sell-out…but then, I’m free to call fifteen-year-old me an idiot, and we’re pretty much even.

#12 A Red Flag

I remember back in elementary school, we were allowed to draw our ‘dream home’ for fun. I made mine of course, but the thing was, I wanted to put a flag on my ‘dream home’ since many of my classmates had done the same. I, of course, initially had no clue what flag to use, but then I remembered a flag I saw in a history book the day before.

You see, my older sister had received her first homework assignment on the topic of history and I recall looking into her history school book seeing two men marching with a flag. I thought the flag was cool at decided to draw it from memory. However, when the teacher saw the flag I had drawn, she was horrified and demanded that I changed it to something else.

I had no idea why she was mad about that particular flag, no one in the class did. But I did what I was told and promptly removed it in favor of a plain green flag (which just happened to be the flag of Libya at the time). It was only years later when I began learning history in class and got the very same homework my sister had gotten years prior that I realized what I had done. The history homework was about the Third Reich before WWII, by the way.

#13 Great Cost Of Groceries

How expensive groceries are. I used to always try to sneak stuff like Pringles, M&Ms, root beer and cookies into my mom’s cart at the store. But now, when I’m shopping for myself and my girlfriend, I’m always like, “Whoa, are you sure you don’t just want to get store-brand butter?” I can’t fathom how much extra money I cost my parents in needless snack foods.

#14 Baffled By Bills

I could never grasp the concept of breaking change for larger bills. For example: as a kid, we had classroom events where every student was asked to bring $15 for whatever it was the teacher was buying. If my mom gave me three $5 bills and another kid brought a $20 bill, the teacher would take my money, then immediately turn around and hand the other kid one of my $5 bills. In my mind, she was giving my money away. Why is she giving my money away?? Why am I giving money to this other kid?? It took me too long to figure that one out.

#15 Worrying About What People Think

That no one around you really cares about the things you think they do. No one that matters cares about the brand of your clothes. No one is really concerned with the things you are achieving or are not achieving. No one is really concerned about how you look in that outfit. We are all just worried about what everyone else is thinking when no one is really that obsessed with us. When we spend time taking care of our self and not worrying about other people, it becomes easier to follow our own goals, rather than feel trapped by outside pressures. We can genuinely cheer on other people to their own successes.

#16 All Gassed Up

I thought that the price on the sign at the gas station (cost per gallon) was a flat fee to fill up your car. I could NOT understand why adults would get SO worked up over it! It’s only $2.50 for all that gas! Then, my dad told me it was per gallon and I asked how many gallons he needed. Now that I have my own car and commute an hour each way between work and home, I get it.

#17 Sleeping Through Movie Scenes

When I was a kid, I used to get upset at my dad for falling asleep whenever we tried watching a movie together. Now, as an adult, I understand the reason he fell asleep was that he was so tired from working two jobs trying to give me the best childhood he possibly could. On top of that, even though he was exhausted, he still made an effort to try and spend some quality time with me.

#18 Mixed Up About Mortality

Mortality. I remember we had a pet lamb named Bill that sadly passed away the night after we got it. I remember waking up the next morning and I was curious as to why he wouldn’t wake up. My mom said it was because he was no longer with us. I just couldn’t wrap my head around that. “But he’s lying right there,” I thought. “Surely he’ll wake up soon, right?” Because that’s what’s supposed to happen… What is death? How do you die? Why do you die? I just didn’t understand. As you get older, you become privy to the more negative aspects of the world, chief among which was death. Suffice to say, I’ve learned a lot since then.

#19 Faking It And Figuring It Out

Fake it until you make it. Everyone, at least, at some point in their adult life, has no idea what they’re doing. We’re all just figuring it out as we go along. As a kid, adults seemed to have it together at all times. Now, I know many adults who, in fact, do not have it together. Myself included. It’ll take some time to figure things out.

#20 Controversial Conversation Topics

When I watched Charlie Brown’s The Great Pumpkin, I remember Linus specifically saying that you can’t talk to people about religion, politics, and the Great Pumpkin. I didn’t get why you couldn’t talk to people about religion and politics. Now, if I mention my thoughts on our government, there will be a flame war on both sides.

#21 Majors And Minors

My parents told me when my older sister was applying for college: “You should major in what will feed you. You should minor in your passions.” I didn’t get it. I was like, “Isn’t college about finding something you want to do for the rest of your life and following your dreams?” My sister didn’t get it either until she graduated and had no job in her field. But the international business double major that my parents made her take? That fed her and led to her current career, which mixes her passion with something that feeds her.

#22 Clean Environment

I used to hate it when my parents would tell me to clean my room and I’d take hours to do it. I love having a clean room now. I’ve also noticed over time that even something as simple as a messy room could mess with your mental health, as odd as that sounds. Plus, if I didn’t clean my room as a kid, I’d probably never clean my room. No one wants to be in a relationship with a slob.

