EducationSkills

It may seem strange to consider that as adults we need to set goals. Aren’t paying bills, going to work, washing laundry, trying to exercise, and eat healthy all goals we already set for ourselves? Technically yes, but they are also the things we have to do to keep the gears of our life turning. Ever since graduating from college this past winter I’ve been searching for a system that will help me organize, prioritize, and improve myself in ways that extend beyond these necessities. This hasn’t been easy, and what I’ve come to realize very recently is that I don’t have to reinvent a brand new plan. What I am going to do is re-use the program I followed as a teenager and student and apply it to my life as an adult.

When I was 15 I registered for the Congressional Award program. This meant that for many years I was involved in four different program areas: physical fitness, personal development, volunteerism, and exploration or an expedition. I would create goals in each program area with my mentor, and together we would develop challenging goals and ways to work towards achieving them. For a long time I had a very specific reason to improve myself (earning a Gold Medal from Congress while simultaneously building my self-worth by doing things I loved). But once I graduated from college and earned that medal I realized that I haven’t been as ambitious or excited about improving myself as I used to be.

I’ve decided that I’m going to adopt the Congressional Award program model again and apply to this new chapter in my life. Instead of playing for my high school tennis team or training for a half marathon like I did as a student, I am going to set a goal to go to the gym at least four times a week and limit my eating out to two times a week for physical fitness. For personal development I am going to use Rosetta Stone to learn a new language and maintain my speaking skills from what I used to study. For volunteerism I am going to reconnect with an animal shelter I worked for in high school and get retrained as a volunteer. Every time I go somewhere new my goal is to read a book and do research on that location before I get on the plane.

What I learned about setting goals from when I was still a student is that they need to be realistic but challenging. I am not going to challenge myself to go to the gym seven days a week for two hours a day, because I know that given my work schedule that simply will not work. I also know my body and understand that burning out and being exhausted only leads to injuries and frustration. When setting new goals after being rusty for a while, it’s crucial that you be kind to yourself. Set goals, map out how you can achieve them, but don’t burden yourself with self-hate if you don’t achieve them perfectly every single day. Forgive yourself for not being perfect, and move on. Take baby steps and eventually you’ll have walked more miles than you realize.

Image: Life of Pix

Culture

The day you turn 18 is monumental. You become a legal adult. But for most of us that have passed that key birthday, we’ve also discovered several harsh realizations about growing up.

Almost everyone has heard it: “College will be some of the best years of your life.” This may be exciting for incoming freshmen who are about to embark on a life-altering journey, but what about college seniors who are working on job applications? What is there to look forward to if your best years are already behind you?

As a college junior, I have no desire to believe that college will conclude the best years of my life. I believe that your college years aren’t simply defined by your age, but by your experience. For many people, college is their first burst of freedom…their first attempt at learning responsibility. What makes college so exciting is simply the intense opportunity for personal growth.

I felt the weight of this responsibility when I became captain of my tennis team during my sophomore year at the University of Nebraska. After just one summer, I went from being an overwhelmed college freshman to assuming a position teeming with responsibility and prestige.

As a self-professed control freak, being team captain is probably just what I needed. However, Uncle Ben said it best: “With great power comes great responsibility.” People who are seen as people of importance are often put on a pedestal. More is expected of them than others. But what no one tells you about being on a pedestal is that it is an awfully lonely place to be.

If someone asked me if I was prepared to be captain that year, I would’ve answered with a definite “no.” If they had asked me the same question about this year, I would’ve answered “probably not.” Although I’m one step closer to being prepared, I’ll never be completely there. Preparedness isn’t something tangible; it’s a state of mind.

When a person decides they’re ready to get married, are they really ready for that kind of commitment? When a couple decides they’re ready to have a baby, are they really ready to be parents? Can anyone be prepared for such life changes? And what defines being truly prepared?

There came a moment during elementary school when I realized that adults aren’t always right. With that came the realization that parents aren’t always right either. The loss of magic I experienced in that moment was very similar to the emptiness you feel when you discover Santa Claus doesn’t exist. It’s facing another inevitable reality.

But there’s also a kind of relief in realizing adults can be wrong. All of a sudden, they become human. That pedestal that you had them on has diminished. The expectations you had of them, as well as your future self, have vanished. They no longer seem invincible. All at once, they become much easier to forgive.

We’re all waiting for that epiphany. That moment when we suddenly feel more responsible, more worldly, more prepared than we were the day before. It’s both daunting and refreshing to know that day will never likely come. There’s no book to tell you the best way to survive a marriage or the correct way to raise your kids. Just as with anything else, that part of your life will be defined by your choices.

It’s much easier to understand your parents once you’ve walked in their shoes. It’s also much easier to understand your boss once you acknowledge their position. Whether it’s choosing a college, moving to a new state or making a financial investment, any big decision in life is difficult to make. And the more you grow, the more difficult choices you are forced to make.

Our culture has a fascination with age. That’s why the day you turn 16 assigns you a responsibility that you weren’t supposedly mature enough for the day before. It’s the same as the day you turn 21. But how many 20-year-olds do you know that could be drinking? How many 22-year-olds do you know that shouldn’t be?

