The Baby Steps to 'Adulting'

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

Photo by {artist}/{collectionName} / Getty Images

by Renee Reese

When I was in college, I remember seeing people a few years older than me tweeting about paying bills and making appointments.  As a self-righteous nineteen-year-old, whose mom was paying her cell phone bill, I thought “hmmm isn’t that what you’re supposed to be doing? Do you want an award for being an adult?”  And now, full of more wisdom and law school loan debt, I get it.  Being financially stable, having a life of your own, and successfully "adulting" feels good.

These days, young adults are expected to have full-time jobs,  side hustles that generate multiple streams of income, give back to the community, work out four to five times a week, have a hobby or two, run half-marathons, meal prep, be a good friend, know general life skills, think about vision, dreams, goals, and recover from childhood trauma, if necessary. It gets messy, tiring, and overwhelming.  It’s enough to make us just want to snuggle up with Netflix for days at a time. What’s a millennial to do?

1.    Don’t compare.

One of the contributing factors of the stress of "adulting" is comparison.  There are parts of your life that may look different from everyone around you.  Only you know your income and expenses.  Your family obligations.  Your priorities and goals. It may not look like anyone else’s, but that’s okay.   At any given point, you probably know someone who is a full-time entrepreneur, someone who is married to the love of their life, someone who went to law school, someone who paid off her student loan debt in a year, and someone who might be all of those things.   Staring at someone else’s path isn’t going to make yours any easier.  You may not be where you want to be, but be the best adult you can be right where you are.  Whether that’s living with your parents, struggling to figure out how to pay your taxes, or successfully running a blog. No matter your goal, find a system that works best for you and your situation

2.    Ask for help.  

Just because you’re not comparing yourself to anyone doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for help.  Don’t stick your head in the sand and pretend that’s nothing happening.  Don’t assume that your retirement, your mortgage, or relationship issues will work out without your deliberate effort. If you need help on a certain adulting issue, first google it.  Take your time to do some research.  Take one topic at a time and find out what works for your situation. If you have friends or mentors who are awesome at something you’re struggling with, ask them how they got there and see how their advice can apply to your situation.

3.    Prioritize.

Warren Buffet suggests working on your top five goals while avoiding all your other goals at all costs.  The purpose of this is to force you to focus and not get bogged down with wanting to do too much at once.   You can set a million goals, but they may never get done because you’re not focused enough to follow through on even the most important ones.   Prioritizing and taking baby steps is essential if you don’t want to get overwhelmed and burnt out.

4.    Ask yourself hard questions. 

Think about what you believe about yourself, about others, and about life.  Live intentionally by noticing what you’re doing and reflecting on why. 

5.    Learn how to handle rejection well. 

As we navigate adulthood, one of the things that will inevitably pop up is rejection.  Whether you’re rejected from your dream job, dumped out of nowhere, or have a friend breakup, rejection is part of life.  Know that rejection does not have to be a reflection of who you are, but learn from each situation as it arises.

6.    Save $1000. 

No matter how lofty or modest your financial goals, you should absolutely have an emergency fund.  This is from Dave Ramsey’s money managing system, and it makes sense.  You never know when something may happen to your car, health, or job and having some money stashed away will only make an emergency situation easier.

7.    Learn how to give yourself margin. 

When it comes to time or money, it’s easy to feel like there’s never enough.  You must give yourself boundaries if you’re going to function well.  So, sometimes say no to hanging out after work.  Turn down that awesome volunteer experience if you have too much on your plate.  Set up a budget that works for you and stick with it.  Try to pay off your credit cards on time and give your bank account a little breathing room.

8.    Please just go to the doctor. 

I’m the worst at this, but getting checkups is important.  Apps like ZocDoc makes it easy to book appointments, search doctors based on your insurance, and read lots of reviews.

9.    Read. 

If there’s a topic you’re interested in or want to learn more about, I guarantee there’s a book about it.  Books can be life-changing.  Some have helped me to communicate better and wake up earlier.  Others have helped me to reflect, heal, laugh, and grow.  If you think reading isn’t for you, podcasts can also be a great way to gain new wisdom.

10.  Just do it. 

Remember all the things you’ve always wanted to do?  You should do them.  Traveling to a new country, learning how to cook, taking a martial arts class, learning a new language, reading the Harry Potter Series.  Whatever it is, put it on the calendar and make a plan to get it done, one baby step at a time.

11.  Take care of your emotional health. 

This could be something as simple as not reaching for your phone first thing in the morning so that you can take time to be still or taking a Sabbath day each week to simply enjoy what you love.  It could also be more complex, like going to counseling and healing from anything in your past that is still showing up in your present.

12. Take care of your body. 

It’s easy to feel bombarded with all of the information out there regarding nutrition and working out.  My advice is to find what works for your body.  What makes your body feel most alive?  Do that.  Your health matters.  So drink more water, cut down on processed and fast foods and listen to your body.

13.  Enjoy the process. 

These days, I don’t judge when people tweet about adulting; in fact, I’m probably one of those people. Adulting can be hard, but it’s fun too.  Not knowing where these next few years can take us. Learning, growing, making mistakes.  Figuring out exactly who we are.  Creating, traveling, drinking lots of coffee, and being hopeful for the future.  This is your life; don’t spend it wishing it away. Be present and enjoy this messy adventure of a process.

Being financially stable, saving, and paying off our debt are all good goals.  Going to the doctor when we should, discovering what we’re passionate about, and learning how to treat ourselves and other people are all parts of growing up.  But landing your dream job, being debt free, and getting married isn’t enough.  More important than all of that is deciding what kind of “adult” we want to be.  The kind who compares and tears down others?   The kind who says “yes” to everything but is secretly overwhelmed and burnt out? The kind who is content with being in the moment and finding joy in every season? The kind who wants to take care of herself? The kind who creates a vision of a full life and tries to live it out? Decide who you want to be.  As podcaster Tracy G says, show up for yourself. Do this and crossing things off your “adulting” list will become much easier.