#23 Closing Time

I would sometimes knock on the door of a retail store asking to come in within a few minutes before closing, and they would always shoo me away. I always thought, “Why wouldn’t you want my money? Don’t you want my money?” After working retail and customer service for years, I now know that no, they don’t want my money, they want to go home.

#24 Seven Eight Nine

That joke: “Why is six afraid of seven? Because seven eight ate nine.” Well, I didn’t understand the whole eight-ate thing, so I thought that six was afraid of seven because seven, eight and nine were bigger numbers. One day, when I was about 18, I explained to someone how stupid I thought this joke was because you could say it about any numbers: “Why is 13 afraid of 14? Because 14, 15, 16,” etc. I had the joke explained to me very slowly as an adult.

#25 Understanding Poverty

Poverty. As a kid, I thought rich people were actually just the middle class. They didn’t have to worry about juggling or prioritizing bills so that various services weren’t cut off, or worry about making layaway payments for a gift, or worry about running out of a basic necessity like hand soap, toilet paper or tampons before payday. They actually had regular doctor and dentist visits, rather than make appointments only when it felt like a life or death situation.

I thought all of that was just normal unless you were rich. As an adult, I realized far too many people, unfortunately, do not have financial security. Despite the work ethic and optimism that many folks in poverty have, most of them will never manage to get ahead. Poverty is inherited just like wealth. and it’s an almost impossible pit to climb out of, no matter how hard you work. It’s a really grim realization.

#26 Marriage Misunderstanding

How marrying works. When I was younger, I thought that when you married someone, you took half of their genes, just like when two people have a kid. I remember being 10 or 11 and telling my dad that, “I want to marry someone who’s Asian.” When he asked why I told him it was because I thought Asian people were cool and I wanted to become one (there was one older Asian girl at my school who I looked up to and thought she was the coolest). Thankfully, my dad educated me about this, but only after he asked me to elaborate and explain what I meant while trying to hold in his laughter.

#27 The Value Of Time

How little meaningful free time people have. There is always overspill work to be done—dumb and tedious chores like laundry or washing up, or odd jobs around the house and simple errands. Actual time to just sit and do nothing seems very limited. It does my nut in and I’m single and childfree. How you do all of that while coordinating multiple young kids is just beyond me.

#28 The Hurt Of Heartbreak

Losing your first love. I had several relationships when I was in school but I can’t say I really loved any of those girls. It hurts really bad for everyone and we all go through it, but man I still feel that pain some days. They say, “There will always be another one,” but sometimes you look back at your past relationships and you figure there was one person who could have been the one.

#29 Finding A Safe Haven

I always used to find it weird that when my dad went to the bathroom to go #2. He would take so long… like, he’d be in there for 45 minutes. Now that I am an adult, I realize that it was one of the only places he could go, to be in silence, away from kids, etc. No one could ever bother him while he as in there going #2. It was his place of solace, and now it’s mine too.

#30 A Clean Return

Cleaning the house before leaving on vacation. I always thought it was such a silly thing to do. Coming home to a clean house after vacation is amazing. When you’re jetlagged and sleepy, the last thing you want to see is a house full of mess and clutter. Do yourself a favor and clean your house before you hop on your flight.

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#31 Reading The Signs

My dad didn’t take forever to read the newspaper because newspapers just have so much stuff to read. He didn’t take ages to read through our homework questions because he was condescending and picky and annoying. He was dyslexic and was trying his best to make sure he was reading the question right so that he could help us properly.

#32 Not Making It Up

My parents wouldn’t let me wear heavy makeup and go out at night with my girlfriends when we were 11 years old. They said, “We trust you but we don’t trust other people,” that was a real thing. I thought it was an underhanded way of saying, “We don’t actually trust you.” It never occurred to me that some random stranger could forcibly take and harm me.

#33 An Explosive Realization

I used to come home from elementary school at lunch hour since I lived so close to school. Transformers was always on at the lunch hour as well, so that made it double awesome. Well, one day, January 28, 1986, to be exact, Transformers was canceled and I was really bummed. This was, of course, the day the space shuttle Challenger exploded. I was 10 and didn’t comprehend what had happened, or why both my parents were staring at the TV with their hands over their mouths. I was just mad I couldn’t see Prime lay the smackdown on some Decepticons.

#34 A Blind Realization

How to properly put down blinds. I have been struggling with them forever. I think my family must have thought it funny because when I would complain, they would agree and say they are so annoying. No one taught me you had to pull to the left to drop them. As a kid, I had windows I didn’t close for months at a time before I got “lucky” and made then fall.

#35 A Cool Idea

How air conditioning and heating “the entire neighborhood” isn’t cost-effective.

