There are no adults, there’s only us

Michelle Obama recently made a statement about how she’s been at many powerful tables, and the people there “are not that smart”. The quote made the rounds — there were both who felt empowered and validated by her words, and there were also those who used it to attack her (of course). Her comment reminded me of this thing I read somewhere years ago: there are no adults, there’s only us. I keep coming back to this idea, reminding myself, trying to fully internalize it.

“There are no adults, there’s only us” means that there is nobody coming to save us. Nobody to tell us what to do. No-one to give us a magical silver bullet to make everything right.

It means that everybody is struggling the way we are. Despite appearances, others are having the same problems, doubts, disappointments. They don’t have The Right Answer any more than we do.

It means that if we want to change things, it is entirely up to us. We are in charge of our own lives. Sometimes it might not feel that way, and there are certainly constraints we but up against, but we are in charge of ourselves. (And, collectively, we are in charge of society, the economy, the environment, the planet.)

I confess that being in charge is not my favorite thing. It’s hard work, and it is uncertain work. Often we only get to choose between bad and less bad. If you’re in charge, when you fuck up there is nobody else to blame. So we avoid it. I avoid it. We’d often rather believe that there is someone out there that knows the answer, that knows how to fix things. If only we do a little bit more research, or get the right advice, then we could get that thing we want so much, without risking failure.

It took me way too long to fully get this idea, to start to internalize it. I kept wanting to believe that others that were older or more “senior” or “experienced” must know the right answers, that only if I got to be as wise as they were, then everything would become less muddy. Even today, I still often wish someone would just tell me what to do. But no. There are no adults, it’s just you and me. Terrifying, mostly, but also exhilarating.

random thought