Note: This was an article I wrote for a website that never made it to publication.
Rather than see my hard work disappear in my files, I’m posting it here.
I don’t know why I got fielded this topic. I just turned 29 in February and while I have assumed some of the external trappings of adult life, my husband and I still sleep on a mattress on a floor, do Kraft Mac & Cheese lunches, and struggle with the concept of an “emergency fund.”
At the same time, I will acknowledge that we’ve also hit some milestones that required big boy and big girl pants-wearing: clocking in almost 4 years of marriage, getting married with a budget under P150,000 (it’s still one of my prouder moments), being financially independent, living on our own, ditching stable corporate jobs to pursue our own business, and finally, planning for a terrifying bundle of joy due this September.
My husband and I also had a pretty extended adolescence during our 20s (read: life looked too much like a Judd Apatow production), so when we made the decision to “grow up,” we had a lot of catching up to do and the lessons to be had were often painful and difficult.
If you’re anything like us, we’re the type that lamented the first five years of our 20s then reached a breaking point where we wanted to go after the ideals and values that really meant something to us. This can look different to any person but the crazy thing is that there will be common threads among all of us trying to achieve this, and this is my attempt to break it all down.
1. Know Your Currency
This is another way of saying, “know your values, know what you want.” Usually they’re going to match things about yourself that already come naturally to you. In my case, I love my chosen career (design), I am devoted to anything that has to do with an inner life (empathy, spirituality, connectedness, what makes people tick), and I value relationships and experiences (over material gains and successes). This is my currency. It’s what I value and what I dispense the best. When I had that awareness, my life choices started centering themselves around these things.
It’s why I got married early, it’s why I work from home, and it’s why my yearly vacations are infrequent but ridiculously long (I like taking off for weeks, at least). Your currency may look a lot different from mine, but once you know what it is, you’d be surprised at how making decisions become a lot easier to you.
2. Figure Out Your Relationship Rhythm
Once you know what your currency is, then it also becomes easier figuring out who you are in relation to people and what your boundaries are. My husband is a great match for me because he’s emotional, sensitive, and a deep thinker. He also loves people, has an appalling sense of humor, and is a good traveller. He syncs well with my currencies and is enough of my opposite to keep things interesting (I fall on a different part of the spectrum: I have no filter, I’m confrontational, I don’t do hugs well, and I have a tendency to intellectualize my emotions).
The people who are incompatible with my currency have naturally slipped away over the years. You also become more secure in standing up for yourself when people are being pricks because you’re learning what you can and cannot put up with. On the plus side, you also have an awareness of the kinds of people you work with best and you learn to be more sensitive to the ones who don’t.
Which leads to my number 3:
3. Nail Conflict Resolution
Before you turn 30, it would be great if you have already mastered the proper way to process and vent your feelings (no more passive aggressive statuses on social media, please!) and the way to gracefully end things with people (whether it’s a break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend or a best friend, it’s no different).
It means being able to own up your responsibilities, to be clear about your feelings, and to avoid unnecessary drama. It means being able to see the humanity in people we tend to render in 2D – bosses, our parents, clients, coworkers, subordinates, helpers, etc. It’s learning how to disagree without being a jerk. It’s learning how to be honest and how to coexist with other people better. In short: This is the best time to stop being that asshole.
4. Up the Responsibility Game
I would suggest moving out the minute you graduate college (I myself wasn’t able to do it but my friends who did learned how to adult a lot quicker), because it would teach you so much about meeting obligations every month, relying on yourself, learning to ask for help, and budgeting your resources. But every circumstance is different and it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to exercise the same muscles in other ways. Try starting your own business, traveling by yourself, volunteering your time to advocacies, or managing people in the work place. Nothing is more empowering than learning to stand on your own feet.
5. Manage Your Money
I don’t know about you, but this is where I’m still a hot mess and I imagine I would have a better grasp of my finances if I started way earlier. There’s a whole universe about financial wellness on the internet but if you want to hear it from my mouth, do it because there is so much freedom in monetary stability, no matter what anyone says. It’s learning to anticipate Future You’s needs and making sure Future You won’t make a scene and end up a weepy pile of tears whenever she’s unprepared for emergencies and mishaps.
It’s so that you stop being a leech. It’s so that you learn to amass good credit and be able to take out loans and secure funding for your future endeavors. It’s so that you can actually devote your energy to things you really care about. Start with tracking your daily expenses, paying yourself first (make “savings” a bill you pay every month), and figuring out what financial milestones you want to be hitting (property, insurance, stock portfolio, vacations, tuition payments, etc.). For freelancers, I suggest outsourcing as much of the clerical tasks as you can (especially the accounting), it’s the best thing we did for our peace of mind.
6. Break Your Cycles
The post-college years are perfect for messing up and finding out what you’re all about. When you find yourself running out of steam, this is where your life usually plateaus into a routine. If it’s a routine you like, then great! More often than not though, the routines for a lot of us always end up being that place where you find yourself feeling unsatisfied with the choices you’ve made.
It could be that you want to shift into a different field with your career. Maybe you’re noticing that you always find yourself in abusive relationships. Maybe you’re noticing that your group of friends is composed of aging party girls and that you don’t care much for the lifestyle anymore.
Whatever it is, the space before you turn 30 is still a lot more flexible than the years that are going to come. You still have enough optimism and you still have a lot of energy to run away from your comfort zones. Life will keep hurling many of these plateau seasons and if you can get yourself used to change early on, it will become an instinct that will guide you through surviving midlife crisis, parenting (your own spawn or your parents), moving to different places, or enduring moments of loss and grief.
7. Work with What You’ve Got
At the same time, don’t get suckered into the idea that a person, place, job, or thing will be the answer to your problems. Dysfunction is combination of many aspects of your life and it’s an exercise in futility if you try to fix it by addressing all the externals without dealing with the internal stuff. It’s the idea of a person who sucks at photography and addresses it by getting a more expensive camera. It’s the idea that we think we can get away with “upgrading” without dealing with our demons.
And here’s something Tina Fey mentioned in Bossypants that would’ve saved so many of us from heartache: “talent isn’t sexually transmitted.”
8. Learn to Make Your Comfort Food
I’m just tossing this one in here because I don’t think we can safely make it to adulthood if we’re incapable of whipping up the little things that bring joy to our lives when we’re sad. We can take this literally and mean learning to make a good grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup or figuratively and mean the times you learn to open a bottle of beer and drink it in your balcony after a long day. I recently did an exercise with one of my clients that involved taking apart the definition of luxury.
We all came to the conclusion that rather than the bells and whistles, luxury really refers to the experience of being pampered and attended to. If we run with that idea, that experience can be replicated in any scenario, no matter what kind of budget you have. It could be a jar of cookie butter in your office drawer or a once a month spa day. Growing up doesn’t always have to be so painful.