#adulting is hard. Here are some ways to adult harder.
Talk of authenticity and vulnerability are huge draws to people in my stage of life or my age right now. We are hungry for it. We are drawn to it. For instance, Brené Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame, as well as her books on the same concepts, have helped give vocabulary and handholds to so many people about how to talk about shame, blame, and what it looks like to be brave. I see a lot of the people I follow on social media frequently reference inspirational people like Brené Brown or Jen Hatmaker or Glennon Doyle Melton. They all talk about being brave, being strong, loving well. And I am so thankful for them. I know that they, and people like them, have helped cultivate spirits of faith rather than certainty, attitudes of gratefulness rather than scarcity, and they have inspired so many people to take the brave steps to live into so many of their own deeply held values.
While much of their influence has helped create environments where people finally feel free to admit they are not perfect and to tell others #metoo, at the same time this seems to have also ironically created a space where people can carefully portray themselves as being vulnerable or brave without risking much at all.
Pictures of living rooms full of laundry strewn across couches, cheerios scattered on dining room floors, dirty dishes stacked haphazardly on counters, Instagram stories of women without makeup and messy hair, admissions of retail therapy at Target (pronounced TAR-ZHAY), or that you “accidentally” drank an entire bottle of wine while catching up on Fixer Upper or binging on Game of Thrones. People see themselves as being vulnerable and brave when they do these things.
And yes, those things can technically be small triumphs of courage and honesty, and I would assume most of us can relate to those moments being vulnerable to some degree, but I think we should also be willing to admit how shallow those moments of vulnerability actually are in the grand scheme of things.
Sometimes those posts are not done with an intent of being vulnerable, but are reactions of judgment of other people’s projections of a perfectly curated life, as seen on social media. The next step on the vulnerability continuum would be to admit that we post pictures of messy living rooms and literally air our dirty laundry to strangers because we are bitter, envious, lonely, or insecure. Perhaps we just want to fit in – to belong, to have something to say, too. We want to be be seen as vulnerable.
What we often view as vulnerability, however, is actually just people wanting to be seen as vulnerable or brave, so they don’t have to be truly vulnerable – or at least vulnerable in a way that really puts some skin into the game. Social media isn’t who we are. It’s what we use to show people how we want them to see us. Oftentimes we use social media to avoid the hard conversations or confrontations face to face with other people.
Being brave means you are uncomfortable. We don’t like choosing to be uncomfortable, but if we want to be vulnerable, we have to choose to be uncomfortable anyway.
People say that #adulting is hard. And they are right, but what we consider to be #adulting is often things like paying bills, trying to eat a balanced diet, maintaining a car, changing the onesie that the newborn poop-sploded five minutes after his or her bath, or simply doing the laundry before having to wear the same dirty shirt again.
This is all called the bare minimum. And all these moments of #adulting come from a place of privilege. It’s amazing how we can turn the privileges we have into opportunities to complain. Meal planning, the dreaded purchase of a minivan, and home renovations all are subjects that people love to be “authentic” about, but really, it’s just complaining.
If we want to take our vulnerability to the next level, then our #adulting needs to be harder. I’ve created a list of eight ways we can adult harder. Ways to cultivate a deeper vulnerability and authenticity with others. Notice, these are all choices. And they are all hard. But the central hallmark of an adult is choosing to do things that you don’t want to do, but doing them anyway. We must choose to adult harder if we want to see our attempts to be brave and vulnerable come to fruition. The product of true vulnerability is connection, belonging, joy, and rest. It may seem counterintuitive. But that’s probably because it is. When we step into these moments fully committed to be brave, we can go to bed feeling a sense of congruence between our values and our lived out lives.
Eight Ways of #adultingharder
1) #adultingharder means choosing to be uncomfortable.
