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7 Things Your Parents Never Taught You about Being an Adult

We’ve whipped up a handy little guide with 7 practical tips from some of the best books for people who are newly navigating the world of adults.
by Caitlin Schiller | Jul 5 2019

Your twenties and early thirties are an exciting time. You’re blazing a trail in your first career, learning what you’re really amazing at and where you might need some work, experiencing loves that have potential to last, and maybe even thinking about buying a house. All of this stuff is big—after all, you’re building a foundation for the rest of your adult life—and its collective approach can make you feel like a tiny island nation preparing for a tsunami.


So how do you prepare yourself for what’s to come, weather-proof your basement floor and build for both sunny and inclement weather?

We’ve whipped up a handy little guide with 7 practical tips from some of the best books for people who are newly navigating the world of adults. Here, learn why you shouldn’t depend on a savings account to rescue your retirement, when’s the right time to invest in property, and the single most important thing amazing employees do when they’re young.

1. Work: Always ask the question.

When you enter the working world you might feel lost amidst more seasoned vets. Should you keep your head down and struggle through? According to Rookie Smarts writer, Liz Wiseman, that’s a definite no: asking questions is what will make you great.

Experienced workers often suffer opinion stasis, seeking out only what (and who) confirms their own opinion and ignoring everything else. Rookies, on the other hand, frequently end up with more expertise than experienced workers because they ask questions and seek help. They learn from a range of people and are more open to innovating because they’re free of ingrained ways of thinking.

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.

Read it in ten minutes: Rookie Smarts — Liz Wiseman

2. Money: Decide what’s really worth your cash.

One of the greatest things about being an adult is having control of your money. But before you throw down for a Tesla and a tropical trip, give a solid think to what you’re spending on.

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—there’s 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.

Read it in ten minutes: I Will Teach You To Be Rich — Ramit Sethi

3. Love: Use your words.

Unrequited love is part of being a teenager, but when it comes to being an adult, it’s time to start doing things a little differently. 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.

When you’re dating someone new, usually the time fraught with the most uncertainty, 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.

Read it in ten minutes: Attached — Amir S. Levine & Rachel S.F. Heller

4. Home: Do the white picket fence right.

So you’ve got the job, saved your money, and found someone you want to build a home with? Great! 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, to choose an up-and-coming neighborhood to maximize your investment.

Step one: calculate your Break Even Horizon. Zillow’s tool compares costs over time to determine how long it will take for the home you purchase to cost less than it would to rent the same property. It does this by calculating inflation and tax rates as well as property value. If you use Zillow’s Break Even Horizon tool and find out that you could actually save money by buying a house, you’re ready for the next step: deciding where to buy.

It may be tempting to buy the best property in the most desirable area, but a wiser financial decision is to buy property in up-and-coming neighborhoods. Figure out which ones will be the next big thing by taking a look at what’s coming next. 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.

Read it in ten minutes: Zillow Talk — Spencer Rascoff & Stan Humphries

4. Retirement: Pretend you’re already old.

Being a young adult is great: you’ve got your whole life ahead of you! And yet, one of the most important things you have to do in your early adult life is to plan for the end of it. It might seem a million miles away, but retirement is, in relative terms, just around the corner.

Patrick O’Shaughnessy of Milennial Money explains the best way to plan for it—and it’s probably not how you think.

Many people believe that a savings account is the best way to prepare for the financial future, but the truth is, 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 ? The stock market.

The potential rewards of starting to invest early in life are impressive. After all, 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.

Read it in ten minutes: Milennial Money — Patrick O’Schaughnessy

5. 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—our 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 expand 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 interesting and predictable, try being bold—that one choice may be what sets you up for a future you’ll love.

Read it in ten minutes: The Defining DecadeMeg Jay

6. Growth: Cultivate optimism, even if it’s rough.

Even if you prepare with the five steps above, things aren’t always going to work perfectly. You’re going to face moments when nothing goes right, and how you confront those moments makes all the difference. The good news? The outcome is largely in your intentions. As you might have guessed, positive ones work best.

To strengthen your positive thinking, you need to practice it. One technique Jairek Robbins, writer of Live It! recommends is “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 when the actual situation comes about.

Read it in ten minutes: Live It! — Jairek Robbins

7. Mindset: Be like Michael Jordan.

When you come up against a challenge in which positive thinking doesn’t work out—which, let’s face it, you’ll eventually experience—how you confront and grow from the fumble is what matters.

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 his 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.

Read it in ten minutes: Mindset — Carol Dweck

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.

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