A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine graduated. There was a ceremony and everything, square hats were tossed into the air, tacky bouquets with a plush bear sitting among the roses were cradled like babies for the benefit of the photos. All in all, it was a very joyous and celebratory occasion. As a friend, I thought I’d do my part, and so I sent her this:
Graduation’s as good a milestone as any to mark one’s journey into adulthood. From there on, it’s finally time to do all the adult things: Have adult conversations. Take on adult responsibilities. Watch adult videos. Eat adult food.
Let me tell you something universally true: None of us adults really feel like an adult. Not at first, at least; and some of us never do. Adulting is kind of like having confidence: You pretend like you have it all under control and just fake it ‘till you make it, if you ever do. This is where the rubber meets the road for most of us. This is the part where your day to day habits begin to really matter. For everything you choose to do or not do, there are now very real consequences to deal with.
If it sounds daunting, that’s because it is. The adult world is dark and full of terrors with taxes to file, interviews to attend, presentations to make; and truth be told, all of us could use a little help getting from Point A to Point B.
That’s why we’re here today. Welcome, boys and girls, to the foundation-level course in the school of hard knocks: Adulting 101. We’re going to go basic here. I’m talking about elementary stuff; fundamental skills you should have as a well-rounded adult:
1. CONSIDER YOUR LOVED ONES
You might have expected point number one to be “GET A JOB”, but that’s not how we roll around here. If you ask me, relational considerations have to come before career considerations for this simple reason: You can always change jobs, but you’ll be hard pressed to change families or social circles.
Here’s something else that’s universally true about becoming an adult: Your group of friends will simply evaporate. It’s not because you suddenly stop caring for each other, nothing like that – when you’re in college, you’re pretty much forced to come into contact with one another, which facilitates the whole process of building and maintaining relationships.
After college, you might think that it’s a small matter of just calling each other out, but in reality, you will find your own things to do and your friends will find theirs. Suddenly hanging out together becomes a whole lot harder, and soon you’ll realise that you’ve completely lost touch with all but a precious few of your mates. It’s not a tragic thing as much as it is a fact of life, of growing up.
So what does that leave you with? A bunch of close friends… and your family. These people are what your shrink will call your ‘support system’. If and when your world caves in around you, and your shoulders can bear the burden no more, these are the people who will be there to shoulder the weight with you until you’re strong enough to handle it on your own again. Later on, they will also need your help to shoulder the weights they cannot on their own.
In what way does this require you to grow up? Simply put, you will have to make an effort from this point on. You will not naturally find opportunities to spend time or make conversation like you did before, so you will have to create them.
And when you’re choosing a career path, you will also have to weigh the demands of your career against this. Will you have time to be a social creature? Will your job take you physically away from your support system? These are things you will have to consider.
2. GET YOUR FINANCES IN ORDER
You might have expected point number two to be “GET A JOB”, but that’s really only part of a bigger picture. An integral part of being an adult is the ability to sort out one’s own finances – getting a job simply makes that a lot easier.
If your relatives haven’t started asking yet, expect them to start asking real soon: Have you found a job? What’s your plan now? Have you prepared your resume? Are you going to start attending job interviews soon? It’s enough to drive a person mad. Depending on your preferences and your degree of affluence, you may choose to take a number of months off before jumping into the working world, but you cannot run from this forever.
Getting a job is a lot like dating. There are plenty of perfectly good jobs out there, just like how there are plenty of perfectly good boys and girls; but not all of them are going to be right for you, neither are you going to be right for all of them. This is what hours of boring college work have trained you for: Listing stuff down!
There you go through the mind-numbing process of sifting through the job listing and creating a shortlist of jobs that are compatible with your skills, qualifications and disposition.
Luckily for you, this has been made a lot easier in the information age, and you no longer have to go through the newspaper classifieds like people of yesteryear used to. This very site is a career resource site; and on top of that, off the top of my head, there’s LinkedIn which will prove invaluable to your job search.
Just like choosing a boy or a girl to date, don’t just go and grab the first one that would accept you. Do your homework, be patient, be persistent in your efforts. And if all else fails, do what you’d do if you were on Tinder: Lower your standards and try again.
Once you have a full-time job and a steady income, it’s time to pat yourself on the back – you already halfway through with getting your finances in order.
What’s the other half you may say? That’s the harder part: Creating a budget and sticking to it.
When you’re a student and you have to ask your parents for money because you’ve already spent all your allowance before the month is through, that’s still kind of okay, even if your parents might chastise you for it. When you become an adult however, this sort of thing crosses from “frowned upon” territory into “morbidly horrifying”.
If anything, especially within the Asian culture, the money is now expected to flow the other way. You’ll be expected to start giving your parents money and helping out with the household expenses. And when you take up a car loan and sign up for an insurance plan, that’s going to be another dent in your take-home income.
I could go on and on about this, and it honestly deserves its own article or even series; but for now, trust me on this one: Create a budget and stick to it. To this end, I highly recommend you download and begin using the free ‘Expense Manager’ app. At the beginning of every month, before you even do anything with your paycheck, set aside the amount you’ll need to tide you over into the next month AFTER paying all your bills.
