Transitions are important part of our lives, and learning to navigate them (at any life stage) is an important skillset. First, let’s take a zoomed out view of things. One of the most important things to consider is a concept called previewing. Identifying how things are different between two points in our lives helps us better prepare for the transition. The more that we can do prior to a transition makes that transition easier. For example, college students should be doing things before the transition ever occurs, such as budgeting their own money, creating a daily schedule that has structure (waking up early even if you don’t have class!), doing laundry regularly, paying your own bills (even if your parents are still helping you out), or identifying your own problems and solutions without others. A lot of the challenges that come with adulthood require strategies and behaviors that are not easily learned, so the more time we have to practice these skills, the easier they become.
Another important aspect is to think about why the structure of guidelines and instructions were helpful throughout a student’s life. Guidelines and instructions aren’t inherently bad, but what is difficult for adults is expecting others to create the guidelines and instructions. Think about how essays were assigned throughout your academic career. In middle school each part of the essay was assigned – 1) Do the reading, 2) take notes, 3) make an outline, 4) write a first draft, 5) revise your draft, 6) review your draft with your teacher, 7) write a final draft. As you get older, there is less structure insisted on, but many people follow the same process even when it isn’t required. Others create their own guidelines and instructions that work for them. The focus shouldn’t be on removing guidelines and instructions, but instead on learning how to create guidelines and instructions that work for you. These skills touch on something called metacognition and self-monitoring. Learn how your brain works best, what approaches set you up for success, and, rather than waiting for someone to tell you what to do, learn how to tell yourself what to do to be successful. It is your own life; it isn’t anyone else’s responsibility to make sure you succeed.
My own transition was difficult. I think the first thing to accept is that transitions are uncomfortable, but to remind yourself that you will make it through. Take each struggle and obstacle and view it as a learning opportunity. One of the biggest pieces of advice I’ll share – do not spend money that you don’t have. The finesse needed to manage credit cards and/or loans is difficult and can be a huge obstacle to overcome throughout your 20s. Set yourself up for success by slowly integrating into adulthood, rather than jumping all in. A second piece of advice is to find a mentor, whether that be your parents, siblings, or an older friend. Find someone who you can confide in and talk through the challenges with. You are not the only person who has gone through the transitions towards adulthood, so there are plenty of people who can be a resource to help you talk through problems and provide some recommendations to overcome them. Another piece of advice is to create structure for yourself. It is a bit paradoxical, but the more structure in your days leads to more efficiency with your time. If you are looking for a job, wake up early and create the structure as if you were already working. If you are “working” for 8 hours a day (whether that be looking for a job, going to the gym, volunteering, etc) it will be that much easier to then transition to a job where you are actually working 8 hours a day. Lastly, I would recommend working somewhere. Don’t let the ideal job prevent you from doing a job. I often tell those transitioning into adulthood to understand the difference between a job and a career. Jobs have limited functions – they help you pay bills and provide structure to your day. Careers, on the other hand, do both of those things, but they also provide us with growth opportunities and meaning in our lives. Yes, you want to find a career path, but it is okay to have a job while you are searching for the right career.