We were not born with adulting skills.
You don’t just become an adult when you turn 18. Adulting is a process. It takes lots of trial and error and hard reminders from life and expired relationships. Although we grow up and acquire tools, responsibilities, and jobs, deep inside we are children who snap back often. Whenever we encounter resistance or triggers, our child rears its reactive head. We pout, whine, and complain. Adulting is a practice. It takes years to become aware of our child and to stop pulling from who we used to be or how we were treated.
John Kim, LMFT, is a published writer, speaker, life coach, and a co-founder of SHFT. As he was going through an expired relationship, John created a blog on Tumblr and titled his first post “My Fucking Feelings”. He named his blog The Angry Therapist and started to document his journey post divorce. Even though he was a licensed therapist, John chose not to present himself that way. He wore t-shirts and jeans. He preferred the language of “me too” as opposed to “you should”. He blogged about his short comings, revelations, and his views on relationships, the self help business, and the world. He found CrossFit, bought a motorcycle, and started coaching people in unconventional ways. Soon he had a full practice. He would see clients all over the world using his phone. And zoomed around town and his motorcycle to do sessions in coffee shops. Through this process, he came up with his own concepts. He realized that there was a new way to help others, combining what he learned in therapy school with life coaching and using technology to be mobile and create online communities, but most importantly, he took a very different approach, one frowned upon by the rigid and antiquated therapy world.
Editor: Nadeem Noor
Also our definition of “adult” changes. What we thought was "adult" a couple of years ago may not be today. For example, me acting like an idiot with my male friends, telling inappropriate jokes and sending ridiculous texts. I would have labeled that immature a few years ago. But today, I believe we need some ridiculous in our lives. It makes us not take ourselves so seriously. It can be medicine—with the right dosage.
At 43, I’m still leaning to adult. But here are some definitions of what I believe adulting looks like today:
1. Don’t be a jerk.
Kids are allowed to react, throw peas at the wall, and have temper tantrums. This is part of their growth process as they learn that those reactions won’t serve them. As an adult, you have the capacity to pause and choose differently. Being a jerk is a choice and a reaction. If you want to be an adult, there’s no excuse for it. Respond to people. Think about how your words and actions will affect others as well as yourself. Before you respond.
2. Take full responsibility for where you’re at in your life.
You can complain about your life, and some of it is totally fair: Many of us were dealt some really lousy cards, and things have happened to us that we had no control over. OK. But if you want to pull yourself out of the quicksand and make some kind of dent in the world, you have to accept where you’re at—completely. That’s the beginning of building or rebuilding anything. And the way to do that is by taking full responsibility for where you’re at. Own it fully in order to get the power back. The truth is, many of us were victims. But a victim mindset does nothing but turn us into prisoners. If you want to turn the page, you must look at everything on it and digest it, instead of trying to rip it out. What does taking full responsibility of your life look like?
3. Love hard and responsibly.
You’ve been hurt. We all have. But loving from a place of hurt isn’t loving. It’s hiding. And you will never hit the high notes of love you’re searching for if you’re hiding. It’s tough, but love as hard as you can. Don’t give yourself any other choice. Be fearless. Be vulnerable. Show yourself. Put yourself out there, completely. Eyes closed. Arms folded. Knowing he or she may not catch you. And what if you get hurt? You probably will. But what’s the alternative? Love with fear? What would that look like? You know. You’ve been there before. So you have to make a choice—a difficult one that will bring you a ton of resistance. You have to let go of control, predictions, and expectations, and just practice love in its purest form, without fear. You have to stop wrestling logic and ego, and stand on the ledge with a smile, knowing that loving someone else as hard as you can will always be more about you than anyone else.
The other half is responsibility. I’ll break it down to its simplest form: It means to communicate. Don’t leave people in the dark. We all know that when we sign up to love someone, we are also signing up for possible hurt. That’s the name of the game, and there’s no way around it. But there’s a difference between a broken heart and unnecessary hurt from being irresponsible—or from being a coward. It takes courage to be vulnerable and honest. It takes courage to show yourself and have tough conversations. It takes courage to draw boundaries. It takes courage to not make it about you. It takes courage to love responsibly.
4. Stop lying.
Yes, to others, but more importantly to yourself. Nothing can be built without truth. Children can believe their own lies; they live in fantasy. But if you keep lying to yourself, you will always be a stunted child. This will keep you from everything you want, because you will not be everything you are. You will be invisible. What is a truth you need to swallow in your life right now, and why is it so hard to swallow this truth? Most likely, the answer is fear. What does it mean if you finally swallow this truth? How will it change your life? How will it change other people’s lives?
5. Check your ego.
There is a healthy dose of ego that we all need. I’m referring here to a state where one is ego-driven, manipulating everything to circle around them, and finding a way to always make it about them, so they can gain and stand in the spotlight. What these people don’t know is that their ego is blocking their potential.
Along with fear, ego is the other wall that will prevent you from becoming all you can be. Our power will always be in giving, not taking. We all have ego, and it can swell fast. Adulting means being aware of it and choosing to pull from a different place. Children pull from their egos; adults pull from their hearts.
6. Call people back.
No one does this anymore. We’ve become so accustomed to texting and instant messaging that real voices bring us anxiety now. Why call when we can just text? Technology is training us to hide behind our phones, instead of using them for what they were originally meant for.
If someone actually picks up the phone and calls you, you should call them back. (Unless they’re your parents. Kidding.) They want to talk to you, not text you—or they would have just sent a text. Don’t allow technology to create gaps and disconnect in your relationships. Technology should be a tool to connect better, not a crowbar to separate us. Adults call people back.
7. Take care of your own stuff.
Children make their problems other people’s problems. They don’t have the self-awareness or the capacity to hold space for others. They vomit. And we allow it, because they’re children. But adults do have the capacity, even though many chose not to exercise it. If you want to adult, you must be aware of your own perceptions, problems, issues, and triggers, and how they affect other people, especially in your relationships. If you don’t take care of your own stuff, boundaries are blurred, and you will set yourself up for an adult/child dynamic instead of adult/adult. And then don’t be surprised when you wake up one day and your partner tells you their feelings have changed. The truth is that the relationship dynamic shifted, which changed their feelings.
8. Be grateful.
Children just want more and more and more. Adults want different things. Well, some adults just want more and more and more—but then, they are not adults. Because if that’s all you want, there is no room to practice gratitude, and adults practice gratitude.
Be grateful for everything you have, including all the chapters of your life you want to rip out, all your expired relationships, all of the challenges, struggles, and turbulence you face — all of that you will get through, like you got through it before. Be grateful for all the lessons you’ve learned and how they have transformed you into a better version of yourself. Be grateful for all of your relationships, even if they can be challenging sometimes. Be grateful that you have choices. Be grateful that you can choose to be an adult.