A defining feature of being an adult is having something you need to do, that you don’t want to do, but doing it anyway. Sometimes there are things that we don’t technically need to do, but if we are #adultingharder, we go ahead and choose to do them anyway. This means that you sometimes not only make yourself feel uncomfortable from time to time, but also those around you. That’s ok. It means that you are willing to get messy and do and say things that other people don’t want to do or say. That might mean that you need to intentionally attend activities or be a part of groups with people who are not like you or do not look like you. There will definitely be times where you’ll be uncomfortable, but that’s ok. The sense of awkwardness or moments of being uncomfortable will be eclipsed by the satisfaction of actually living into your values. We have to be willing to be uncomfortable from time to time if we expect to grow and mature as people. This may be harder for some people than others, but it gets easier and easier over time.
2) #adultingharder means choosing to be constantly curious.
Ask questions, all the time. Be curious. Ask questions that beg for follow up questions. Questions like, “What is that like?,” “Tell me more about that.”, “When that happened what happened next for you?”, “What were you feeling when you experienced that?”
These sorts of questions, interactions, and conversations might be especially hard for those of us who are introverted. But don’t let introversion become an excuse for not getting to know people. Also, the fear of looking ignorant might keep us from asking some questions, but be willing to look ignorant. It’s ok to admit you don’t know something!
Not all of us know our neighbors. But if we are #adultingharder, we choose to get to know them. Like, actually know them. This requires inviting them over for meals or drinks, bringing them a meal or some doughnuts, going out to talk with them when you see them outside.
3) #adultingharder means choosing to be confident.
We know ourselves – our shortcomings, our strengths, and our triggers. Because of that we can go about #adultingharder by choosing to be confident. That means we move forward through life risking being slandered, and yet not caring. It means allowing people to judge you, make false assumptions about you, and not letting that undermine who you know you are. When we choose this path it means that we don’t feel like we constantly have to defend ourselves or compare ourselves to others.
Choosing to have confidence means that when we need help, we ask for it. When people offer help, we accept it openly and with gratitude. It means that we compliment those around us without fear that it will be misinterpreted.
Choosing to be confident means that when we make decisions, both large and small, we fully commit and don’t torment ourselves by wondering if we made the right decision or if we are missing out on something. We move forward confidently, and are in it for the journey, knowing that sometimes we’ll make poor decisions, from which we can learn.
4) #adultingharder means choosing to have well-established boundaries.
We are in relationships with all sorts of people. It’s bound to happen that you’ll find yourself in relationship with a friend, acquaintance, co-worker, or even (especially?) a family member whom you find to be toxic to your own emotional, spiritual, and even physical health. It is important to protect yourself by having well-established boundaries in all your relationships. Sometimes it’s even necessary to cut off certain relationships because healthy boundaries just seem impossible to establish. That can be extremely hard, but sometimes it is a necessity for you own health and success, and that of your family.
Not everyone deserves to know everything about you. Sometimes people overshare details of their life in an attempt to seem brave or vulnerable. And although some people may resonate with those elements that you share of yourself, not everyone deserves all the details about the messes or drama in our lives. We all have them to some degree. But sharing that sort of info is usually best to be shared with only those who deserve that kind of information.
Having well-established boundaries also means taking care of yourself. It means giving yourself the grace and freedom in the midst of your busy schedule to take time for yourself. Taking time for yourself helps keep things in perspective, and allows for you to catch your breath. It also helps keep you from finding your own value in how busy your week was, or how much you got accomplished. Know yourself. Know your limits. Choose to have healthy boundaries.
5) #adultingharder means choosing to not complain
It’s so easy to complain. We almost have to retrain our brains to notice the beauty that surrounds us. Having a spirit of gratitude in the midst of a hyper-polarized and negative society is a challenge, but it is something we can choose to do. There are all sorts of negativity around us, but there is also beauty that surrounds us. We must choose to notice the beauty.
Choosing to be grateful is not the same as turning a blind eye the abundance of injustice, violence, evil, and heartbreak that are in our world. But we choose not to complain the injustice. We choose to live wholehearted lives that cause us to address the problems of this world with our actions. Complaining is a way to seem engaged with the culture while still carrying on unchanging in action and deed. We might have good intentions, but good intentions are not good enough.
