By: Tess Brigham (see bio here)
If you’ve been out of school for at least a year or two you now know the hard truth…that all of that stuff you learned in school (how to dissect a triangle, the historical dates you memorized, the hours you spent writing and re-writing essays, etc.) none of it is useful when you’re “adulting.”
That's not to say I'm against schooling. My college years were some of the best years of my life, but once I graduated and entered the “real world,” I quickly realized that all of those hours I spent figuring out which number is x and which is y hasn't actually helped me navigate the world as an adult.
As someone who counsels and coaches young adults, and has survived my own quarter-life crisis (another story for another time), here are the five (5) lessons I wished I learned much earlier:
1) The 20-Something years are about discovery and exploration
When you graduate from school, you think to yourself, “OK…I’ve got to find an amazing job and have my career path set and then meet my soul mate, be engaged (if not married), have a fabulous apartment and wardrobe and a huge circle of friends, all by the time I turn 30.”
If this is the running thought in your head, I’m here to tell you this isn’t how you should be spending your 20-something years. Your twenties is a time of exploration and discovery. Your job right now is to learn who you are and what you want and, let me tell you, when you’re a young adult that’s not an easy task.
The hardest part about the 20-something years is all the unknowns. Not knowing if you’re in the right career. Not knowing if you’re in the right relationship. Not knowing if you're in the right city or town. Not knowing if you’ll ever find the right career or relationship or place to live. Some days life feels amazing, as if nothing could bring you down. Other days…not so much.
This is an important but critical time in your life, don’t run from it or hide from it, instead recognize that it’s not always going to look very pretty, but despite the hardships it's going to be worth the trouble in the end.
Let go of this belief that you have to know every answer in every part of your life and instead give yourself permission to start to uncover the unknowns. You can’t know if a job is “right” for you until you do it and you can’t know if a person is “the one” without committing to the relationship.
This is your time to try on a lot of different hats (i.e. jobs, relationships, cities) in order to determine what you like and don’t like, who you are and who you aren’t, and (most importantly) what you want and don’t want your life to look like when you turn 30.
2) There’s no is one “right” life or career path
“How do I know if I’m going in the right direction?” This is a question I hear over and over again from my clients. There’s this myth that there is only one life path or career path for you and if you start walking down the wrong path…look out…because your life or your career is over.
Today I’m granting you permission to let go of this idea that there is one and only one “right” path for you because you’re going to change in so many ways in the next decade. What you want for your life today isn’t necessarily what you’re going to want a year from now or even five years from now, and that's totally okay.
When you find yourself feeling worried about your life/career path, the better question to ask yourself is: “How do I feel today about where I am, and if I look a year into the future and stay on this path, do I like what I see?” Now you may be thinking: “I hate where I am and I don’t like what I see but I don’t know which way to go and I fear making the wrong decision!” That’s OK because guess what…
3) There are no “right” or “wrong” decisions
There are no “right” or “wrong” decisions…just the decisions you make.
There are few decisions in life that lock you in for life. Having a child is a big one. Committing a heinous crime is another. Everything else can be undone. You can quit a job. You can leave a relationship or city. You can grow your hair out again.
Yes, you could make the decision to leave your current job and your new job could suck even more. That absolutely can happen and yes, again, that would suck. Yet, imagine if you stand still and fear the worst?
By taking a chance in life, you gain valuable information about yourself. This dream job you’ve been fantasizing about, well you now know that it’s not for you and to be honest, that's awesome and valuable information for you to learn. Because now you can let go of that life and/or career path, which allows you to focus on a better suited path.
Another plus for making a life-changing decision such as this is that you’re building up your self-confidence. Confidence is like a muscle, and like all muscles the more you exercise it, the stronger it will become.
Even if the decision didn’t work out the way you hoped, you did something very brave and took a chance which takes confidence. Simply taking action takes confidence. The more you take action, the easier it will get and the more your confidence will grow and grow.
4) Stop looking for happiness and start focusing on meaning
Life isn’t a race to the most impressive job title or having the most beautiful person on your arm…those things are nice but they ultimately won’t make you happy.
In 2013 a study was published in an issue of the Journal of Positive Psychology in which psychological scientists asked nearly 400 Americans from ages 18 to 78 whether they thought their lives were meaningful and/or happy.
So, what did the researchers find? “While happiness is an emotion felt in the here and now, it ultimately fades away, just as all emotions do; positive affect and feelings of pleasure are fleeting.”
Yep, that’s right…happiness is fleeting. It’s an emotion and there are many events that happen to us and the people we love that are out of our control. For better or worse, no one gets through life without pain, frustration, or heartache and that is a good thing.
Someone once said to me, “In order to experience true happiness, you have to experience true sadness.” That has stuck with me for over 20 years because it’s a reminder that what makes happiness and joy so special is knowing what pain and sadness feels like.
If you can instead focus on creating meaning, then you’ll have something tangible to fall back on when things get rough. Not only will you realize you can survive the rough times, the happiness and joy you’ll feel will be even sweeter.
5) Your mindset and how you see things is everything
There is one thing in life you have complete control over and that’s your mindset. Your mindset determines how you react and behave towards the people, situations, and events of your everyday life.
Your mind is incredibly powerful and you (and only you) can decide how you’re going to see and feel and eventually, react to the people and events around you each day.
Have you ever walked into a party and thought to yourself, “There are so many cool people here and I love the music.” Before you can take a step towards the dance floor, your friend is uttering under her breath, “Ugh…these people are so lame and this is the music my mother listens to.”
The party is same, the music, the people, everything…what’s different is each of you has your own perception of what is cool, what is “good” music, and what makes for a great party.
Some of you relate to the friend…the skeptic…the ultimate hater of all things conventional and fun. If you think this is just “how you are” then you’re wrong. This is how you decide to see things.
That same friend could have walked into the party and thought, “This isn’t my favorite music but it might be fun to dance to and I don’t see anyone I know so I hope once I talk to some people they turn out to be pretty cool.” By doing that, your friend just shifted her mindset.
Shifting your mindset doesn’t mean you have to like things or pretend to be happy when you’re not. It’s about being able to see the positives in things, having on open mind and not pre-judging people or events.
You can’t control other people and what they do or do not do but you can control what you think and believe. You can make any situation better by shifting your perceptions and giving things a chance. Imagine what could happen if you opened yourself up to new people and events.
Ultimately, the biggest myth about “adulting” is that you’ll wake up one day and think to yourself, “I got this…I now know everything there is to know about being an adult.” There is no magic formula and there is no one hiding behind the curtain, but if you incorporate even one of these life lessons, the journey through adulthood will be so much easier.
Tess is a Therapist & Coach and her mission is to help young women figure out who they are and what they want so they can have the lives they truly desire. If you’re trying to find your own career or life path check out her free Find Your Path quiz or check out Day 1 of her 30-Day Challenge, “Out with the Old and In with the YOU.”