How to Be a Grown-Up: 7 Things No One Ever Told You
Thresholds mark the space between where we were and where we’re headed. One of the most exhilarating and bewildering is the time that comes after you get your degree and before so-called “settling down.” You’re blazing a trail in your first career, learning what you want, experiencing loves that just might last, and maybe even thinking about buying a house.
We all come to the critical lessons in our own time, but just as pre-reading helps us integrate what we learn, previewing a few key learnings from the age of the Adult-in-the-Making can make the most of your time in the liminal. Here, I’ve put together seven solid pieces of advice from the books that I wish I’d discovered in my twenties (and one that I actually did!).
1. Work: Ask a silly question…
…get the answer you need. Simple as that. According to Rookie Smarts writer, Liz Wiseman, asking questions is what will make you great. Here’s the (counterintuitive) why: Experienced workers often suffer opinion stasis, seeking out only the people and situations that confirm their beliefs to the exclusion of everything else. Rookies, on the other hand, frequently collect more actual expertise than “experienced” workers because they ask questions and seek help. A great historical example of just this kind of thinking is Michelangelo. When he worked on the Sistine Chapel, he’d never focused on sculpture and never painted a fresco. To overcome his lack of expertise, he hired assistants who were experts and then worked alongside them until he caught up. The results? One of the manmade wonders of the world.
2. Money: Make it rain! Lightly.
One of the greatest things about being an adult is calling the shots when it comes to your bucks. But before you throw down for a Tesla and a tropical trip, hear this: Ramit Sethi, financial advisor and writer of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, advocates making a conscious spending plan. This means you reduce your spending on things that aren’t important to you, and allocate more to things that you really care about. You’ll automatically save and invest a given amount per month and spend the rest on whatever you want, guilt-free. A conscious spending plan might look like this:
- 60 percent on fixed costs (rent, utilities, debt)
- 10 percent on investments (401 (k), Roth IRA)
- 10 percent on savings (vacations, gifts, unexpected expenses)
- 20 percent on guilt-free spending
Not sure how to keep it straight? Try the Envelope System, in which you decide how much you wish to spend on the four areas above and put that money in envelopes. When they’re empty, party’s over—no more spending for that month. The envelopes can, of course, be metaphoric. You could open a bank account with a debit card that acts as an envelope, load money onto it each month for socializing, for example, and then when it’s gone, queue up Netflix and stay home.
3. Love: Use your words.
To build relationships that last you need to treat them with respect and responsibility, and that all starts with good communication—from first date to 50th anniversary.
That stretch of early days in a relationship is the time of most uncertainty, so expressing your needs and concerns will make it much easier to figure out whether you could build something together. Let’s say you’ve been on several dates with your potential partner, and they still haven’t made a move. Many people worry in this situation, wondering whether they should wait for their love interest to take the initiative. Rather than silently worry, say Amir Levine and Rachel S. F. Heller, writers of Attached, be brave and bring it up. Even if they don’t react in the way you’d hoped, everyone’s expectations are on the table and you can move forward.
On the other hand, good communication doesn’t necessarily mean bringing up every single problem or concern right away—it’s more about finding a way to talk that ensures your worries won’t build up. The Attached authors coach being specific about your problem without assigning blame to your partner. Instead of saying “It’s pathetic that you’re still talking about your ex-girlfriend,” you could try something like, “Talking about your ex makes me feel sad and insecure. I need to know that you are happy with our relationship.” By articulating your worries without assigning blame, you can feel safe that they’ll better understand your perspective and you’ll keep your connection strong.
4. Home: Pick the right place for your white picket fence.
So you’ve got the job, saved your sheckles, and found someone with whom you want to build a home? Ace! But before you start scanning real estate sites, there’s some practical work to be done. Spencer Rascoff & Stan Humphries, writers of Zillow Talk, coach to first determine whether buying a home is right for you and, if it is, strategically choose a neighborhood to maximize your investment. It may be tempting to buy the best property in the most desirable area, but a wiser financial decision is to buy in up-and-coming neighborhoods. Figure out which ones will be the next big thing by taking a look at what’s developing. For example, a major commercial attraction like a shopping mall in a developing area would likely draw a new group of people to the area and start transforming it. As the atmosphere of the neighborhood improves so will the housing prices, thereby making your investment a sound one.
