November 28, 2016

Five Lessons Learned as a 24-Year-Old

I’ll be honest, I prefer being an adult.

Some of my friends were so anxious about adult life, they considered studying more just to avoid it. I was a third through senior year at Syracuse University and was eager to graduate. I’d found a new career I enjoyed, and was tired of required classes and resume polishing. I wanted to give the adult side of life a shot.

Plus, my nightmares about getting lost in high school hallways before class, not studying for tests, or forgetting projects by due dates become much less scary.

Now I’m relieved adult life is actually better than school life for me. I focus more on what I enjoy, work deadlines are still important but happen less, and I don’t get meals from vending machines. Some bits I don’t like, such as paying for food and insurance, dealing with car issues, and being more “responsible.” But overall the pros outweigh the cons.

But there’s still some parts I wasn’t prepared for - lessons it taught me I wish I’d learned beforehand. So for my year-and-a-half celebration of adulthood, these are the five most important lessons I learned post-school. I pass them onto you, reader of a presumably similar age, in the hopes you learn them for your adult life too.

If you already know them, or are young enough to not care, please continue reading anyway as a birthday present to me!

You Don’t Need the Answers Right Away

My most frustrating times have been when I felt my life wasn’t exactly what I wanted, which was:

  • a career that’s financially secure, challenging, and helped others in need.
  • part of a professional community that kept me active, engaged, and networking.
  • a social life with new experiences and interesting people.
  • a popular online presence for creatively expressing myself.

If you feel lost for the first years as an adult, that’s fine as long as you still keep moving.

That’s a tall order, and I believed it’d come right after graduation. Turns out, progress is ongoing but (utterly) slow. Many in my generation likely feel the same. Either that expectation bubble pops, or one grows up increasingly frustrated that their high expectations aren’t met.

I can’t say when this realization will, or can, happen for my fellow millennials, but it happened for me early this year. I still haven’t given up on reaching this better life, but I’ve accepted three things:

  1. I won’t get there fast, if at all.
  2. I won’t know how to get there right away.
  3. It won’t be perfect.

Maybe someday I’ll get that “amazing” life. Maybe not. One thing I’m sure of is I don’t need to know how it’ll all happen right away. That’ll come in time, if at all.

This tough lesson leads right to the next one…

Count Your Blessings

Every person has certain things to be thankful for, some more than others. No matter where one falls on the spectrum, they shouldn’t take them for granted.

In my case I have lots to be thankful for. I went to a good school, have a steady job I enjoy, don’t have any major health or legal concerns, have a decent car for my own transport, have the time and resources to enjoy some hobbies, and know where my next meals are coming from.

I’ve got plenty of privileges, both in my identity and upbringing, and most outside my control. I owe where I am now to them. The more I think about how I got to this point, the more I realize I have little to truly be upset about.

While I have more than many, most people have at least a few blessings in their lives, whether its how they live or who it’s with. Whatever they are, be thankful while they’re around, because…

Assume Things Will Change

It’s easy to think that, once things are going well, they’ll stay that way. I’d get into a pleasant routine for a week before something throws it off - a car issue, a deadline change, or a sudden meeting. These frustrations have been the roughest of my young adult life.

The best way around them is to always assume change will happen at any moment. Be prepared for as many situations as possible. Most importantly, keep your thoughts and plans flexible.

Keep your thoughts and plans for life flexible.

This has helped in most of my life. I don’t get attached to any new technology since a better once often arrives later. I frequently reshuffle my schedule to avoid wasting time. I try to get the most important 20% of my day done as early so I’m freer for the rest. It’s all about freeing up options and possibilities so whenever the unexpected hits, one doesn’t falter (as much).

Our Habits Define Much of Us

Most people likely don’t think much about their habits. It’s not surprising, since by definition they’re actions we do with almost no awareness. This makes up almost half of what we do each day. Habits are worth caring about.

The biggest reason habits matter, in my opinion, is their effects build up overtime and will define a person. Over time, someone in the habit of walking every day will be much healthier than someone in the habit of watching TV each day. Habits of willpower, reading, and creativity helps a lot in the long run. Habits of impulsiveness, video watching, and consumption do the opposite.

Habits are the building blocks to one’s foundation. As a young adult, now is the time to change them. Otherwise much of life will be a struggle against them.

Live Authentically

Perhaps my favorite lesson is living authentically. But it sounds generic - what does it mean? A section from “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” sums it up well.

The author Stephen Covey says people have a center we get our values from. There’s many possible centers: family, money, work, church, possessions, pleasure, even ourselves. Our center affects our decisions, opinions, motivation, and happiness.

Some are arguably better than others, but all have a common downside: our value and happiness all come from elements ultimately outside of our control. For example, someone money-centered is only as fulfilled if they have lots of money, and circumstances often limit this. No matter what we do, Covey argues these centers have limits built into them, and we risk not being fulfilled. We’re surrendering some degree of control over our happiness and value.

Live more by your own principles instead of letting people, items, or institutions control how you live.

Covey argues we should be principle-centered - living by prime principles to guide our beliefs, motivations, decisions, happiness, and value. This avoids the other centers’ issue - living based on principles means our value comes more from one’s actions and less than one’s circumstances. No matter the outcome, or where we go in life, we can still have a sense of happiness and value.

While I don’t believe one should base 100% of their lives around principles, I believe the majority of one’s happiness should be. We can’t ignore money and friendships, after all, but our lives shouldn’t fall to pieces if we struggle with them. Making principles the prime center of ones life helps ensure we live a stable, meaningful life that’s true to one’s identity, despite struggles or changes.

You may be curious the principles I base my life around. Well…that’s a post for another birthday!