It’s hard to say when a person reaches adulthood. Leaving mom and dad’s house, finishing college or getting a job don’t seem to automatically make a person an “adult” these days.
If anything, adulthood is a daily and gradual process of choosing maturity over immaturity. It doesn’t happen in one big moment, but over years of wise decisions. Adulthood is a sculpture carved over time. It’s a process of a person casting away their childishness and taking the shape of Godly maturity in their thoughts, words and actions.
So, as you go through this complex, sometimes-painful journey of mature adulthood, here are some tips to help you do it well.
1. Realize You’re Not the Center of World
We think as if the world revolves around us, even if we would never say it out loud. We develop unrealistic expectations of ourselves, careers, marriages, church and so on (and then we get depressed when our too-high expectations go unmet). The truth is, we don’t deserve anything, really. We’re not “above” any job or career, “above” a certain potential spouse or “above” a certain income level or lifestyle.
When you start thinking with a measure of humility, you begin having realistic expectations of yourself and others. You begin to have a healthy vision of the type of life you should live. It’s been said that maturity is when your world opens up and you realize that you’re not the center of it. This is one of the most important aspects of adulthood.
2. Cultivate Emotional Maturity
We hold on to bitterness against others as if we’ve never hurt anyone. We get moody. We’re quick to be bothered. We treat people according to how they make us feel, not according to who they are. We’re slow to forgive other’s flaws while expecting them to forget about ours. We almost like being offended sometimes. We react to life instead of responding to it. Ultimately, we don’t control our emotions; we let our emotions control us. Doing adulthood well requires that we get a handle on our emotions. Think before you react, speak or tweet.
3. Learn the Difference Between Time Management and Energy Management
This is one of the best lessons I have learned in my adult life. Some things take a lot of time but not a lot of energy, and some things take a little amount of time but a lot of energy. You can manage your time well but still stress yourself out because you spread your energy too thin across too many well-timed activities. Just because everything fits into your schedule doesn’t mean you’ll have the energy to handle it all.
One of the secrets to time and energy management is learning how to say “yes” and “no” to things. Saying “yes” to one thing means saying “no” to something else, and vice versa. Learn how much time and energy you’re realistically able to devote to life, and prioritize the things that deserve the most time and energy.
4. Don’t Live With Unhealthy Assumptions
Some of us live in an imaginary world. In this imaginary world, a person spends hours thinking about hypothetical questions (“What if they think ______ about me?”) which quickly turn into to assumptions (“He/she probably thinks ________ about me”). Sometimes we make decisions and develop emotions and even damage relationships based on assumptions that may not be true. I know from experience this will drive you crazy. If you don’t know something to be true, don’t live as if it’s true. Reality’s complicated enough. Why add an imaginary layer on top of it?
5. Invest in People Younger than You
One of the quickest roads to maturity is to build relationships with people less mature than you as well as people more mature than you. We all need people further along the road of life to give us advice, and we all need peers. But a key ingredient for maturity is investing in people who aren’t as far along in life as you are. When you invest in people younger than you, it helps them grow and it pushes you to be mature.
6. Embrace Deep Relationships
Sometimes we don’t invest in relationships because we’re afraid of getting hurt. Or we think we don’t know how to go deep with somebody. So, we say things like “I suck at relationships” instead of actually trying.
It’s easy to keep it lighthearted and fun with everybody all the time, but we also need deep, significant relationships in order to have a healthy adulthood. Risk and awkwardness and vulnerability and pain are all parts of a healthy relationship, not reasons to avoid one. Whether it’s with your parents or with friends or with a potential marriage partner, embrace the beautiful messiness and joys of deep relationships.
7. Manage Your Money
This goes almost without saying. If you want to be a healthy adult, learn how to use money to live a stable life, not to serve your whims. Live within your means. Figure out what you’re making, then figure out how much of it can go to debts, housing, food, shopping and so forth. Establish credit (but don’t go crazy). Spend in such a way that you make money your servant, not your slavemaster. I highly recommend using a budgeting app such as mint.com.
8. Make a Plan
There are too many twenty-somethings coasting through life because they don’t have a vision for what they should be doing. Set for yourself a six month, one year, two year, etc. plan so you have a goal to work toward. Even if it doesn’t work out, at least you’re living purposefully and not just drifting.
9. Learn How to Rest Well
You can’t work well if you don’t rest well. Some of us work too hard, have nothing left to give and get stressed out. It’s important to prioritize your schedule (and cut things out if you can) to allow yourself some rest. Your phone needs to be constantly recharged, and you do too.
10. Love the Lord
This truth is so obvious you might miss it. Regardless how well you’re doing with your career, relationships, parenting and so on, if your life doesn’t revolve around glorifying God, your adulthood won’t be what it should be. Before getting a job, leaving your parents, building a career or starting a family, your deepest need no matter your age is to turn from sin, trust in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and build your lifestyle around His honor.
So, go deep with a community of other Christians. Soak yourself in God’s Word. Make the greatest hope of your life that others will love Jesus because of you. This is the foundation of truly healthy adulthood, and without it you’ll be at an epic disadvantage.