When I was a kid, I kept imagining that things would be so much easier once I got older. At first it was being able to stay up later, then having a driver’s license, then moving into my first apartment. Each time I think things would get easier, they wouldn’t. Not that things were bad as I moved into my 20s and 30s, (they were actually pretty good some of the time) -- it’s just that they weren’t easier or what I’d expected.
GOOD ≠ EASY
What I think a lot of us get wrong about adulthood is the assumption that once we reach a certain age or a point in our careers that everything is just smooth sailing. There will always be bumps along the way and roadblocks that slow us down, and new sorts of problems enter the picture as we outgrow others.
No matter how organized we try to be, more responsibility will inevitably be added to our personal and professional lives. It can get overwhelming, all this “adulting,” and I don’t know if I’ll ever get fully caught up on my to-do list. There’s more and more that I want to be doing with my life to feel fulfilled, but unexpected problems and new obligations will continue to come.
Rewriting my story about what being an adult means is an ongoing process.
The way I’ve been thinking of it lately is that adulthood is increasing your capacity to handle life. In my mid-30s now, I should be able to do all the things I could do at 25 and then some. My skills and talents should continue to evolve and grow into a more complex blend of personal and professional achievements. It’s similar to training for a marathon — once you get used to running 10 miles, then you can start focusing on building up to 15 miles. The older we get, the more we can choose to add challenges like taking on more responsibilities at our jobs, making a career change, raising children, or moving to a new city.
But there’s a flip side to consider. The older we get, the more likely it is that things in life will happen that make us feel less capable of taking on more and doing it well. Grief, trauma, health problems, and burnout are just a few ways that life can wear us down. Let’s be honest, life can be exhausting.
Being an Adult Means Caring for Others -- and for Yourself
Although finding space in our schedules is difficult, it is paramount that as adults we find the time, no matter how little of it there may be, to take care of ourselves. This is the other part of handling life more as an adult -- that you can continue to get better at taking care of your emotional pain and stress. As they say, “you can’t pour from an empty cup” -- in other words, you can’t be the best at caring for others around you if you’re not caring for yourself.
Stop saying that you’re going to “feel better” once ___(fill in the blank)___ happens. That will only keep you from realizing that it’s possible to start taking better care of yourself right now.
Living your best life is an art. It requires great effort, conscious choices, and practiced skill. Therapy can give you support and guidance so that anxiety, depression, and other kinds of emotional pain are not blocking you from coming into your own as an adult.