Above, photos of the author throughout the years.
There’s no grand moment where you graduate from childhood into adulthood. There’s no coming of age switch, no threshold to cross. The transition from childhood to adulthood is covert and gradual — or at least that’s what I’ve learned so far.
One moment you’re stumbling along, trying to have a good time and the next you’re careening in an ocean of responsibility, just trying to survive. My twenties have been more life-informing than any other time in my life. I wouldn’t re-live these years again if I could, but if I had to do it all over again I would remember the following lessons.
Time is everything
As a kid, time moved by a lot slower. An hour felt like three and a year was an eternity. I don’t know how or when, but eventually things started to speed up. Now I’m finding that I’m constantly chasing time and in the quiet parts of the day I fantasize about all the things I could do if I only had more hours.
Time is more precious to me now than it ever was before. I worry about my future and am cautious in my decision making. I have to remember that what might feel like an impulsive move could actually just be a timely response. So seize the moment before too many moments pass you by.
Depression is real
I’ve battled depression my entire life, yet somehow I’ve interpreted my lifelong struggle as weakness or an inability to control my emotions, especially in the face of obligation. Consequently, I never really believed it was a treatable sickness.
My shift in thinking occurred when I found myself lying in bed, nearly catatonic. Nothing could move me. Finally I called work, and three days later I was on the mend.
Depression has a physical effect on your body, and the longer it goes untreated, the harder it is to overcome. But like the cold or flu, you’ll want to overcome the sickness ASAP. When you’re unable to get out of bed, crippled with sadness, everything tends to fall by the wayside. Your likes, your obligations, your routines all flake away like old paint on a windowsill and you find yourself stagnant.
Of course acknowledging one’s depression is only the first step towards healing. Part of the healing process was to remove myself from distractions and focus on me. Without those days away from work I probably would have imploded.
Just say no
I was originally going to write a section on how to back out of commitments with grace and ease. I’ve been in many sticky situations where I realized far too late that I had taken on too much. But instead of providing tips for tactfully letting yourself off the hook, I’m going to tell you to just say no.
Don’t let yourself get to the point of no return or be in a situation where you’re panicking to find the nearest exit. Instead, be a bit more self aware and reach out when you have the slightest suspicion that you can’t do a job. If you’re still anxious, or worse, catch yourself thinking, “Sure I can do this… I’ll just figure out how later,” that’s a sign to say no.
I’ve learned that honesty is the best policy. No one will fault you for turning down requests for your time. Instead, it shows integrity and self worth. And don’t worry about opportunity evaporating due to not being available to all offers all the time. It’s way better to be in demand than to be flakey.
Keep moving forward
Between compromise and increasing uncertainties, being an adult — or “adulting,” as they say — is hard. I’ve found the best way to keep up and maintain any sort of vitality is to keep moving forward. Never stop learning about the world around you and the world within you, because learning is survival.
At this point in my twenties I’m finding that it doesn’t pay to stand still. To compete in the marketplace of life, one has to constantly learn new things and keep an open mind.
The one certainty I know is that life will continue to unfold and blossom before me. I want to expand and participate in life’s complexities. I want a creative and rewarding career. And when I’m old, I want to say, “What’s next?” instead of, “In my day….”