Have you ever dropped something off a dock and had it fall to the bottom of the lake? Like your fancy new sunglasses or a piece of jewelry or your phone?
One second you’re staring out at an expanse of water and sky, reflecting on the vastness of it all. The next second you’re staring down into dark, dingy water resolving yourself to the fact that you – smart, capable, “special flower” you – can’t think your way out of this situation. You can’t delegate it. The only thing you can do is climb down into all that weedy muck and fish out what’s yours.
That’s my metaphor for adulthood.
No matter who you are or where you come from there will always be a disconnect between the vision you have for life and what it actually becomes. In my experience, coming to terms with that discrepancy is the major emotional milestone of your twenties.
I’ve seen a lot of people traverse these years successfully, but I’ve also seen a lot of people stumble and backslide (myself included). Based on these observations, I’ve put together a few basic tips that may just help you keep your shit together when you realize that concepts like “success” and “stability” are about as real as Bing Bong, the pink nougat-filled elephant-cat hybrid from Pixar’s Inside Out. Here goes…
- FORGIVE YOUR PARENTS.
I know. They were emotionally unavailable. Or unstable. They were narcissists. Or acted like victims. They coddled you. Or they criticized you. If you can’t afford therapy, this is me telling you right now that all your accusations are real. Validation granted. Your parents made countless mistakes and they’re going to keep making them for the rest of your life. However, having a good relationship with them as an adult is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Old people are wise and your parents know you better than anyone else. Their advice will get you through the hardest times. Love and accept them like they love and accept you.
- TAKE RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOURSELF.
Once you forgive your parents you’ll notice that is less satisfying to blame them for all the stupid things you do. You’re not rebelling, you’re regressing. The only person suffering the consequences of your credit card debt, heavy drinking, questionable romantic partners, lack of gainful employment, et al. is you. So it’s time to start facing those life choices head-on. The upside is that once you start taking care of yourself rather than ignoring your problems or passing the buck, you’ll realize that it actually feels pretty good.
- SET HEALTHY BOUNDARIES
I was chatting with a friend over cocktails last week (2 drinks each at a cool 8pm) and we both agreed that one of the best parts of growing up is learning how to say, “no.” It’s absolutely liberating when you figure this out. You don’t have to do things just because your friends do. You don’t need to show up places just because it’s a “scene” you want to be a part of. You don’t have to go out on a limb for everyone who asks you to – only for the people who matter. Learning how to set boundaries forces you to think about you actually want and then communicate it clearly to those around you. The struggle is real but these skills will take you far.
- BE WARY OF YOUR COPING STRATEGIES
When you’re in college or even your early twenties, you can usually get by with whatever ragtag group of coping skills you pieced together as a child. Binge watch 8 seasons of Buffy! Buy a new outfit! Go on a juice cleanse! Party with pals! All of the boyfriends! It’s pretty PG. But like any repetitive action, over time these distractions become your coping strategies and once they’re ingrained it ain’t pretty. Addiction, credit card debt & disordered eating are the trifecta of cant-handle-my-adult-life distractions. But that’s all they are – distractions. The only way you will actually get through these years is to confront your feelings of anger, frustration, disappointment, sadness and failure head-on. In time, your ability to face these hard truths (and persevere in spite of them) will help you come to the realization that you that you are in fact the resilient badass/bad bitch you were born to be.