At the ripe old age of 27, I have certainly learned a thing or two about what it means to be a young adult in 2016. Our way of life is drastically different to those of past generations, we stay kids longer, have more freedom to be ourselves, and are simultaneously more connected and isolated than ever. There has arguably never been a more remarkable and unusual time to be young, here, and alive. But our generation does come with its own unique set of difficulties and challenges which require a fresh and innovative approach if they are to be overcome. Now, there are a million and one articles out there that will tell you how important it is to travel and see the world, to knuckle down on your dreams, and enjoy your youth before committing to a marriage or career that may not leave you fulfilled or happy, so, as much as I agree with all of that, I won’t bother you with it again. Instead, I wanted to discuss a few scenarios and strategies that are specific to my experience and are things I’ve come to consider enormously important to my own happiness and wellbeing.
Routinely expand and strengthen your social circles with new and interesting people. Something I quickly recognised as I traversed the unknown territories of my mid to late twenties was a growing tendency to play it safe in regards to my social life. I found myself cutting off casual acquaintances left, right and centre until all that remained was a tight-knit group of loyal and dependable friends I knew I could trust with my life. Surprisingly enough, this, in retrospect, was a mistake.
While it is absolutely essential in life to keep a small number of close, intimate friendships who hold a complex and thorough understanding of who you are and who you’ve been—who have stood beside you through thick and thin and have witnessed firsthand your growth and development over the years, it is equally important to bring in fresh blood, people who perceive you only as who you are today, people who can challenge your thinking with new ideas and drag you out of your comfort zone kicking and screaming. Be proactive and put yourself out there. You will be truly amazed by how much the good you gain from positive social interactions carries over into other areas and aspects of your life.
For goodness sake, let loose once in a while! As we get older, there is a certain unspoken expectation to begin the process of settling down, to get serious about our lives and take better care of our bodies and health. Of course, I don’t disagree. A huge part of growing up is learning how to be responsible for your own actions and their consequences and you certainly can’t be smashing casks of cheap wine at the park every weeknight or throwing yourself headfirst into every bit of trouble you can find. Realistically, once you hit your mid-twenties, you really should start thinking about your future and the steps it will take to get there.
But that sure doesn’t mean you should give up your freedom and wildness altogether. No, if you don’t let go and let yourself be an absolute crazy ass head case occasionally, the pressure and responsibility of adulthood will send you completely mad. Be a goddamn fool now and then. Be reckless and thoughtless and shamelesly neglectful. Stay up too late, drink until you drop, order the fattiest, dirtiest, most delicious item on the menu. You cannot live your whole life restricting yourself only to what is good and healthy for the body. Sometimes, you have got to do what is good and healthy for the soul.
Experiment with your identity. The prevalent belief that who we are is set in stone is preposterous, harmful and utterly untrue. The fact is, ‘who we are’ is a complex and multi-layered symphony composed of our core self, our current circumstances, and the conscious decision we make each and every day to either progress and grow or remain the same. And the moment we tweak a single tone in this arrangement, the character of the whole piece changes dramatically.
So, it is an enormous shame that so many of us choose to settle with the identity we formed throughout our adolescence — the wealth of experience and possibility that is made available to us as young adults far surpasses that of our childhoods and teenage years, making it the perfect opportunity to really dig deep down into the nitty-gritty of our egos and discover fragments of our personality we never knew existed. Whether you consider yourself introverted, unmotivated, petty, cruel or insecure, if you throw yourself into the deep end and actively challenge yourself and the tendencies that come naturally to you, you might be surprised to find how truly thin and tenuous these so-called ‘attributes’ really are. There is nothing fundamental about you, everything can be developed, altered and improved.
Regardless of whether these challenges and their solutions are applicable to you and can be implemented in your own life or not, my last piece of advice is to just ease up a little, be productive with your happiness and concern yourself less with what you think the world expects of you. The world has no idea. We are an entirely new generation of young men and women, with our own unique needs, wishes, dreams and challenges, and it is our responsibility, and blessing, to figure out what they are ourselves.