In late September of 2018, I hit the quarter century mark. I found myself in deep reflection upon the years that compiled my christening of adulthood. Thankfully, this was not a depressing contemplation about how Carson Wentz (9 months older) was an NFL MVP Candidate nor that Niall Horan (13 days older) has a net worth of $70 million. No, this was an internal debate surrounding the most imperative aspects of adulthood that highly average Americans, like myself, need to know, that would not be disseminated in formal education, in order to be successful by the age of 25. This list is by no means a comprehensive gathering of all you need to know, and it most certainly is not an extensive how-to guide that will somehow turn your life around. So, I will apologize if you thought that perusing my insight would facilitate the process of becoming the CEO of your own start-up with a penthouse in downtown Chicago. That being said, for your pleasure and benefit -- The 5 by 25.
These are in terms of how crucial understanding and successfully navigating each item is – five being child’s play, one being an ongoing battle until mastering it, just enough, to be able to write about it for an opinion piece. Further, I will have two categories of items. The first I label soft - comparable to how employers view skills. Therefore, while these may not translate to hard and fast results or outcomes, their importance as an underlying component to adulthood is essential. Second, the hard skills. These are things that must be learned in order to be effective in some identified, and meaningful, capacity.
FIVE: LIFE HAPPENS FAST (soft)
Remember that time that you thought to yourself, ‘Wow, that happened fast...’ probably after both high school and college graduation? Well, that was nothing. That was the 400-meter warm-up lap around the track before beginning the marathon of life. I spent my first two years of college in Michigan, then two years finishing my undergraduate in Kentucky, and two more years doing graduate school in Kentucky. Upon conclusion of each phase, it never failed that I would ponder how it was possible that 730 days flew by. In adulthood, I wonder that constantly. But it has shifted. Rather than distant milestones, like graduation, adulthood seems to constantly blast a never-ending plethora of, expected and unexpected, items onto your calendar. How is the work day over already? Is it really already time for monthly reports to be submitted? My car payment is due again? How did all of these deadlines creep up that quickly? As these milestones or achievements flood your reality, the constant “to-do” of life keeps things moving at a mile-per-minute. That being said, be prepared to have competing demands for your resources – time and money.
I can sum this up in one thought: although work days can feel extremely long, work weeks almost always feel incredibly short.
Another aspect to this notion is the inescapable reality that as people age and develop, often seeking professional opportunities or relationships, friendships will be significantly altered. Countless individuals in my life have relocated, due to one of the two aforementioned reasons. It would be inexcusable to hold them at fault for that. Decisions of such magnitude should be respected and revered. Unfortunately, their absences usher in new realities. Thankfully, technology has allowed for much of the negative, unintended, consequences to be offset. Nevertheless, this is a massive shift in the way we view and enjoy life, and one that cannot be avoided or prepared for with any level of accuracy.
*Disclaimer – be a decent person and understand the realities your friends/colleagues are faced with.
FOUR: EMPLOYER BENEFITS (hard)
It could be argued that this exists as the most imperative item on this list. However, it comes with two caveats that alter the entire dynamic. Everyone knows that in the ever-changing environments that surround healthcare and retirement, maximizing the benefit from your employer can be an absolute game-changer. You have to weigh options, and lots of them. Is a health savings account smart or needed? Is it worth increasing my monthly payment to receive out-of-network benefits that are the most similar to in-network? Should I place money in my retirement from the get-go? How much? With which companies, and what portfolios? This may seem daunting. Well, it is. It can completely consume your mind, for weeks – even after you have made such decisions. So, let me ease your fear with the two caveats.
Take a page out of the Elzinga Handbook. When I started at my first job out of grad school, I was overwhelmed by all the decisions I had to make within the first 60/90 days of being hired. So, I found someone that I viewed as wise and experienced with these decisions (had been with the company for quite some time and talked about finances in a responsible manner) and picked their brain. I took the easy way out. Although, I did not let this person make my decisions, as they were in a much different place in life, it was comforting to hear the types of characteristics to each I should be considering. This eased the burden of deciding, and, ultimately, helped facilitate in the process.
Take a page out of Life’s Handbook. You are only 25 (hypothetically). Should you make a mistake, even a colossal one, you will have the chance to correct it – given that you catch it in time. This should be rather comforting. This is like forgetting to put on shirt on before going in public. Not a big deal, so long as you catch it before you leave the house.