#36 The Permanent Mark

My uncle had a blue squiggly line on his finger. I asked him what it was and he explained that it came from a needle. My entire life I went thinking he had an accident and it got infected, causing his skin to change color. A decade or two later, I remembered it and realized he just got a tattoo and tried to explain how a tattoo works instead of just saying it was, in fact, just a tattoo.

#37 Cruel Intentions

That some people are just cruel. I was sent off into the world in grade school without ever even entertaining the notion that someone would be mean. I didn’t even have a concept at all of “making fun of someone.” It was completely alien. Now, I understand that fundamentally all human beings are broken this way, to differing degrees. When we need to feel better about ourselves, the easiest way to do that is to point out someone else’s fault. This is essentially the underlying cause of all humanity’s squabbles, in my opinion.

#38 Roadside Vets

I thought the “homeless vet” signs of panhandlers meant they took care of sick animals. Not my best work.

#39 Surreal Swan Sighting

Swans. I genuinely believed swans weren’t real until age five or six due to, oddly enough, Barbie movies. I knew Barbie movies weren’t real and I had never seen a swan in real life so naturally, I assumed swans simply didn’t exist. The fact that the swans were pink and purple didn’t help matters (for clarification, this notion arose from movies such as Barbie of Swan Lake). You can imagine my surprise when my school bus passed a lake in my neighborhood and I saw a swan swimming around. No one seemed to understand my enthusiasm at discovering swans were in fact, real.

#40 Horrifying Holes

I grew up in Las Vegas during the late ’70s. We lived on the very outskirts of the suburbs. Behind my backyard wall was literally an open desert as far as the eye could see. I was just four or five, and both my parents worked full-time, so I ended up spending a lot of time out there in the desert playing with my Star Wars toys. One day, my friend and I stumbled on two open pits. They were side by side and around six feet deep. We climbed down there and dug little bases for our Star Wars figures. It was just like the trench swing from the movie! We had already been down there for a while when a car pulled up. Two guys got out. They were wearing suits. They looked down and saw us down there, two little kids playing in the dirt. They looked at each other, then one guy said that they’d “have to go dump them somewhere else.” They get back in their car and drive off.

#41 Treasured Time

Time. Specifically the time a parent devotes to their children. My dad spent both days every weekend of my life taking me to football training, football matches, golf, cricket, AND my weekend boozy antics. Now, as a parent of two little ones and a full-time worker, I feel like an absolute jerk for taking so much of his time. I now know how hard it is; how all you want to do is have five minutes.

He worked his butt off all week only to spend the rest of his time ferrying me around. I don’t think I was a brat and never demanded anything, but that feeling of guilt doesn’t go away. Now he’s got dementia. I hope he’s content with how he lived his life. We’re very different people and we don’t often see eye to eye, but his selflessness is the reason I had some amazing experiences and made some amazing friends.

Now’s the time for me to pay him back, and I know exactly how to do it: I will take care of him the way he took care of me. I will spend whatever time and money is required to make him feel comfortable and relaxed, no matter if that means making some sacrifices. Likewise to my mom. She gave up a career to look after us and worked some part-time jobs on the side to pay for holidays. Again, as a parent, I know how hard caring for kids is, with my dad, things aren’t going to get easy any time soon. But, along with my wife, the most selfless woman I know, I have a good feeling we’ll be just fine.

#42 Parents Are People

I didn’t understand that my parents were people too. I looked at them as people that could do no wrong, people that always knew what to do. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I realized that they’re just as lost as I was.

#43 Importance Of Self Love

The biggest thing I realized was if you do not have the “supermodel” genes, you aren’t going to have a supermodel’s figure. Through my teenage years, I always thought that I was chubby, even though I had people asking me how I was so skinny. I thought that if I didn’t look like the Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, then I must be fat.

It didn’t hit me how wrong I was until my dad’s funeral. My sister-in-law made a collage of different pics of my dad and other people. I was looking at it and all of a sudden I thought, “Who’s that skinny blonde with my dad!?” And it really bothered me that someone was on his memorial board that he wasn’t close to. So I finally asked who it was. And yes, it was me.

That really shocked me because I thought I was chubby. But there it was, in color, a very skinny girl… me. So, if you are currently thinking you’re chubby, you probably aren’t, you are just trying to compete with something you may never have. Be happy with who you are. I look back on my teen years and I think of ALL THE WASTED TIME worrying about being overweight when I really wasn’t.

#44 Cats And Dogs

That all dogs are not male and all cats are not female. And they can’t have babies together. I was embarrassingly old when I discovered this.

#45 The Lesson Of Learning

You always have to keep learning. You don’t just automatically become smart as an adult. You have to keep reading and learning and listening to people that are smarter than you. You can’t just let your mind stagnate.

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