The key to launching successfully into adulthood is individuation: the process of creating a personal identity unique from the identity of parents and other family members. Yet, his doesn’t mean cutting ties with family. It means setting up intentional space to develop your own, individual sense of self. It means living a life on your terms, rather than those set out for you by another person.
The process of individuation not only helps you understand what you want, it helps you figure out how to get what you want as well. It is about identifying meaning in your life. Although the process can be rough, individuation actually helps bring families together as a group of adults that participate equally in the relationship.
Here are a few helpful tips for young adults trying to make their way in the world:
- Do stuff. It sounds simple, but action is the number one key to future success, both personally and professionally. Young adulthood is a time to try new things. Don’t let preconceived notions of what you are capable of hold you back. Never thought you could dance? Sign up for a class. Always hated foreign languages? Sign up for a conversation table and get a good tutor. Try all kinds of different jobs and volunteer activities. You don’t need to know what you want to be yet. Just get out there and try new things. And, you never know what you will discover about yourself.
- Make dates with yourself. The biggest part of individuation is finding out who YOU are as an individual. Find time to focus on yourself. We live in a world of social media, cell phones, and busy schedules. Therefore, it’s hard to find time to one’s self without interruption. Space to think, journal, read, or meditate is so important, especially as you explore who you are and who you want to be. Turn off your phone, sign off of Facebook, and find a place away from the hubbub. Take a walk or light some candles and take a bubble bath. It is amazing how much clarity you will find just by giving yourself time alone.
- Find your people. Just because you are defining your individuality doesn’t mean you have to do so in a vacuum. There are people all around you going through similar things. Talk to them about what makes you tick. Talk about challenges you face, and obstacles you’ve overcome. Listen to other people’s stories. Learn from their experiences. Young adulthood is the moment to connect on a new level. There is a community out there for all of us. But, if something about your identity makes you feel alienated from people in your past, find others more like you through universities, extracurricular activities, or work. You are not alone, no matter how isolated you feel. Therapy is also a good option for young adults. It helps to engage a professional to talk things out.
- Travel. There is no better way to broaden your world view than getting out of town for a few days. Talk to people you think you have nothing in common with. Experience a new culture. Go on an adventure. These experiences challenge us to the core of who we are. Experience strengthens our sense of self over time. Give yourself as many experiences as possible. But always remember to do so safely.
- Make mistakes. Get out there. Get dirty. Say stupid things. Do something new. No one ever succeeded without making mistakes. Our society spends so much time telling us that failure is a bad thing, that we forget that failure is also the recipe for success. It’s all about how you fail. If we change the way we think about failure from “oh my gosh I suck” to “what can I learn from this experience?”, we change the nature of failure all together. We learn by getting things wrong. Embrace it. Apologize when necessary, but never think of failure as a bad thing again.
- Don’t decide what you want to be when you grow up. Yeah, we know this isn’t what you’ve heard your whole life. In kindergarten teachers were already asking what you wanted to be. It’s often better to find a purpose than a job. Don’t ask, “what do I want to be?” Instead ask, “how can I serve the world?” Find that thing that makes you feel fulfilled and pursue it. A job will follow. The universe rewards action. As long as you work hard, doors will open that you could never have even imagined.
- When thinking about a career, define your hygiene factors. Hygiene factors are your list of things that provide satisfaction and dissatisfactions in your job. They are what you want and don’t want from a career. Hygiene factors might include points about work schedule, number of hours, money, relationship to supervisors, travel, time off, type of environment, etc. Make a physical list of all of the things that you need from a job, and all of the things that will not work for you. Then, when searching for a job, stick to that list. For more information on defining hygiene factors, search for “Herzberg’s Motivators and Hygiene Factors”. There are lots of resources out there.
- Be honest. Don’t hide from who you are. That doesn’t mean that you have to announce your identity to the world. Yet, you shouldn’t have to hide it either. Decide what you want to share, but always be true to who you are. It will make you happier in the end. If you feel like you can’t, seek help from a trusted friend, parent or counselor.
- Give your parents a break. There are few things harder than watching a chick leave the nest for the first time. Although it is important to define yourself outside of familial expectations, remember that your new found independence might be hard for your parents to get used to. For them, it was just a few short years ago that you were just their “little kid”. Be firm about your needs as an adult but also be kind and compassionate. Let your parents know that you still love them and that will never change. Part of being an independent adult is being respectful. When you are in their house, respect the rules. Don’t expect to be catered to. Instead, offer to help out. This goes a long way towards finding even footing as an adult in your parent’s home.