Because complaining is easy, it can become something that resembles an addiction. When we complain, we tend to find ourselves comparing ourselves to others – always wanting more, not being content, and unhappy. To overcome this we must recognize the privileges we have, being grateful for them. We must choose to reject a mindset of scarcity – one where there’s always more to get accomplished, to have, to earn, to do. That’s exhausting and unsustainable.
A good practice to resist complaining is to live in the moment. When you experience joy, experience joy. Brené Brown talks about “foreboding joy” in many of her books. It’s hard to experience joy because we are constantly focused on the fleeting nature of joy. We worry about the future so much we can’t simply enjoy the moment we’re in. #adultingharder means enjoying the moment we’re in, and not complaining about the past or worrying about the future.
6) #adultingharder means choosing to risk failure, and being ok with it.
It’s impossible to go through life without experiencing failure to some degree. It isn’t a pleasant experience. But we often grow the most through times of pain and times of failure. Knowing that, we can choose to take risks in our lives knowing that even if we fail, there are lessons to be learned.
That means choosing to your creative ideas as opportunities of experimentation. You never know if your crazy idea will be successful unless you try. It’s been said that you regret the risks you didn’t take rather than than the ones you did. I believe that to be true. Take risks in big creative endeavors, but also take potential risks within conversations and within relationships. Ask that person out you have a crush on. Talk to the person next to you in line at the store, or at the coffee shop, or on the bus/train/plane.
Sometimes those risks might totally bomb, but when we are choosing the way of #adultingharder, we’re ok with it.
7) #adultingharder means choosing to go deeper.
Life is easy when we just kind of put ourselves on autopilot. Go deeper! The world is complex. It’s full of depth and beauty. To coast on past it is uninteresting. It’s boring. There are stories all around us. There are stories within us.
We all want to be accepted by people and to have a sense of belonging in this world. But to really connect with people, we have to be vulnerable. I think most of us know that. But in a world that seems to require us to act like we’ve got our acts completely together, we like to appear vulnerable by focusing on the surface-level parts of our lives that we allow to cause us to feel shame: dirty dishes, mounds of laundry, an overpacked schedule that causes us to go through the drive-thru for our kids.
Usually these are smokescreens for the true “messes” in our lives: marital-problems, struggles with our children’s behaviors, troubles at work, health issues – both physical and mental, and any number or situations that make us feel insecure in this life such as loneliness, addictions, or even simply being a parent.
Choosing to go deeper means living a life congruent with your values. This will demand a deeper level of vulnerability from you. It also means not using social media as your primary gauge of whether you live vulnerably or not.
8) #adultingharder means using immediacy.
Immediacy is a good therapy skill. Immediacy means addressing the things happening in the moment both around you and within you. This means we have to be very observant and introspective. It means asking ourselves questions. Why did I just say that? What was it about that situation that made me react that way? What emotion am I feeling right now? Am I complaining about something, or truly being vulnerable?
It also means noticing the situations and conversations around us, and choosing to take the risk to speak up. When someone is being treated unfairly in public, say something on their behalf. When someone is using their power or influence to control a situation, call them out. When someone says something factually untrue that needs to be addressed, address it.
Immediacy can also be extremely powerful in the midst of a heated argument, or soon thereafter, with a friend, a child, co-worker, or spouse. Stopping to admit that you are not thinking rationally or are over-emotional about something can dissipate a squabble and angry feelings almost immediately, and build an environment for empathy and understanding.
#adulting is hard. It’s true. But let’s not just be content with the bare minimum and shallow vulnerability. Let’s go deeper. Let’s try #adultingharder. There are plenty more ways to “adult” harder I’m sure, but these are the one’s I’ve personally committed to.
When I choose to live into these practices, I find that my life is thoroughly more rewarding and satisfying; I don’t feel the need to prove myself to anyone; and I go to bed not being nagged by a sense of scarcity, but rather I rest in the contentment and satisfaction of enough.