5. Retirement: Imagine you’re already old.
One of the most important things you need to do in your early adult years is plan for the transition out of them. It might seem a million miles away, but retirement is, in relative terms, just around the corner. Patrick O’Shaughnessy of Millennial Money says that the best way to plan for it is to forget about the savings account.
Many people believe that a savings account is the best way to prepare for the financial future, but interest rates on savings accounts are typically lower than the rate of inflation (annual price increases). Money parked in a savings account actually loses value in terms of its real world purchasing power. Your alternative to a mouldering savings account is the stock market. When you start young, your money has more time to multiply in value. For instance, if you invest $10,000 with an annual return of seven percent, you’ll earn $4.7 million by the time you’re 65 —if you started investing at age 22. On the other hand, if you made the initial investment only at age 40, you’ll end up with just $1 million.
6. Career: Be a comic book translator.
Imagine you were faced with the choice of working in a coffee shop or taking a more unusual job, like translating comic books. Which way would you go? If you went the comic book translator route, you’re on the right track. In The Defining Decade, Meg Jay explains that experience in unusual jobs constitutes our identity capital—that collection of personal assets—and this matters a great deal to prospective employers.
Sure, identity capital does include conventionals, like college degrees, jobs, and test scores. But it also extends to more personal things, like the way we speak and our problem-solving abilities. We can only accrue this identity capital by exposing ourselves to new experiences and opportunities. Additionally, an unusual job—like comic-book translator or canoe instructor for troubled teens—often opens doors to better jobs, as employers today are more interested in your unique experience than your formal qualifications. So when you’re choosing between bananas and banal, try being bold—that one choice may be what sets you up for a future you’ll love.
7. Growth: Cultivate optimism, even if it’s rough.
Even if you prepare with the five steps above, you’ll reckon with moments when nothing goes right. How you confront those moments makes all the difference. They key is positivity, and one technique to strengthen your positive thinking muscles comes from Jairek Robbins, writer of Live It! He recommends “living” something in your mind before you actually do it, and imagining all the details, emotions, and feelings that you’ll experience once you achieve your goal. Say you’re nervous about a business meeting: take some time the night before the meeting to mentally relax and visualize the situation in as much detail as you can. How do you enter the room and greet your colleagues? What do you say, hear and see? How do you feel once the meeting is over? This mental rehearsal enables you to practice different scenarios and helps you feel more confident and optimistic when the actual situation comes about.
Bonus! Mindset: Make like Mike.
Real talk: optimism won’t always cut it. But here’s the good news—when waters get rough, how you confront and work through the typhoon is what really counts. Psychologist Carol Dweck explains in her book, Mindset, that a person with a fixed mindset—someone who believes she’s born naturally gifted at some things but utterly incapable of others—will find it hard to recover from setbacks. On the other hand, a person who has a growth mindset and treats failures as opportunities stands a better chance of bouncing back beautifully.
Take basketball hall-of-famer, Michael Jordan, for example. There were periods in Jordan’s career when he did not dunk every ball he touched. He fluffed a good 26 potentially winning shots. However, rather than sticking his head in the stand, he practiced the shots he missed over and over again. By the end of his career, he had the best shooting techniques of anybody on the court. Rather than finding fault in his teammates or the court’s floor, he looked for ways to improve his own skills and game. He analyzed his mistakes, practiced even harder than before, and took advice from other people. He firmly believed that he could transform his defeats into victories – as long as he tried hard enough. People like Jordan continue growing throughout their lives, acquiring new skills without reservation and actively engaging in their relationships. For them, life in all its facets is in a constant state of change.
You can read more tips on being an excellent adult from all of the books above right on your mobile device with Blinkist—free! Come check it out here.