My son turns 18 today. I’m happy for him. I also recognize that as tough as the past few years have been for him, the ones ahead will be even harder.
I know this because my early adult years were hard. Within a week after my 18th birthday, I got the job at Carl’s Jr. About a month after that, I was robbed and tied up at gunpoint at that Carl’s Jr. And a month after that, my mom had the stroke that left her paralyzed for the rest of her life.
For me, turning 18 was far from the fun-filled romp and joyful celebration of freedom that movies make it out to be. Even under the best of circumstances, becoming an adult is hard. Here’s why and how we can cope with the changes.
Early adulthood is hard because it is the time we make all of the big decisions. What do we want to do for a career? What education do we need to start it? Where do we want to live? Who is the person we want to share our life with? Do we want to have a family? If so, how many children do we want and how will we raise them? These are all big decisions, and the quality of our lives depends on the quality of the decisions we make.
How do you make good decisions? I have a few suggestions.
Be true to yourself.
Up to now, you’ve defined yourself in relation to your parents. Either you tried to please them or find ways to differentiate yourself from them. Forget all that. Find out what you want. What type of life do you want to have? What is important to you? What are your dreams and goals? What makes you want to get up in the morning? Who are you really? We will ask those questions many times in our lives. The most important time to ask them is when you’re starting out.
Develop a moral compass.
Part of being true to yourself is to have a moral compass. Without it, you can get lost into temptation and make horrible choices that can ruin your life. You need to identify what is right and wrong and establish your standards and limits. You need to learn to restrain yourself and remember that just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. You can find your moral compass from your religion or spiritual practice, what your parents and teachers have taught you, or define one of your own. However you find that moral compass, make sure it guides you towards integrity, self-discipline, honesty, and compassion.
Consider the consequences.
Every decision has consequences, including the good ones. Buying a car means not buying others you may have wanted. Pursuing one dream means letting go of others. Choosing someone to spend your life with means passing up on all other possible partners. Don’t make a decision unless you are ready to live with the consequences of that choice. And if you’re going to regret the consequences, don’t make that decision. But once you’ve decided, accept the consequences and move forward.
Use bad decisions to lead to good decisions.
Even if we strive to do everything right, we will still make bad decisions. We will give into our impulses, be pressed for time and money, and give in than upset someone close to us. We will also make decisions that seemed right at the time, but turn out to be mistakes. Your dream car can turn out to be a cash-draining lemon. What you thought was the perfect job winds up underpaying and overworking you. Learn from your mistakes. Use the experience to improve yourself and make better decisions in the future.
It takes a long time to become a self-sufficient adult. It takes time to complete your education, start your career, and earn enough to support yourself. And the road to adulthood isn’t straight and smooth. It has lots of turns, dead ends, and false starts. You may think you’re going in the right direction only to find yourself completely lost. The process can take years. Some never finish it at all.
Be patient and enjoy the journey. You will learn things about yourself. You will gain experiences that may be useful later on. At least, you will have some stories to tell. Be true to yourself and your moral compass, consider the consequences when making choices and learn from your mistakes. You will get through this. The decisions are difficult, but the rewards are great. Good luck on your adventure.