As much as we’d like to think of ourselves as “real adults,” many twentysomethings are reluctant to own the term. We’re making that critical leap from childhood to adulthood, but how do we know when we’ve made it?
As a child, I listened to my mother fondly recount her single years. She would come home from work, find no food in the fridge, and binge on a package of cookie dough for dinner. So that’s what it means to be an adult, I thought. I like it. But as I’ve actually gotten older, I realize that I may have the freedom to binge on sugar whenever I please, but that hasn’t actually made me feel any more, well, grown up.
In his book Emerging Adulthood, Dr. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett says the three pivotal signs of adulthood are taking responsibility for yourself, making independent decisions, and becoming financially independent. While becoming an adult is a little more complicated than I thought when I was little, it doesn’t have to feel terrifying or huge. Small steps eventually become giant leaps. Whether you’ve got this adulting thing down or you’re still hoping your grandmother doesn’t put you at the kids’ table, here are seven simple ways you can own your adulthood this week.
01. Elevate Your Vernacular
You reveal your core values in a powerful way when you speak. Both personal and professional growth call for effective communication.
Swearing was a useful tool for self-assertion in the throngs of adolescence. While there is absolutely a space for the well-placed expletive, there comes a time to substitute slang with terms that are actually in the dictionary. Is he your bae or your boyfriend? Is she extra or over the top? Articulation lends itself to sophistication.
Here's a classic "mom" tip—because you know you’re an adult when her advice starts making sense: if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Cattiness is for girls; kindness is for women. Classy speech is important in everyday life, and if you begin there, it will serve you well in all other spheres.
02. Practice Self-Care
Something you've probably noticed is that things don’t just happen, you have to make them happen. You don’t just stay healthy. You don’t just happen to be emotionally stable. It all begins with self-care. Being an adult means taking care of yourself, yourself.
This week, practice recognizing negative emotions, allowing yourself to experience them, and then finding healthy ways to kick them to the curb. If you’re stressed, pull out an adult coloring book—or try these other seven ways to de-stress. If you’re worried, journal or set a time to ruminate on them later. Make yourself a healthy dinner. Start by granting yourself realistic expectations. Recognize and work around your limits by setting attainable goals, giving yourself alone time, and enlisting others' help to keep you accountable.
03. Refine Your Wardrobe
Leggings as pants and over-size T-shirts are our weakness, too. But whether you’re working your first job or still in college, the reality is that looking put-together is as important in your everyday life as it is at the office.
Or perhaps it’s time to invest in a high quality piece. The better made your clothes are, the longer they'll serve you. If you’re afraid you can’t afford it, follow fashion designer Vivienne Westwood's advice: “Buy less. Choose well. Make it last.” Try finding classic style staples to instantly elevate your look now and in the long run.
04. Find Out Where Your Dough Is Going
We don't mean cookie dough—we mean budgeting. That word alone makes some stomachs turn, but it’s true what they say: having a budget is liberating. Dr. Arnett notes that financial independence is a hallmark of adulthood. This means managing your money responsibly. No more blowing an entire paycheck on that gorgeous dress you'll only wear a handful of times!
Whether you opt to use Mint to keep tabs or prefer an old-school notepad, take the time to understand where you're putting your money. Creating a budgeting plan in your twenties is the first step toward securing a healthy financial future for yourself. Track your spending for a week, and we guarantee it will inspire a health money habit or two—like actually using that gym membership or brewing your daily latte at home (suddenly, a $6 milk frother seems like a fantastic investment).
05. Make an Appointment
Now is the time to understand your health, not just hit up urgent care when the flu symptoms set in.
When was your last trip to the OB-GYN? (Hint: It's not just for the sexually active.) Kirsten Nunez writes for Verily, “The National Cancer Institute recommends that women should start getting Pap smears at 21 years old and every three years after that.” Pap smears help reveal early warning signs of disease, and getting them regularly is the best way to arm yourself against cervical cancer or HPV.
Stay up on your general health too. If you have chronic fatigue, exhaustion, headaches, and have simply been “dealing with it," it's time to get some answers. Yes, medical care is expensive, but your provider can tell you how best to approach your visits so you get optimal care. Call to ask what’s covered, what your deductibles are, and how to talk with your doctor. They can really cut through the red tape of medical jargon with you.
Regular doctor visits are not something to put on the back burner. If you feel good, but haven’t had a eye, dental, or general check up in while, being an adult means staying on top of your health regardless. This week, use this list of appointments you need to make this year to schedule at least one for the future, and score some serious peace-of-mind points.
06. Rekindle Your Friendships
When you’re younger, friendship is all about proximity. You don’t really need to have much in common besides going to the same school or living in the same neighborhood. But as you grow up, relationships develop less organically. They take work. You have the right to chose who makes up your circle, and intentionality is key to building and maintaining healthy friendships.
As life changes, we become physically separated from some of our closest friends. Keep the bond strong by committing to staying in touch. This week, schedule a phone call, long email session, or a girls' trip to reconnect. It’s harder, sure, but every adult knows great friendships are worth the extra effort.
07. Ditch the Drama
On the flip side, growing up means ditching "energy vampires." We all have that person or group who we don’t feel super aligned with and sometimes wonder why we’re even friends. If you have a friend who puts you down, doesn’t respect your values, or just doesn’t make you feel good, it’s time to for a change.
Certified professional coach Cicely Wilson suggests you start by writing a letter. If they respond well to what you say, perhaps you can move forward. If not, too bad, so sad. You’re probably better off distancing yourself from them slowly and surely.
There may never come a moment when the heavens shine upon you and you realize that you've finally arrived as a certifiable adult. Modern young people often get trapped in what Dr. Arnett calls "emerging adulthood," the period in which we wobble between childhood and adulthood, not quite sure how to escape. We're all just trying to see ourselves as adults and trick everyone else into believing the same thing. But growing up and taking control of your life through these small steps is actually pretty easy—because becoming an adult means competence, not perfection. So let yourself have cookie dough for dinner, too—sometimes.
Photo Credit: Manchik Photography