Whenever I remember that I am actually 21 years old, I have a mini-panic attack. When did I become an adult?! Do I have what it takes to be a real, live adult??? I don’t know where the time went and where I left that scrawny, clueless high school teenager from three years ago. Have I really grown?
As I reflected, I did note some differences. Subtle – my last four years seem seamless. I cannot pinpoint a single epiphany. Granted, people come into age at different stages and when I think of myself at 18, I was less mature than other 18-year-olds. But whether you come of age at 18 or 21, here is what I hope everyone grasps by the latter.
1. How bureaucracies work.
And yes, I mean politics. Dirty, grimy politics at all levels – global, national, your workplace, school/university, and any other institution that you have to deal with. In other words, what interest groups are involved? What do they want? Which groups are more served than others? Where do I fall and how will I be impacted by other’s decisions/actions? The answers to these questions are never clear, but are always worth thinking about. This brings us to…
2. How money flows.
The above structure applies. How money flows at the global level, national level, what institutions and interest groups are involved, and how all this impacts you. Personal financial responsibility is an obvious part of growing up.
(If the last 2 points seem obvious to you, I have had to explain to two different people my age who was running for PRESIDENT (U.S.) in the 2012 elections, who our state senators were, and what a yuan is.)
3. How to market yourself for jobs.
Self-branding is a thing.
4. Only hanging out with people for whom you have mutual respect.
I mean, there should be no more room in this circle for frenemies, meaningless drama, two-faced fakes, people who take advantage of you, people who are self-obsessed, and where does this list end.
5. Dating other people for reasons other than the fact that they are hot and have a cool sports car.
I’m talking about deep, meaningful interactions here.
6. Not being able to stay up past midnight.
What happened to those long, beer pong-filled nights??
7. Taking care of yourself.
In college, I learned how to cook and started using the campus gym. After my sophomore year, I gradually stopped eating at dining halls and late night pizza, and became more conscientious about packing in vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free dairy. After a long day of classes, lab, and studying chemistry, I would wind down over a cup of green or herbal tea. I also started seeing a counselor for my anxiety which helped tremendously. Basically, it wasn’t until after high school I had to start really making sure I was looking out for my own health and well-being.
8. Knowing how to get help and advocating for yourself.
Feeling like a victim is no longer an option. Find the right people, fill out the right papers, and always get what you want.
Yourself and others. You don’t have to justify yourself to anyone. Don’t take any intimidation. No name-calling. Be nice.
10. Understanding that everything in life is fleeting.
This is probably just a personal flaw, but whenever anything went wrong in my life (I didn’t get a job, I got a bad grade on a test, the guy I went on one date with didn’t call me back), I would lose all hope in life. Now I realize that even the worst heartbreaks and most humiliating failures eventually fade to a distant memory, if you choose to move on. Happy days, sad days, success, failure, luck, misfortune, and eventually life itself all come and go.
Anyway, I have a long way to go in growing up, but these are the trajectories I hope to land on. Anything I should add to the list?