A best friend recently sent me an essay on adulting which was long but intriguing. After taking awhile to read and digest it, I have finally come to a decision on the article in the form of a short thesis of what I believe adulting to be. Simply, I find adulting to be a perpetual exercise in risk management (we are all actuaries) centered around three areas: time management, processes, and interpersonal relationships. It sounds very mechanical or out of an engineering or Lean Six Sigma manual; but, I find it to be true, and it is very easy to understand why.
Risk management is more than just forecasting mistakes, it is also about the mitigation of imbalance; and, in this case it is imbalance in our lives. The goal is to have more positive factors, processes, and outcomes than negative ones; even, if that is just one more when tallying it all up. Too often we are risk averse rather than risk managers, and we are blinded to the differences between unnecessary risk and positive risk as a result of fear or prior experiences. We must work hard to learn these differences and be confident enough to take advantage of a positive risk when the opportunity presents itself. When thinking about this, I often believe people, especially Black folks, are more risk averse than risk managers who dismiss all risk even when it is positive. Culturally, Black folks get this risk aversion through the historical injustices incurred upon us, particularly when engaging inanyform of risk. Black folks are taught young, even as babies, to be risk averse and it manifests throughout our lives in various ways. Once we become full professional adults, we have a sense of conformity within a set of societal and self-imposed parameters, real or imagined, around every lifestyle, social, spiritual, and professional choice we make. Moreover, those parameters have been ingrained for decades and we only feel the effects at this point when it is too late. This is because we are inherently reactionary due to logic, we tend to wait until we can provide a measured or proportional response, rather than work intuitively in a proactive way without knowing the consequences.
Time management is hard. Period. Time management is hard as a child because life seemingly moves like a glacier, until it is something that you want or anticipate, then it moves at the speed of light. Time management is harder as an adult because life seemingly moves at the speed of light, until it is something that you want or anticipate then, it still moves at the speed of light or faster. Time, as we know it, is finite in every way and we seek to find ways to maximize the time that we have towards ‘productivity” and “meaningful endeavors” in our attempt at adulting because of what we are taught and trained and told to do all of the time. “Productivity” and “meaningful endeavors” are often euphemisms for pursuits that increase profit, advance one’s career or social status, build a family, or meet internal or external expectations. As a child, playing and teamwork aren’t considered as “meaningful” as getting a headstart on math and science or letters and shapes; and, critical thinking and creativity aren’t considered as “productive” as memorization and testing abilities. As, adults, time management is tightly scrutinized in the “productivity” and “meaningful” lens — for example, multi-taking and specialization are considered more “productive” and “meaningful” than development and well-roundedness. Instead of seeking to maximize our time, I argue that a way to manage time is to find efficiency and consistency in our time and output rather than seeking to slow time down or cram everything in one day. I have no room to talk as I struggle with this (my OCD is focused on task lists and seeking to complete it), but I know it is a healthier, sustainable, and more satisfying behavior. Building an efficient and consistent time management behavior is built on processes such as break down the day into workable, low-stress time blocks (“win the 30 minutes or 1 hour”); focus on one successful complete task; focus on what I say, “control the controllables” and worry about the rest later; eliminate distractions and avoid procrastinating; and, create breaks in between tasks to allow you to re-center and attack the next task with clarity. These are some examples of how to reinforce balance in your time management so that it is working for your benefit and not vice versa.
Processes, as previously mentioned, help foster efficient and consistent time management behaviors. Processes are learned skills or behaviors that are part of our daily adulting routines. Also, processes can be cultural (ex. learning to do our hair, cleaning the house with Anita Baker playing and a pot of green boiling, etc.), academic (ex. study habits, etc.), professional (ex. how to write a report, onboarding/team dynamics, etc.), social (ex. party protocol, telephone etiquette, etc.), and more. In addition, there is a disparate nature between “productive” and “meaningful” processes from healthy, sustainable, and satisfying processes. Needless to say, processes are crucial to our success as adults, and healthy processes that foster balance in all aspects typically provide the best outcomes. Healthy processes that simplify and balance adulting include: meditation and self-repair time daily, fitness and mental health regiment, a high-medium-low task prioritization chart to help you focus on what’s important that needs to get done rather than trying to get everything done, etc. These examples of healthy processes establishes internal and external balance as well as helps build healthy relationships with yourself and others.
Lastly, interpersonal relationships anchor much of our internal and external adulting, and it is also the most difficult area to master because addressing imbalance in time management and processes is mostly self-determined and largely internal behavioral fixes. Whereas, interpersonal relationships require an equally engaged partner to succeed and they can be internal or external behavioral or skills-based fixes. Basically, there are far less consistent variables and far more inconsistent variables in interpersonal relationships. Unlike the other two areas, interpersonal relationships are, both, intuitive and learned skills and behaviors. Often, we follow our “gut” and execute skills and behaviors learned from others or in society (read: entertainment). As a child, we learn that interpersonal relationships built around sharing, similarity, and conflict aversion are sacrosanct and a surefire way to develop successful (read: “productive” and “meaningful”) interpersonal relationships. However, I argue that setting boundaries, embracing difference, and strong communication skills are just as, if not more, important in interpersonal relationships today. That is because of the way in which we are siloed and risk averse to differences that the only way to address the issues we have is to successfully build healthy, respectful, and balanced interpersonal relationships with folks who are different from us. Examples of healthy interpersonal relationships that ensure balance includes: being able to help identify each other’s areas of improvement; there’s an emphasis on strong communication skills that promote active listening, questioning, and verbal and non-verbal communication; and, that you are able to self-reflect, empathize, and motivate each other. These things together, along with many other traits like dependability, help move both individuals and the collective relationship forward.
In all, adulting is tough and it has evolved from generations prior — in some ways technology and acceptance has made things easier and more inclusive, while in some ways it has made it more difficult, stressful, and siloed. However, it is important to focus on balance, efficiency, and consistency when thinking about the three core areas to adulting: time management, processes, and interpersonal relationships. Adulting is, both, an individual and team effort with everyday being a small measure of progress. The key thing to remember is that we are all learning as we go, and we can get there faster by helping each other along the road to adulting.