Maverick Life

BOOK REVIEW

What is ‘adulting’? Jen Thorpe’s new book teaches you how to do it

"Adulting 101" by Jen Thorpe book cover. Image: Supplied

‘Adulting 101’ by Jen Thorpe unpacks how everyone can tackle the difficult, and sometimes scary, reality that is being an adult in today’s world.

What does it mean to be an adult? What should we know before we start living on our own? A matric certificate doesn’t mean you know how to get a tax number from SARS; time at university might not tell you how much sleep you should really be getting; it might not tell you how to best prepare for retirement either. 

Jen Thorpe’s new book, Adulting 101, is the cheat sheet you never knew you needed to survive adulthood and, in the process, help build the life you want. 

“I think we’re bombarded with information 24/7 via the internet and social media, and it can make us feel like we have to know everything right now, otherwise we’re failing,” Thorpe says. 

“A book like this is important because it presents the information we need in small, bite-size chunks, and it’s informed by research. So it helps to cut through some of the noise about what we need to take care of ourselves in this crazy world.” 

Thorpe began the project in early 2021 when she saw a need for practical advice in tackling the adult world. “I was working from home and doing housework in between real work and I started to think about how tough it was to adult – having to constantly attend to chores of some kind, or know things about what is and isn’t good for us. I imagined how much nicer it would be if there was some sort of guide for us all to just make things a little easier. Then I thought, hey, I could write one.  

“I suppose I was inspired by just how boring and tedious so much of adulting is, and I wanted to make it easier for everyone, including myself.”

Thorpe is a feminist writer and researcher by profession, having contributed to Nasty Women Talk Back, a collection of essays by Joy Watson and Amanda Gouws, edited books such as Living While Feminist and has written numerous academic articles on gender in South Africa. Adulting 101 contains handy graphics that break down attachment styles, tables summarising the pros and cons of buying versus renting a home, and bullet-point lists of information that make some daunting topics feel more manageable. And for every topic, there are further reading notes to explore or access more resources with. 

“It’s a habit for me to note where I get information from and to direct people to further reading. I started out by making a plan of the topics I wanted and then I spent time researching each one, looking for interesting and novel information but also the essential stuff you needed to know about the topic.”

For the reader, breaking down themes like health, relationships and finances makes Adulting 101 easily consumable. It does not need to be read from cover to cover, but you can come back to it again and again as you move through your own life. 

Adulting 101 has no age limit. As someone who is just shy of being in their “mid-twenties”, it will stay on my bookshelf for years to come. But as Thorpe aptly says, there is “stuff we all need to know, regardless of how many wrinkles we have lining our eyes”. Whether you are stepping out of school or have been part of the “real world” for some time, there is something for everyone. 

“I think it will be great for younger readers because it provides essential information that they’ll need and have to learn at some point,” Thorpe says, such as contracts, budgeting and consent. 

“But, I think older adults will benefit too – there is information on fertility, on climate change, crime, and participating as an active citizen.” 

Thorpe adds that she continues to benefit from Adulting 101 in her own life. Having recently had a child herself, she says: “Being a parent feels like ADVANCED adulting, even though I’m only very new at it. 

“This book has influenced my parenting because I know that when I’m feeling overwhelmed, there are key things I have to do to take care of my mental health – try to sleep when I can, take deep breaths and move my body. So it’s helped me to take care of myself. It’s also made me think a lot about what information we just don’t get about parenting before we are parents, which is an awful lot.  

“I think, for my child, as he grows up, one of the most important parts of the book is the crisis section – dealing with climate change and fake news are already things we have to deal with right now, and they’re only going to get much more significant as he ages. I hope the tips on consent and safe and good sex are absorbed by everyone of the next generation too.”

When asked what she learnt from researching and writing Adulting 101, Thorpe goes back to basics. 

“Two essential things – sleep as much as you can. Never neglect sleep for any other activity. And two – take deep breaths through your nose. This takes care of your health in significant ways.” 

It sounds simple, but throughout the book, Adulting 101 brings the complex to the reader’s level, starting from the bottom, step by step. In this way, Thorpe instils a message that anything is possible and every challenge is surmountable. 

“I hope readers take away a sense of achievement – being an adult is not easy, but when you have a few tools in your toolbelt, it can be a little easier to manage.” DM/ML

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