THREE: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF (soft)
The real-world is hard, in every thinkable way. This is forcibly intertwined with professionalism as responsibility is unavoidably coupled with an increase to the stresses thrust upon the mind, body, and soul. Due to this, someone attempting to last longer than three years in any given market, should place adequate consideration to what the revitalization of each of these aspects looks like, on a personal level. Some of the people closest to me use exercise, increased social interactions, frequent travel, music, and/or various other outlets to rejuvenate the entirety of one’s spirit. Personally, I think these three aspects wage war against adulthood and exist in constant flow and flux. To which, no one method to the madness can be applied seamlessly to provide consistently appropriate responses.
Being a former college athlete, one of the most important lessons I learned in the first year, or so, of my truly-adult life was that I still desired, nay needed, competition in my life. Surely, as some of you read this you may catch yourself rolling your eyes or scoffing at my realization. However, I urge you to find something of similar nature - imagine spending a majority of your life thirsting for an aspect of your reality, only to have that pulled from you, without the ability to hinder that process. It creates a monumental chasm between where you were and where you are. Unfortunately, there may never come a time when that experience is replicated to the ferocity that it once held. Yet, I have identified opportunities for a portion of this to be reintroduced. As you enter an entirely new phase in life, it is imperative that you listen to your mind, body, and soul, to understand the ways in which you will replicate former, healthy, habits in order to make peace with newly altered certainties.
TWO: COMMUNICATE PROFESSIONALLY (hard)
Understand perceived intent. If you do not comprehend the previous sentence, pay close attention to what follows. We all know, and most likely have ample experience with, the fact that what we say is not always what people hear. “You look nice today” is often perceived as, “For once you decided to not look stupid.” Well, in professional settings, none of the perception gap evaporates – except this time around, intent can cause far greater issues that a slight hit to someone’s self-esteem. Although you may tell someone it was nice to speak to them about an issue, and truly mean that, more than likely they will receive that as a snarky jab to the reality that you experienced no enjoyment from the discussion. The list of examples to this is infinite. In a world that thrives on effective communication, it is imperative that all conversations pay respect to the listener/reader’s outlook and mindset.
Quick thoughts from my experiences:
Understand tone of language, even in email. An interesting/comical take on an aspect of this can be found in an article written by Post Grad Problems’ writer Emily - https://postgradproblems.com/what-i-say-in-my-email-sign-off-and-what-i-actually-mean/
Understand the importance of any and all generational gaps that may exist.
Understand that less is often more.
Understand that people may only read the first few lines of your email. That being said, if you want/need them to take action, it may be wise to insert the purpose early.
Understand that although punctual responses are appreciated, accurate information is valued at a much higher standard.
ONE: WISELY BORROW/LEND (hard – very hard)
Thank goodness we are finally in the real world and have ample funds to do what we want, buy what we want, and go where we want – or so you are made to believe. Early in adulthood, I strongly recommend having a real conversation with yourself about budgeting and the realities of unexpected expenses. However, that is not the intent of this section, as I am aware that many logical people figure this out, one way or another, prior to the introduction of professional experiences. Yet, no one really explains or teaches you that borrowing money from entities, companies or people, can be a complex, and strenuous ordeal. Further, lending money to people can be taxing and flooded with nuisances.
Borrowing – When I was offered my first position out of graduate school and was told the salary, the first thing my mind did was begin to spend that money. It was an uncontrollable subconscious reaction that left me pondering what my new life would be like. Sure, I probably consumed a tad more than I needed to on my first car loan. However, overall, I remained in a decent place because I knew that debt has a crippling ability, financially. I hope you do not find yourself preaching down the mountain at me over the previous comments, because it will happen to everyone at some point, no matter how reasonable or logical the person. The mind begins to contemplate all the items that have been unattainable, over the past several months or years.
Lending – I view this piece as damaging as poor borrowing, just in a totally different light. Wise people advise heavily against lending to family and friends. I would add one follow-up thought. Lending money to family and friends is a poor idea, even more so if your financial safety rests on their ability to pay you back in reasonable amount of time. Since graduation, through one form or another, I have loaned money to several people I consider some of my closest friends. There has to be consideration to the reality that the funds lent may never be returned - without calling their character in to question. That is not the intent of these comments. The intent of contemplation of your own financial well-being is the reality because life is unpredictable – things come up that may require the borrower’s financial attention in a greater manner than the repayment of a friend. Our subconscious mind would likely view the “terms and conditions” to a friend with far less significance and severity than it would to a true lender. I simply urge you to understand the stresses that this may cause in your personal life, should you avoid the reality of such an endeavor.
Best of luck out there.