Scarlet Meyer
June 23, 2015 6:00 am

It’s June. The sun is shining, and the weather is beautiful. But if you recently graduated into the real world, that is probably the last thing on your mind. The first thing on your mind is probably something akin to “what am I even doing here?”

Whether you’re back home, on your own, looking for work, or at a new job, the first couple months in the real world can feel like you woke up in someone else’s life. When I look back at that time all I remember is walking around in a scared stupor. I’m not saying that you’re necessarily feeling that way, but I am saying that if you are, it’s totally normal and okay.

The truth is that while you are still in fact on earth; you’ve basically entered a new world. Things are different here, and they can be scary at first. But what I’ve learned is that the different, scary things usually turn out to have hidden upsides. The problems you encounter may seem tough and even unfair at first, but there’s usually an awesome lesson within them that helps you level up in adulthood. Here are some things that seem like obstacles but are actually pretty great

You make plans to go out and meet your friends instead of just bumping into them

I’ve written about this before, but one of the weirdest parts of my graduation experience was all my friends picking up and leaving in a matter of days. The city I lived in that was once populated with friendly faces suddenly felt cold and lonely. Now that I’m two years older and wiser, I realized that a lot of them went back to their home states or on to different cities with different opportunities. But I also now know that a lot of us didn’t. We were still here, it just hadn’t occurred to us how much we relied on going to school every day to see each other.

I slowly pieced together that if I wanted to see my friends on a regular basis I had to call or text them to hang out. I could no longer rely on running into them or seeing them at class during the week. I also had to get over my shyness when it came to making new friends without the security of school. A few months after I graduated I started taking comedy classes at a local comedy school. I remember talking to a classmate that had just moved to NYC from Texas. She had signed up for a recreational soccer league to make friends. “What a desperate move!” I thought to myself. ‘Who intentionally signs up for activities to make friends?’ Two days later I was thinking, “How do I sign up for that soccer league!? I need to make some friends!” Sign up for the soccer league. Make plans with people. Make friends.

You make your own extracurricular activities

Another weird side effect of entering adulthood is that unless you’re adamant about maintaining your interests and hobbies, life is going to feel a little boring. When you’re in school you pretty much know what you’re doing every day, forever. Regardless of what is going on you can basically depend on classes, homework, after school activities, and hanging out with friends to keep you busy. However, when you’re out in the real world, no one is telling you to go to work or apply to grad school. No one is encouraging you to join a group or participate activities. If you wake up every day and do nothing about this, you’re going to find yourself having the kind of life where you maybe go to work and watch Netflix. While that works for some people, most need a little more than that. And it’s you, my new adult friend who have to bring that spice to your own life! Pursue your interests, sign up for things, and go on adventures. Get up early and run. Stay up late and write. When you’re adult no one is going to be concerned if you’re not doing these things, except you. So if you want it in your life you got to get to it!

You are the one supplying your pocket money

One of the most common realizations that can hit you in the real world is that you’ve got to make that money thing yourself. If you haven’t already been paying the bills and working to support yourself, now it’s go time. During my first two years in college, my parents financially supported me for everything. Tuition, textbooks, food, you name it. I was very lucky, and I took it for granted. Then during my junior year my family’s financial situation changed. I had to very quickly take on financial aid, student loans, and start working to help support myself. I remember one day I thought I didn’t have enough money for groceries. I called my parents, freaked out, and asked for more money. (Note: I am a recovered brat.)

They calmly asked me to chill out and spend the next few days writing down all my expenses to see if this was a real problem, or if I could be doing some stuff differently. By doing that for one day I realized that me being “broke” was really just me not budgeting responsibly. Not buying generic brands at the grocery store cost me an extra $30 a trip, easily. Me buying coffee at the coffee shop instead of brewing it at home was $28 a week. Going out for dinner or drinks with friends instead of hanging out with them at home was $40 a week, easy. Don’t even get me started on takeout.

I lived in one of the most expensive cities in the world, and I was not thinking intelligently about my money. That summer I was a pouty jerk, but I learned. I moved to a cheaper apartment that I could afford. It was a longer commute to school and work, but so what? I learned that being more responsible about working and making money wasn’t only necessary, but it was part of growing up. I had to work, and I had to save up. No excuses. I couldn’t run around spending money if I wanted to make rent, and that was okay. And the upside is now when I have enough money to splurge on myself, I can really appreciate it.

You find paperwork annoying, not scary

Although I had started to get over my paperwork phobia when I had to apply for financial aid at school junior year, nothing could have prepared me for the swift immediacy of student loan payments following graduation. (If you’ve taken out student loans to pay for school, get ready to hear from the companies that gave them to you the second you step off that graduation podium.) The same goes for applying to and paying for health insurance. Or filling out start paperwork at your new job. Or filing taxes. Or paying gym membership. Or anything really.

