When I was a girl, my life was music that was always getting louder. Everything moved me. A dog following a stranger. That made me feel so much. A calendar that showed the wrong month. I could have cried over it. I did. Where the smoke from the chimney ended. How an overturned bottle rested at the edge of a table. I spent my life learning to feel less. Every day I felt less. Is that growing old? Or is it something worse? You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.
— Jonathan Safran Foer
As we transition into adulthood, there’s one universal fact that we all come to understand: We know much less than we think. I’m not just talking about lessons that we can find in books — which is a lot — but also lessons that we learn from life. As we get older, we encounter new problems that involve our interaction with others, our work, or ourselves. This cannot be rushed. It’s in the hands of time. However, as someone who is knocking on the door to their thirties, I can tell you that I’ve learned a fair bit of things over the past ten years. Here are 10 harsh pieces of advice that I hope can help manage your expectations as you make this transition into this new time in your life.
(1) Life, and the society in which we live in, isn’t fair.
Regardless of your political orientation, it’s irrefutable that what happens to us isn’t always just or equitable. Whether it’s a distracted driver who ends up striking our car while changing lanes or raising a child as a single parent in unfortunate circumstances. Once we begin to understand that sometimes the situations that we find ourselves in are not entirely within our control, we’re better able to lower our expectations and conduct ourselves accordingly.
(2) However, we do have the ability to push for positive change.
Despite that some things that we experience are unjust, our individual actions — in coordination with others — can create positive change for others. We see this with the 15 and fairness movement, Occupy Wall Street, and the overturning of Prop 8. When communities organize around a shared cause, individuals do have the power to affect change.
(3) Our relationship with money will dictate our future.
It doesn’t matter how much money you make, the amount of debt you’re drowning under, or what promises your employer has given you in terms of a raise. If you’re unable to live below your means, you will be struggling for the rest of your life. I don’t intend to be ominous. Just honest.
(4) Keeping up with the Joneses is a dangerous mentality.
Less is more. You don’t need the newest iPhone. You don’t need to lease the latest car. You don’t need to purchase a three-bedroom house when it’s just you and your dog. The things you own will come to own you if you are not mindful about your consumption. Your identity is more than just your things.
(5) The hedonic treadmill exists.
The ephemeral pleasures that we splurge on may make us happy in the moment, but it never lasts. Our long-term happiness relies on a set point that is impervious to the infrequent positive and negative situations that we experience. More money, status, or possessions won’t actually make us happier in the end.
“Growing up is losing some illusions, in order to acquire others.” ― Virginia Woolf
(6) Productivity is actually measured by the quality of our output, not quantity.
It’s not about completing 10 tasks poorly. It’s about completing 5 tasks perfectly. It’s no longer impressive to show how much you can do, but rather how much better you can do them under the constraints that you have.
(7) People don’t think about you as often as it seems.
Social media makes us think that people are thinking about us constantly. In reality, someone has scrolled through their feed, stumbled upon your photo or tweet for a second, double-tapped, and moved on with the rest of their day. They do not care if you’ve had a tough day of work. They will not answer the phone if you call them at 3 AM for assistance. They are not your friends, in the truest sense of the word.
(8) Discarding relationships is difficult but inevitable.
As we get older, our lifestyle will begin to change — hopefully to become more aligned with our authentic self. It is unreasonable to expect that our high school friends will evolve at the same speed or in the same direction. Friends will drift apart. Couples will end relationships over declining mutual interests. It is unfortunate but realistic to experience growing pains when you are becoming the person you want to be.
(9) You are the rule, not the exception.
We are prone to survivorship bias: Glamourizing those who have ‘made it’ while disregarding the thousands of those who came before and failed to enjoy the same success. Think about Warren Buffet, Jeff Bezos, and Ray Dalio. Whatever rags-to-riches story you encounter are exceptions and not the rule. Instead of putting these people on a pedestal, find normal people around you who are exceptionally talented and hardworking. Those are the people you should admire and look to for motivation.
(10) Luck always plays a role in any outcome.
We pat ourselves on the back when we achieve a positive outcome, while simultaneously blame others for the times that we fail. No matter what you do, luck always plays a role in the outcome. That’s why we must divorce ourselves from the results and focus on what’s within our control — our analysis of the available information and the decisions that we make as a result.