The day you turn 18, you don’t feel any different. You’re the same person you were the day before, with the same level of experience and intellect. The same holds true between your 20th and 21st birthday, your 34th and 35th, and your 59th and 60th. The truth is, nothing changes. You’re simply one day older.

What makes you an adult isn’t that monumental day that you surpass 17. What makes you an adult is your assumed level of responsibility. All the times you’ve chosen to keep your mouth shut when it wouldn’t have been wise to speak. All the times you’ve made a sacrifice for someone that could do nothing for you. All the times you’ve had the courage to admit that you were wrong.

But just like any other type of growth, it has to start within you. You have to want to grow. The question is: who in their right mind actually wants to grow up? Wouldn’t almost everyone like to remain a carefree kid for the rest of their lives?

The answer lies in just another inevitable truth: one day you will grow up. And one day, the world will ask things of you that they expect of an adult in the same way you’d assume your dentist knows how to fill a cavity. The secret lies in trying.

There’s the common saying: “Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.” While some people like to stick to their ways and coin them “successful,” others understand that change is the only way to improve upon something.

Just like you don’t know how fast you are until you run your first marathon, you’ll never know the power of admitting you were wrong until the words actually escape your mouth.

Image: Lee Scott

HealthSkills

It’s 3 a.m. on a Saturday and we’re pulling an all-nighter and studying for our test on Tuesday and preparing for that big event and planning our next organization meeting and fixing our resume for Monday’s interview and… we’re forgetting to take a breath because we’re on our fourth cup of coffee in the last two hours. Sound familiar? It’s a lot to handle during adolescence and adulthood, when life is already throwing so many new changes and obstacles our way.

It’s a mad rush to pad our resumes, make the cut for dean’s list, or secure the best job, and while ambition is so important in these years, rest is, too. Not the kind of rest that involves lying on the couch in front of the TV, one hand in a chip bag and one hand surfing Facebook on our phone. I’m talking about the kind of rest that allows us to rejuvenate and care for ourselves.

In college, I only gave myself the potato chip kind of rest, on the very rare occasions that I actually even “rested.” I worked my butt off and tried, to no end, to be perfect and the best at a lot of things that looked amazing on my resume but didn’t even make me that happy. In fact, they brought me anxiety. Not stress; stress is normal and can be healthy. Anxiety is not, and neither is perfection. I was lost, and I refused to slow down to ask myself where this lost feeling was coming from, and if it was even real.

That strategy didn’t work. Halfway through my senior year, I became burnt out and depressed to the point that I wanted to throw everything away and hide under the covers for the entire semester. Coming from a school known for its overcommitted students, I was not the only person I knew who felt this way. I was tired of trying to please everyone but myself. I finally began asking myself what was up, which led me down a life-changing path where I made the changes that now allow me to enjoy the things I commit myself to.

You see, ignoring feelings of intense pressure or anxiety, and pushing ourselves to unrealistic limits can lead us to burn out. In order to avoid it, we can do a few things:

1. We must stop and listen.

This means that, when we feel an emotion we don’t like, we don’t push it away and run from it. No amount of ignoring will keep us from feeling what we feel. When we learn to respect our emotions and ask what is causing them, we can really get somewhere. It is this kind of questioning that slowly brings us closer to ourselves and allows us to make important discoveries and necessary changes in our priorities and relationships.

2. We must be ok with what we are feeling.

We have to stop judging ourselves. One of the greatest contributors to adolescent and young adult stress and confusion is the need to be perfect. The thing that can be so difficult to realize is that when we fail, when we’re angry, when we react poorly, and when we screw up, we’re being humans, and we need to try to be ok with that. Otherwise, we will be unable to let go of our fear of failure, preventing us from genuinely, passionately devoting ourselves to what we love.

3. We need to take naps.

Why do they only happen in pre-K? We all need them. A short 15 minute power nap can really do wonders for our bodies, which sometimes need a chance to unwind, regroup, and chill. And getting seven to eight hours of sleep each night, if we can swing it, is key.

4. We need to discover what it is that we love, and make time to do it.

This can be a process, so don’t freak out if you don’t have a clue what it is. Taking a few minutes, even just once a week, to try out something new or deepen an existing hobby is a good first step. It may be trial and error, but soon we realize we can actually make time for these little moments.

5. We need to learn to say “no.”

I know that this one is tougher than it sounds. We’re taught to work and work and work, more than anyone else in the office, even if it means 10 hour days with no lunch break or accepting yet another position as president of yet another campus club. When we spread ourselves thin, we don’t allow ourselves to give our best to any one thing, and that isn’t fair to ourselves. Saying “no” when we aren’t able to take on a commitment is not bad, insulting or mean. It is responsible and smart.

Burnout is so very common among young adults, and it’s important to recognize when it may be happening to us. It can be scary and foreign to admit to it and attempt to change things, but addressing it can bring us a sense of peace, along with the energy and motivation to be our very best.

Do you have any tips for staying motivated and avoiding burnout? Let us know below or tweet to us!

Image: Mike Hoff