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From the Mag: 9 Months to Get Your Life Together

From the moment my wife called me crying to tell me she was pregnant, it felt like an hourglass had been turned, counting down the minutes until I had to be a full-blown adult. What follows is a punch list that maps out the transition from college grad to adult (whether or not you have a baby on the way)—what to do when you have nine months to get your life together.

ONE Take a moment to freak out, then breathe.

Any change requires a catalyst, and mine was a pee-soaked stick with a tiny plus sign as its indicator. Whatever the spark may be that ushers you toward adulthood, the initial reaction may be one of crushing doubt and fear. Don’t worry, these feelings are completely normal … at least I hope they are.

Why is it that the first thing we think about in the face of drastic change is how it affects us personally? Instead of seeing the benefits of the impending change, I felt sorry for myself because I simply wasn’t ready to grow up. But really, if the miracle of life, or any other fantastic event, makes us want to grasp at the straws of a simpler life, we should reassess why we’re drawn to immaturity in the first place.

TWO Get rid of preconceived notions.

In my case adulthood and parenthood were closely linked, so I saw it as driving a Dodge Caravan with dual-sliding doors, listening to adult contemporary radio stations and carting ungrateful kids back and forth between school and sporting events. I thought of all those parents I had once laughed at with my cavalier attitude, and pitied myself at the thought that I was about to become one of them. While thoughts like this are, of course, absurd and unfair, it is good to get them out of your system in order to prepare for constructive change.

THREE Consider your career.

Getting a stable, full-time job may not be a prerequisite for adulthood, but in my case it was an absolute necessity. As a college student and even as a newlywed, it was easy to imagine life with a terrible-paying job, working bizarre hours but always chasing the dream—but the fast-approaching arrival of our child made that lifestyle unacceptable. As you begin to think long term and seriously consider some career changes you may need to make, it might be necessary to touch up the old résumé, do some extensive job hunting and find some presentable clothes.

FOUR Take care of yourself.

Sure, in college (and for a few years after) it was easy to exist on a cheap and satisfying diet of Funyuns, Mountain Dew and four hours of sleep. But at one point you wake up and realize that if you want to live beyond 35, you may need to reconsider that routine. It’s not easy (or fun) to start doing the healthy thing—smart diet, exercise and plenty of rest—but your body will thank you soon enough. And if you start small, perhaps cutting out just a few snacks here and there or hitting the gym a couple times a week, the changes won’t seem so drastic or overwhelming. After all, the last thing you want to do is take it to an extreme, burn out, renounce healthy living forever—and go back to those crusty, crumbly, artificially flavored onion rings. Seriously, they don’t taste that good.

FIVE Straighten out your finances.

While money is not the warm center of the universe, it is required to keep a household running. At one time you could spend money pretty much however you pleased. Now, instead of going out constantly and forking over your Visa to buy the latest from Apple, you may find yourself trying to quell an ever-growing stack of bills. This leads to the highly dreaded word: budgeting. While this can at times feel tedious and rigid, it‘s important to know where your money is going. So set aside some time to create an effective and realistic budget—then stick to it.

SIX Differentiate between needs and wants.

Now may also be a good time to start reconsidering needs and wants. Things that previously were seen as necessities, such as Tivo and a steady flow of new clothes and CDs, are probably not quite as essential as things like groceries, rent or mortgage payments and well-maintained vehicles. That’s not to say that to be an adult is to be a minimalist or a miser, but it will require some less-than-appealing changes. Old habits do not die easily, so the sooner you start changing your mindset, the better.

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SEVEN Appreciate your family.

As you find yourself barreling closer and closer to adulthood, you may find that many of your relationships are changing along the way. No relationship, apart from your spouse, will undergo more dynamic changes than the one you have with your parents. As a child they were your heroes. Then, sometime around middle school, they become the epitome of “uncool.” For me, this came full circle during my transition to adulthood. I realized that my parents weren’t perfect when I was a kid or complete losers when I was a teenager. They didn’t have it all figured out; they were learning as I was growing up. Something about progressing into adulthood yourself allows you to see your parents, possibly for the first time, as completely human, which helps to relieve much of the pressure you may have been putting on yourself. Remember, you won’t have all the answers right away.

EIGHT Accept responsibility.

There is certainly a new dynamic added to your faith as you transition into adulthood. Up until this point in your life, it’s been convenient to approach the downfalls of mankind with an attitude of dissociation. At some point, however, you have to claim a bit of ownership for the way things are. You can no longer pawn the problems of your life—and the world—off onto older generations; you must become part of the solution.

NINE Take a moment to ponder Janus.

He was the Roman god of beginnings and endings after whom our month of January is named. Depicted by two heads looking in opposite directions, Janus represents the great transitions in life. As you now stand on the threshold of adulthood, it is key to look back on the last few months and realize the changes you’ve undergone are truly life-altering. You’ll then be able to look toward once-daunting challenges and take them in stride. Congratulations, you have made it into adulthood.

Originally published in RELEVANT Magazine issue 33. If you enjoyed this article, consider visiting your local newsstand to pick up the latest issue or subscribe online and save up to 71% off newsstand.

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