Life Realizations That Occur Once You Start Adulting
Five agonizing truths about life that one realizes at some point or another.
Growing up, there wasn’t much stress or tension to deal with on a daily basis. You could run around, stop to smell the roses, and amble about without constantly worrying if someone was looking over your shoulder trying to find out what you were up to.
Life didn’t come to you at a 1000 frames per second. You lived like every second was your last, and studied at school like your life depended on it. The only ones coiled around your neck like snakes were your parents and teachers, and that, too, was only if you brought home bad grades. Barring a few slips and falls, life was largely routine in nature, but extremely enjoyable. Serotonin is at its highest, and the dopamine monster still hasn’t entered our lives to begin causing chaos and confusion everywhere.
As children, at least for those who were privileged enough to grow up with both their parents, no financial issues, and just the occasional family drama, most of us were never allowed to feel the harsh realities of life. Getting caught awake post bedtime, failing to complete an assignment, and not scoring well in exams were probably the only things that came close to giving us a bit of anxiety, if you could even call it that.
Seldom did we even care about what our families were going through, their long hours at the office, or the constant stress they faced in keeping the family together.
Present day millennials suffer the highest rates of anxiety, depression, and existential angst. This isn’t only because we live in chaotic times, but largely because most of us have grown up in homely Cinderella realities. This was the reality for most well-to-do families of the 90s.
Food was always there on the table. Money was never short. Time was aplenty. And we didn’t have a care for a thing in the world.
Here are the 5 harsh realities of life we wish we had learned about sooner than later, which would have helped us buffer against stress and adversity, helping us lead rich, fulfilling, and satisfying lives.
The idea of impermanence
For all intents and purposes, this the first lesson adolescents should learn about when they come of age. No other lesson in life could be more important. Everything else can wait.
No situation, person, place, activity, or thing is permanent. Anything that’s good, bad, or somewhere in between will come to an end.
Unless a very sustained and deliberate effort is taken in maintaining something, it will come to an abrupt end. This could be a hobby, a relationship, a lifestyle, a city, a company, or anything else that you currently hold close to your heart. This is the main reason why we should live more purposefully rather than passively. Clocking in and out of office year after year, taking that annual vacation like clockwork, distributing sweets on our birthdays and calling in sick on 1st of Jan from the NYE hangover. This predictable and mundane script plays on repeat for millions of people, year after year, all through their lives. Nothing really changes.
Until something does, that is.
There is no “single life path”
This narrative of a single life path has been maintained through the generations and has successfully spread with remarkable ease. In today’s world, we’re not only dismantling structures of patriarchy, assumed gender roles, and rigid workplace culture.
We’re actively creating new paradigms of life.
Ones in which the sole aim of life isn’t to acquire riches beyond one's imagination. Ones in which we don’t work in a single organization into our grey years, only to drop off one fine day from exhaustion. Ones in which work is just another branch of the tree, rather than the tree itself. Ones in which we don’t derive the meaning of life from impulsive purchases and compulsive overeating.
We millennials are more interested in amalgamating and merging distinct aspects of various lifestyles to curate our own custom lives. Instead of following the pre-established path laid out by previous generations, which actually doesn’t guarantee success and riches any more the way it once did, we’re busy carving out our own niches and becoming accomplished professionals in them.
“Millennials like us already earn less on average than the previous generation for the same amount of work. Inflation eats into that further, creating the need for side hustles. So, we’ve got a vicious circle going.”
Success is not the idea you’re sold, but whatever you want it to be
We’re the (millennial) generation who’s always been compared to the kid next door. From how much they scored in their exams, to how they’ve come up in life, from the esteemed jobs they’ve landed, and material possessions, to the grandiose weddings they had. Everything is compared on a point to point basis, leaving no room for uniqueness and individuality. At one point of our youngster years we’re told to be unique and stand out from the crowd, yet at another, we’re told to follow the established path and become like everyone else.
So what’s it going to be boomer parents? Make up your minds!
“Just because Elon Musk works most hours of the day, for instance, doesn’t mean his routine, or the outcome gleaned from it, will suit you. Your definition of success might differ from his. You may be happier if you spend more time with your family or friends.”
With the economy dealing us multiple blows, one recession after another, the housing crisis, and the now the pandemic, we millennials were up against the daunting realization that we indeed, will not be able to “have it all”.
I found an interesting snippet in a Medium article that talks about how different millennial suffering is to boomer suffering:
“The problem that underlies all of this is the notion that we need to suffer to build character, or work hard to “earn our keep,” or some other tripe like that. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in working hard at my job, but there is a disconnect about what “working hard” and “suffering for your work” mean between generations. Ultimately, younger people work hard and suffer, they just do it in ways that older generations don’t recognize.”
I particularly liked how the author of the article highlighted the difference between working hard and suffering for your work. And how older generations don’t recognize the difference.
A situation won’t last forever
It doesn’t matter whether your life is easy or hard. Whether it's constantly buffeted by storms, or bears more resemblance to a calm sea, nothing lasts forever. If it’s too easy, you’ll eventually get frustrated and try to change some component of it. If it’s too hard, well, you’re constantly trying to keep your head above water anyway, isn’t it?
So, by that logic, there is no point in worrying since everything’s in a constant state of flux. All the decisions you take have a bearing on your natural state of being, and impacts all the other surrounding aspects of your life, either directly or indirectly.
“Valuing the principle of impermanence not only will help a person to live in the present moment, but can also increase happiness and reduce dwelling on difficult situations. Buddhism emphasizes the importance of accepting the impermanence of life because it is one of the keys to reducing and being free from attachments and sufferings. Only then can a person find true inner peace and enlightenment.”
A scientific study on Practicing Emotional Strengthening provides the reader with a list of principles on everyday healthy living, one of which speaks about the idea of impermanence. They say that only when one truly accepts the idea of impermanence, can one truly go through difficult situations and hardships in life without feeling much pain.
Fun can always wait
During the early days of childhood, the opportunity to have fun was held to the highest regard. A game of football here, a picnic there, and an opportunity to go with your friends to the movies, were considered too sacred to be missed. And in case such a thing happened, it led to a lot of grief and wallowing about in feelings of regret and resentment. Little did we realize that we had our entire lives out in front of us to enjoy ourselves and have fun.
Present day millennials know that opportunities for fun will always present themselves (or they could just be purchased), and missing a road trip or night out with friends doesn’t really hurt in the long run. Our priorities are different now. Sure, by missing out on some weekend fun, you’ll be hit with major Monday blues in the office. But it’s a small price to pay to upskill and learn, or just enjoy the blissfulness of staying at home in solitude, completely foregoing any human interaction over the weekend.
Of course, it needn’t be black and white. You can have fun for part of the weekend and learn and upskill over the rest. Never underestimate the power of baby steps which builds up incrementally over time leading to exponential returns later on in life.
“When you want to change behavior, jumping headlong into a major goal with both feet is often a waste of time. Instead, make tiny, incremental adjustments until they are part of your muscle memory. By starting small, you can attain big results.”
An article on the Harvard Business Review website speaks about the benefits of starting small but sustained habits to reap bigger rewards in the long run. The writer, Sabina Nawaz, says that it’s a waste of time taking a direct plunge into the things you’d like to attain mastery of. Instead, “by starting small, you can attain big results”, she says.
These are the 5 harsh realities of life I’ve come to realize over a period of time. It didn’t occur to me one fine day. Some of them have been realized after making some pretty terrible mistakes. So I thought, why not share some of them here.
Do let me know any realizations that have occurred to you as an adult. Something that you thought was a given or took for granted during childhood.