If after deducting all the things for which you’ll have to pay, you’re discouraged and depressed by the measly sum that’s left behind – congratulations! You’re one step closer to becoming a true blue adult!
3. KEEP YOUR MIND ACTIVE
If going to work and going home are the only things you do all week, that’s what I call an express train towards an early mid-life crisis.
Before becoming an adult, hobbies were just something you had for fun; but now they serve a much higher purpose: Keeping you sane. If you’re like me, you might say your hobby is watching movies or TV shows, and there’s nothing wrong with that. To keep your mind active, though, you’ll also have to keep your hands busy. So pick up a sport or a craft – badminton or basketball or woodworking or underwater basket-weaving. Anything that isn’t work, but keeps your mind engaged and hands busy.
Another way to do this is to pick up a new skill. There are dedicated communities to any hobby you can imagine all around the internet, if not all around town. Maybe you want to take music lessons, or you want to learn how to make your own homebrew. Maybe you enjoy creating your own little radio show, or you’d like to learn how to swing a big-ass sword around (Disclaimer: This is illegal in most public places). Whatever you choose, make sure it keeps your mind engaged and your hands at work.
Hey, if you enjoy it and become sufficiently good at doing it, it could even become a legitimate thing to do on the side to supplement your income.
4. TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY
The difference between a kid and an adult is this: A kid hates the idea of going to bed by 10pm. An adult can’t think of anything more wonderful.
Between spending time with your loved ones, clocking in hours at the office to convert into ka-ching, and working to keep your mind active; you’ll find that at the end of the day, you would have no more energy to do anything but surrender to the soft embrace of your sweet, sweet bed.
As a busy adult, the first thing you will be tempted to neglect is your physical health. After all, you’re in your 20s, in the pink of health. You have no strange aches in your body, no problems with your back. But remember: This is where habits become important.
Thanks to the increasing awareness of the importance of physical health, gyms are more available now at more competitive prices than ever before. Doctors have been recommending 30 minutes of light cardio 3 times a week for general health since the 80s, and this hasn’t changed, so get your ass out that door and work those legs.
If you have no idea what to do to get started, the internet and your resident gym bros are treasure troves of knowledge about getting and keeping fit. Get out there, stomp on those treadmills until your sweat blinds your eyes and lift those weights until you can’t feel your arms anymore, because RM80 a month for the gym is a hell lot cheaper than the doctor’s bill later on if you don’t take care of your body.
Arguably more important than getting regular exercise, you need to watch your diet. If your diet consisted of nothing but McDonald’s and Starbucks before this, it’s a wonderful thing that you’re still alive – but it’s time to start being aware of what you’re putting into your body, because that’s what you’re gonna get out of it. And it’s the only body you have. Technology hasn’t reached the stage where we can transplant minds into new bodies.
Apps like ‘MyFitnessPal’ can give you pretty good information about your diet and the things your body needs to function optimally. But if you’re looking for a one-size-fits-all advice on good eating habits, here’s something I read from the internet:
Eat food. Not too much of it, mainly fruits and vegetables.
See? Super simple stuff.
5. FIND YOUR ZEN
And now we’ve come to this.
Look, adulting can be pretty hard, even overwhelming at times. This is where, as the Zen Master would say, you’ll need to learn to find your centre.
It’s difficult to assign advice for this because everyone finds their centre in different ways. Some of you may find it in the middle of a crowd out on the dance floor with house music blasting through ceiling-mounted speakers. Some of you may find it in a good book with a mug of hot tea within arm’s reach. Some of you may find it in the solitude of nature. To each their own ay?
Many aspects of adulthood demand that you think ahead – to see what’s down the road and anticipate what’s around the bend. All this thinking and worrying and stressing over the future plays a big role in adults stressing and burning out, so what you need to find is something that keeps you, even if momentarily, in the present; where you simply lose yourself by becoming so immersed in the moment. That’s what it’s about.
Wow! That’s a lot to think about – I thought you said this was going to be easy!
My sweet summer child, this is easy compared to the other adult things you’ll have to deal with further down the road. Really though, it all boils down to doing these three things:
Managing Stress – Learning how to deal with pressure and tackle problems one step at a time without imploding or exploding.
Managing Time – Learning how to prioritise things in terms of their importance and urgency; getting disciplined and giving up the habit of procrastination.
Soldiering On – Learning how to do the things you don’t really want to do but have to do them anyway.
This doesn’t sound like fun. This wasn’t what I signed up for! I want to go back to being a kid again!
Tough. But hey, consider this: When you were growing up, all you did was take from the world. You lived off your parents’ money. You relied on the kindness of others to get by. You were entertained at the expense of another person’s efforts. You were a full time consumer, just taking in everything and anything the world could offer.
There are fewer of those things now. But the thing about adulthood is that it puts you in the unique position to begin giving back to the world. You can now give money to your parents, even take care of them. Your kindness can help someone else get through a difficult day. You can create things – music, stories, art – to entertain and captivate the attention of others. You can now be a contributor to the world, not just a consumer.
You now have something to offer the world. And isn’t that something.