If I could take one picture to symbolize the worst parts of adulthood, it would probably just be a stack of bills and paperwork. Seeing any official looking paperwork used to make my eyes glaze over, but now I’m a pro. I’ve sat on the phone arguing over payment plans, looked up health plan packages on weird websites, written an actual letter to a doctor who kept charging me for the same lab fee, you name it. And while it was really intimidating at first, jumping head first into paperwork is one of my greatest strengths as an adult. Which is a good thing, because it’s not really something to brag about. We’re expected to pay bills and do paperwork as adults. But at least now I know I can do it.

You figure out ways to have fun on the cheap

Look back at some of your last plans you’ve made on your phone. Half the time either you or someone else is saying, “We should get drinks/brunch/coffee/or dinner!” They’re right, but if you follow up on this enough you’re going to have a skinny wallet. Something I didn’t quite get during school, but now understand is that it is much better to just go hang out at people’s houses instead of going out. You get a more intimate hang out, and everyone saves a buck. It is a win-win. So next time a buddy wants to hang out, ask them if they want to come over for dinner, or head over to their house with some popcorn and DVDs. You’re going to be much happier for it in the long run.

You are the adult you call when you need help

You’re going to run into a problem every once in a while. Maybe you don’t know whether to take a job, maybe you’re having issues with a friend. Whatever the problem is, it’s not going to have an easy or obvious solution. I hate these kinds of problems. I tend to be indecisive, and am generally the type of person who needs to call at least three people before I make a decision about anything. Regardless of all the proof I have to the contrary, I’m somehow convinced if I ask enough people the same question over and over again, I can pick the best answer and always win at life decisions (this has never actually worked for me but I still do it anyway.) Most of the time, at least two of these people I ask for advice are my parents.

This however, has been starting to wear on them. My mom reached the end of her rope a while ago when I was deciding whether or not to take an internship. We disagreed and got in a fight, and she just flat out told me, “You’re an adult. It doesn’t matter what I say, it’s your life and you need to live it”  I realized how right she was. I lived on my own, and I was in a fight with my mom about whether or not I should take on an internship that I applied for. This was 100% my problem, not hers. I realized I had to start doing what I wanted to do, and accepting the consequences. If I didn’t do that I wasn’t going to be living my own life. I looked back on my last couple decisions and realized a lot of them lacked conviction and direction because I was trying to crowd source the solution, instead of making it for myself. Though I still harass my parents for advice on a regular basis, I’m learning to trust my gut more. I am my own person, and I’m not going to have the life I want by trying to take everyone’s advice at the same time. Now when I run into trouble, I am the adult I ask for help.

You work hard, but you’re also trying to find a job that doesn’t feel like work

 When I finally got my first full time job out of college, it felt surreal. In a matter of weeks I had gone from a very sad unemployed person, to someone with coworkers and meetings to go to. I felt like a stray cat that had been taken off the street and given a warm bed. But then when the glow of the warm bed started to wear off, I realized I actually didn’t like the job. This was especially bad, because being my first job, I was just realizing that when you’re a working adult you’re going to spend more time with your coworkers than anyone else in your life, and you will spend more time at your job than on your actual life. Liking your job and coworkers is worth more than a paycheck. Try your best to be somewhere that makes you happy doing things that you’re interested in. Of course, if you don’t land your dream job right out of college, don’t worry: Everything is experience, and experiences are how we learn.

You’ve learned how to make time for the things that are really important

Once I got into the swing of working, I realized what little time I had to myself. I used to complain that this meant that I didn’t have time to do any of the activities that I love (in my case writing and standup). Then it slowly dawned on me that I needed to make the time. My dad is an artist, and he wakes up every morning at 5 am and paints. One of my favorite teachers from school does the same thing with writing. I was beginning to see a pattern. If your hobbies and interests are important to you, you need to carve out time for them.

You’re still not quite sure how to do this “adult” thing, but you know it’s a learning process

The biggest and most important lesson I’ve learned from being an adult is that there is no template and a lot of the time no one actually knows what they’re doing. Everyone is taking it one day at a time, encountering new problems, dealing with them, and living to fight another day. When I was little I used to think adults knew everything. Now I know most adults probably know enough to make it to next week. I look at old photographs of my parents with my brother and I as little kids, and I no longer see authoritative adults. I see frazzled twenty-somethings, just like me. They didn’t know everything. They were making it up as they went along. We all are. I think that the greatest myth about adulthood is that one day you just gain a bunch of knowledge and magically transform into an adult. That’s not really the case. Instead you kind of just push forward through a series of trial and error, and hopefully learn some stuff along the way. So when you’re out in the real world, don’t be upset if you don’t already know how to do something. You’re going to learn, and you will probably mess it up at first. And that’s okay. Because doing that doesn’t make you a kid, it makes you a grownup. Starting to take on adult responsibilities is hard, but it will only make your life better.

Related Stories:

When I stopped pretending that everything was OK, my life got better
12 Things I Learned Since Graduating From College

[Image via HBO’s Girls]

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