As a 20-something, I often feel like my life is in limbo, somewhere between my rebellious teenage years and my (hopefully) more mature 30s. Some days I wake up, and it all makes sense.
My life is in order, my friendships feel solid, my job is fulfilling, I am content with being single, I am equally excited about the prospects of the future and I am pleased with my current circumstances. I am happy.
Then there are those days when I go to bed frustrated, anxious and confused.
I have a bad day at work, I feel disconnected from my friends, being alone feels lonely and the future feels too vague to ignite anything other than fear. I feel lost.
It is natural for life to have its ups and downs, but how you handle them is what makes you an adult.
So, here are some simple things you can do to help you ease into adulthood without even noticing you are doing it:
1. Do something you’re afraid of
So many of us let fear rule our lives, but fear is a figment of our imagination. As Will Smith’s very wise character said in “After Earth,” “Fear is not real. It is a product of our imagination, causing us to fear things that do not at present and may not ever exist.”
So, go forth into the world. Stop making excuses and take that trip you’ve dreamt about, quit the job you hate and tell the ones you love how you feel. We’ve all heard the cliché a million times: “You will regret the things you don’t do more than those that you do.”
When your time comes to an end, you won’t remember they were even risks to begin with. You will have lived a life full of adventure and love, and you will be familiar with what the world has to offer.
You will never have to wonder if you could have climbed that mountain because the view from the top will be seared into your memory, and you will be fulfilled.
2. Expand your attention span
We are slowly undoing the ability to focus with every upgraded and faster smartphone that comes out.
Most of us can’t even sit through a 50-minute lecture without checking our social media accounts (while we pretend to take notes on our laptops).
You don’t need to become a robot, but ideally, you should be able to last long enough to sit through a podcast. Expanding your attention span will improve your professional and personal life.
Hopefully, it will help you withstand hour-long work meetings and enjoy lunch dates without escaping through modern technology.
3. Read one book for every television series you finish
We live in a television era where we connect with strangers based on the current HBO series we follow.
Being an avid GoT and OITNB follower, I won’t lecture about taking TV out of your nightly routine.
But, I will recommend adding in a book every once a while. Reading substantial novels will give you more perspective and keep you sharp.
4. Follow the news on at least one current event
I understand the news is depressing and politics and current events are not everyone’s cup of tea.
However, as an adult, it is a part of your responsibility to have some sense of what will happen in the world beyond your front door.
So, just find at least one topic of interest and educate yourself on its history. You will have something more to add to adult conversations, your colleagues and superiors will respect you for it and you will be in the loop.
5. Let your friends make their own mistakes
Hours of giving advice, just to have it be ignored, only hurts you.
I have spent many long nights advising my friends on their current relationship or work debacles; I’ll feel like we are making progress, and the next morning I discover they’ve disregarded everything we discussed.
I get mad, they get defensive and no one wins. Everyone will and needs to make his or her own mistakes, despite your warnings. Being a friend simply means being there in the end, regardless.
6. Really listen
If you can open your mind to someone with a completely different perspective from your own, without thinking about how you’ll respond, then you can grow.
Ask more questions and give your opinion less (unless specifically asked for it) because every conversation is not a platform on which you can express your strong views.
Even if in the end you still disagree, there is progress in allowing yourself to really hear conflicting opinions.
7. Journal just for you
Write down your deepest thoughts the old fashioned way: With a pen and paper, not on Facebook. Then, let go.
Allow yourself to acknowledge the pain, those who have wronged you, the mistakes you’ve made and the regrets you’ve accumulated.
Then, move on. If you must come back to them in your journal, so be it, but store them there instead of in your mind.
8. Be more decisive about the little things
Whether you meet your friend at the coffee shop uptown or downtown probably won’t make that big of a difference in the grand scheme of things.
There are inevitably big decisions in each of our lives, and we need all the strength and wisdom we can gather for those.
So, stop stressing about small choices and learn to be firm with your decisions. There is freedom in being decisive.
9. Develop an answer to the questions: “What are your hobbies?” and “What gives your life meaning?”
If you have a purpose and a pastime, you have the recipe for happiness. As children, we change our minds every day.
We want to be astronauts because we like the moon and we want to be Disney princesses because they get to wear pretty dresses.
The next day, we want to be the president because we saw Clinton’s face on every channel and we thought it looked fun.
But as adults, we can’t arbitrarily pick professions because they sound cool.
We have to go through a long and difficult process of trying and failing at things we thought we wanted before we discover something we are good at that can also pay the bills.
Sometimes, those don’t align, and what we love becomes our hobby, which is okay, too.
As long as you find a compromise between splitting your time between what makes you smile and what you get paid for, you are set.
10. Go outside
Watch more sunsets and sunrises. Just allow yourself 20 minutes to do nothing, but enjoy your view of Earth’s rotation. Inhale clean air, and take a walk away from the exhaust and pollution in the city.
Clear the clutter from your busy brain and just appreciate the planet we live on and all the natural beauty there is to explore.
You don’t need to become an environmentalist, but at the very least, utilize the biggest and most cathartic playground we will ever know.
11. Spend less time on your superficial appearance and more time on your health
Your hairstyle and makeup will only get you so far in life, and then you’ll need a set of healthy lungs and kidneys.
So go to the gym, ride your bike, swim, rock climb, do yoga, eat your fruits and vegetables, find an activity that suits you and own it.
Exercise is fun, and that is coming from someone who hates gyms and running! Even I found my exercise niche, so I have faith there is something out there for everyone.
12. Smile every day
Smile when you’re happy, smile when you’re sad, smile at strangers, smile when you’re alone.
Just smile and eventually, it will become natural. You’ll look back on all of your happy adult memories and smile.
Being in your early 20s can be difficult because there is so much uncertainty, but it can also bring unique opportunities.
If you do it right, you can look back on these years and smile without regret because you lived.
You make mistakes, but you learn from them. You try new things. Some of them stick, and others you realize aren’t for you.
You date different types of people and each relationship teaches you lessons. You develop friendships that will get you through the hardships of life after your 20s and hopefully, you take a lot of pictures to show your kids you used to be cool.
Being an adult means accepting it will all work out and knowing what you can and cannot control.
Do these things, and I guarantee you’ll enter 2016 feeling more like an adult.