In a few months, I’ll be turning 26. By this spring, I’ll have spent the same amount of time outside of college as I spent in it. I’ll be over halfway through my 20’s, officially entering that bracket of ‘4-5 years experience’ for the jobs I’ve had my eye on since I was 22, and working on the final preparations for my wedding. When you put it that way, I sound like I’m well into my adulthood, comfortably settled with job and life experience in tow, feeling ready to conquer the world everyday. Right?
These years since leaving my privileged and safe little bubble of a university have been laced with more errors, confusion, blind mistakes and acute challenges than I could’ve ever imagined. I remember thinking that once I graduated from college, I would be a highly sought after candidate for any job I wanted, and I’d have the most bustling and full social life to complement my career success. I just knew that all those years of following the rules, getting good grades, and planning for my future would pay off for me. I was so certain that I had all the ingredients I needed for a fabulous, carefree, yet purposeful life.
While my life does not at all look the way I thought it would at this point, after struggling through many challenging seasons in those first few years out of school, I realize now that therein lies the growth. This list of challenges isn’t to make you want to wallow in self-pity; rather, it’s to demonstrate that while adulthood is challenging and unpredictable, it is also filled with great learnings and countless opportunities to continuously evolve. Here are 5 of the biggest challenges I’ve experienced in my young adulthood that I would’ve loved to be able to anticipate:
1| It can be incredibly lonely.
I remember when I was 22 and working my first job in Corporate America. I had moved across the country, started a new life, and thought: I’ve made it! I’m living the dream. I just expected that, like college, the pieces would fall into place, my social life would almost be handed to me in a sense, and I wouldn’t have to do much work to put myself out there. I couldn’t have been further off base. What I realized very early on is that there is one very distinct difference between adulthood and childhood/college: your friends don’t just exist by nature. You actually have to make a ton of effort to make new friends as an adult. Growing up, you live in a neighborhood and you go to school, and you make friends automatically because they’re just there–they’re in your classes, on your sports team, and participate in the same after-school clubs. And in college, the trend continues. You live in a dorm, you join organizations, and by doing so, you meet people with common interests and you’re provided with ample time and space to get to know those people and create memories with them. An added bonus: everyone is around the same age and in the same stage of life. There’s very little variety and few hurdles standing in the way of prioritizing friendship. It’s a recipe for success.
In adulthood, things are starkly different. Making new friends isn’t as easy as just showing up and having something in common. Not only do people’s schedules and responsibilities vary widely, but a lot of people feel like they’ve already formed those closest bonds they’ll ever make, and they’re not actively seeking out new besties the way they were at 18. Outside of friendships, though, adulthood can feel lonely because for the first time in your life, everyone you know is doing something a bit different. Some people are getting engaged and married and having kids while others are traveling the world. Some people are going to grad school while others are climbing the ladder in Corporate America. Some people are buying their first homes while others are living with their parents to save money. We are so accustomed to knowing what our lives are ‘supposed’ to look like that it’s a shock to the system when you realize everyone is doing their own thing.
2| There are actually no answers.
Sometimes I wonder if I’m old enough or mature enough to actually be an adult. Throughout my life, adults have always had all the answers! My parents, my teachers, my babysitters, my coaches, my aunts and uncles, the list goes on. They all seemed to know exactly what they were doing, and what I should be doing. Now that I’m on the other end of the equation, I’m wondering if they actually had all the answers they claimed to have, or if they were just faking it 90% of the time like I am.
3| It is full of way more letdowns and disappointments than you’re accustomed to or comfortable with.
The commencement speaker at my college graduation made an interesting comment about our generation. He talked about how we are the generation raised in a society where there’s an award and affirmation for everything. We’re the “A for Effort!” generation. We’re the “Hey, you tried, here’s an 8th place ribbon” generation. We’re the generation where every we expect an awards ceremony and a certificate to accompany each of our accomplishments, just for doing the things that we’re supposed to be doing. He talked about how the Baby Boomer generation, which most of our parents fall into, was starkly different. Their generation was all about hard work, and making it better for the next generation of young people. It was about blood, sweat, tears, and the American Dream. Especially for Black Baby Boomers, it was about creating an America that their children could live in without fear and restriction. As a result, there simply wasn’t as much time dedicated to celebrating your accomplishments and filling you with affirmations. And so, many of our parents poured that into us because they never got that, but wanted to make sure that we did.
Fast forward to adulthood, which is not as warm and fuzzy. We’re accustomed to gauging our success by getting good grades and earning trophies. If we do what we’re supposed to do, we’ll get rewarded. But as an adult, that is definitely not the case. You can very easily do what you’re supposed to do with no reward. You can get the grades and the internships in college, and still end up unemployed at your parents house after graduation. You can have the best resume and cover letter, and still get turned down from the job you thought you were overqualified for. Success is no longer linear and clearly defined; in many cases, you have become comfortable defining success for yourself, and not prescribing to someone else’s version of it.
4| It’s difficult to ever feel completely settled.
Adulthood is extremely transient. Because there’s so much to learn, do, and discover, you never really know when or if you’re ready to slow down and stay put. In the past, there were very specific steps that people followed once they became adults, which prolonged the predictability of life that most of us are socialized in as children. Many of us have parents who have worked at the same company in different capacities (or perhaps even in the same role) for the last 30 years. Back then, you could get a job, climb the ladder, get married, buy a house, have children, and raise them. Boom. There was recipe. Things are much different now. Most of us will change jobs, companies, and careers countless times by the time we retire (if retiring is even an option in 30 years…). We have no desire to stay in one company forever, because doing so could limit our potential to grow.
Our parents didn’t know to warn us about this or teach us how to navigate life this way, because the world that they navigated as adults looked completely different than ours does. Finding stability in a world where the competition gets steeper and steeper everyday is extremely challenging.
5| You will be wrong way more than you’ll be right.
You will choose the wrong job. You will open a new line of credit when you shouldn’t, and exceed 30% of your limit and damage your credit score. You will sign up for recurring payments on your cable and internet bill and get screwed out of $100 somehow. You will say the wrong thing in an interview. You will handle countless situations the wrong way. You will date the wrong guy and think he’s the one. You will get a flat tire and have no idea how to fix it. You will get kicked off your parents’ phone plan and have no idea how to deal with AT&T on your own. You will get duped by Sallie Mae. You will just be wrong, all the time, and you will have to get used to it. And hopefully some day, as a result of all those wrongs, you’ll have the opportunity to make informed decisions that are right.
/// What do you find challenging about adulthood? How do you navigate the ups and downs? I would love your thoughts!