Obviously, this statement isn’t strictly true. Not everyone has their shit together and I don’t always not have my shit together. But in a world where people are always putting their best face forward on social media, it can feel a lot like everyone around you already has it all figured out, and you’re falling behind—left standing on a sidewalk Googling things like, “When will Medicare run out?” or “How to buy crypto currency?” or even, “How much of your paycheck should be going towards rent?”
I consume a lot of media throughout my day and have a whole list of creators who I love to follow (they do great work that inspires me to try to also do great work)! But I’ve also noticed a trend that’s popping up over the passing year as I’ve been consuming content: I’m reading all these books and watching all these videos that deal with the same (or similar) issues that I’m dealing with, and they are full of fantastic advice but all these creators are younger than me. Amazing young women who are working freelance and creatively but still buying houses and have enough in their personal IRAs to not be getting panic attacks about working at Bed, Bath & Beyond when they are in their 90s. And instead of being like, “that’s great advice and I should definitely start putting a portion of my monthly paycheck into retirement,” I find myself feeling more along the lines of, “ohmygodI’msofarbehindineverythinginlifeandI’mdoooommmmed!!!” That’s not a very productive mindset because instead of following through on what little things are feasible for me to do now that will make my future better, I just get stuck feeling overwhelmed by all the things I didn’t do in my 20s. This can become a destructive stalemate situation.
Read Allie’s post on adulting on her website: Hyperbole and a Half
While my 20s was a period in life that I spent figuring out who I was, what I wanted to do, living abroad, partying, and using my social life to distract from everything that felt scary or uncertain, my 30s have felt like the clean up the morning after a house party. Now that I’ve spent a decade using trial and error to figure out what “getting my shit together” would look like for me, I feel like I’m frantically trying to pull it all together so I can say, “Look guys! Look! I’m adulting too!” Much like one of my favorite bloggers Allie Brosh once wrote:
“It’s like I think that adulthood is something that can be earned like a trophy in one monumental burst of effort and then admired and coveted for the rest of one’s life.“
It’s not. Feeling like an adult isn’t about having a cohesive decorating theme or a car that isn’t a beater from the 90s. Although all of those things can help you feel a bit more “put together.” It’s not even about eating kale and quinoa. I’ve realized that, for me, “having my shit together” was more like creating a sold vision or guideline for what is important to me and my future, and then going out and making decisions that actually serve my goals. It’s about not working myself into an internal panic every time I meet someone who appears to have their life all together, because everyone has some realm of their life where they don’t have it all figured out and that’s okay.
Right, so now that I have a lofty idea of how I want my life as an adult to look like, what does making decisions that sever that actually mean? Specifically for me, most of my anxiety around “getting my shit together” over the years has centered around a feeling of financial instability. I spent a lot of my younger years working careers that just didn’t pay a whole lot. I was a part-time teacher with a non-profit whose whole mission was to help end poverty, but ironically, working to help children living in poverty doesn’t pay well enough to not also be living in poverty. While doing that job, I’d also taken in big leap in my career to leave a full-time staff writing job to be a freelance writer, which was amazing but brought a lot of financial insecurity with it. I hit a point where I knew I was way behind on things like saving for retirement and paying off my student loans. I’d get anxious and scared to check my bank account and would avoid emails from my mom cause I knew they would bring up that she noticed I over drafted my account (again) and that I really need to “check it daily.” After a number of years splitting my career between two passions and only making enough money to stay afloat, I knew it was time to rethink how I wanted to move forward (pick one and work really hard at it).
Once I did that, it became easier to make moves in my career that landed me where I am now—successfully earning an “adult” income and the proud owner of a health care plan. Unfortunately making more money didn’t automatically make me feel financially secure. I still needed to do that other part of using that money wisely, which has been a downfall of mine lately. So a few months ago, when I had my last panic attack about not having my shit together and not having anything obvious like a low paying job to pin the blame on, it dawned on me that I hadn’t been doing a very good job of following through with some of the things I needed to do to serve my goals. I did like, one or two things, and then let myself just stop making responsible decisions for awhile. So I made myself a checklist of things to do every single month, like put money into an IRA and donate to a charity I care about, eat more vegetables and learn a new skill. The concept behind my “adulting to do” list is to regularly accomplish things that allow me to feel good about where I’m heading in life.
Because really, that’s all having your shit together really is—just feeling okay about what path you’re on… right???
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.