Recently, a few Baby Boomer parents have talked with me about the difficulties their young adult children are experiencing in transitioning from college into adulthood — and asked me to write some tips for young adults to help make this season of their life go better. Ok, so here are my thoughts.
First, let’s understand why so many young people are struggling when they leave college. First, life is complex and there are a lot of pieces to put together to function independently in our culture. Secondly, living independently is expensive. When you factor in the cost of housing, a car, auto insurance, health insurance, cell phone, clothes, school loans, … it adds up. And most young college grads aren’t making a lot of money. So money is tight. Third, when you add the continued mobility of our society, it is rare that a young adult is around a very well developed social network. They may be around college friends for a while, but many wind up moving shortly after graduation (to graduate school or to a new job). And often where they went to college is not close to family.
So what are the steps that can help make the transition from college to young adulthood go more smoothly? Here are five areas to work on:
- Work on your financial situation. Gather data on what you are earning (bringing home) and what you are spending. Use tools like mint.com to help you keep track. If you are going to be “independent”, that means you live off of what you earn — and unless you are really “the exception”, the quality of your lifestyle is going to drop dramatically during this period of your life. (Hopefully, your parents have been slowing weaning you off of their financial support; otherwise, this is going to come as quite a shock to you.) It may take a while, but you need to get to the point where you are earning more than you are spending (including credit card expenditures.)
- Have realistic expectations about the world of work . a) To get a job, you are going to have to accept something about the job you don’t like (pay, location, hours, position); b) Your first job out of college isn’t going to be your career dream — hopefully, it will be somewhere on your career path (but it may not be); c) Generally speaking, early in your career, work sucks. It may be boring, with low level functioning co-workers or supervisors, and have a lot of negatives (why else was the position open and not filled by someone who already works there?)
- Continue to work on your career path. Finding “what you want to do in life” is a process, and rarely happens right out of college. Use your current work situation to learn more about yourself — what you like and are good at — and more about “what’s out there” in the world of work. Talk to friends who are working in your field and find out what they are learning from their experience. Consider doing some self-study in an area of interest, or maybe take (or audit) a course.
- Proactively build your social support network. Most probably, you or a number of your college friends have moved. And you are no longer in the intense social environment of college where there are new and interesting people arriving every 5 months. You need to proactively (that means, take initiative) take steps to build and rebuild your social support. Go places where you can meet people and develop friendships. Keep in touch by phone, text and Skype. And don’t forget family members — siblings, new brothers/sisters-in-law, even your parents — can be a part of your social support (remember they are going to be a part of your life for a long time).
- Develop healthy habits into your life. If you aren’t careful, you can become a boring, dull person real quickly. Go to work. Come home and eat dinner. Check Facebook. Play some video games and watch a movie. Go to bed. Repeat ad infinitum. You will become fat, lonely and depressed within a few months. Use the structure of work life to build other positive habits into your life — exercise, learn a new skill, rekindle a former hobby, serve someone else, take time for your spiritual life.
Life stage transitions are tough. But understanding what needs to happen to get you successfully into the next stage, and then working a plan to do so, can make it “survivable”!