Guest Blog by ELP Student Andrew Ehrenberg – Information Science – School of Information – Class of 2019
It was only a few short years ago that I was in high school, was expected home by a certain hour, and enjoyed a mom who cooked me breakfast every morning. It was really nice to have things done for me and to feel safe and accounted for. This blessing of having highly involved folks, however, did bestow me with some disadvantages.
There was a time where I was terrified of the future; my future. As a dedicated high school athlete and a less-than-dedicated student, I did not know the first thing about the industries, concepts, and responsibilities that I would later get a taste of. And those were the things that ultimately pushed me to start thinking critically about the life I had ahead of me.
I was extremely excited to turn 18. Symbolically, it represented a coming of age, childhood accomplishment, the road to adulthood, ~leaving the nest~, and much more. Practically, on the other hand, I had neither an idea what it meant nor where to start.
Yes, every cliche 18-year-old emerging adult has feelings of uncertainty, fear, and being alone. I want to dig a little deeper into how I felt (and still feel). I am still a kid in so many ways. A lot of it, I believe, originates from a simple lack of understanding that can only be gained by growing up. But until I do that, the knowledge gaps still remain.
After spending several summers on baseball fields, the last two have been at the office. So have my last two birthdays. So have most of my former lazy summer days. And I really, really like the work that I have been doing and have grown tremendously from my experiences. Yet, as a 20-year-old intern at a rapidly scaling technology company, there are still times where I feel overwhelmingly out of place.
Even though many of my coworkers are 5-10 years older than I am, they still seem like a different life-form to me. They go to Happy Hours, lease apartments and garage spaces, set up 401(k) plans, join fitness clubs, and, perhaps, settle down and get married. And I’m no longer looking ahead to these things; now they’re right around the corner.
This abrupt plunge into reality has put me in what I perceive to be an emotional dichotomy. On one hand, realizing my proximity to adulthood has been exhilarating, empowering and liberating. Since being at The University of Michigan, on multiple occasions I have taken a step back to digest the fact that I can actually do what I want to do. I can march to the beat of my own drum. I can shape my own days and, therefore, my own weeks, months, years, and life. On the other hand, my insecurities about adulthood still linger. In becoming 18 and venturing towards full independence and self-sufficiency, I still have a ton of questions, some of which are really hard for me to adequately articulate.
What do grown-ups think about?: It’s a really broad question with infinitely nuanced answers. While the adult versions of us share a brain with the child version, the critical life-stage changes we undergo during early adulthood allow us to establish individualism and identify what we truly value.
Developmental Psychologist Jeffrey Arnett coined the term ‘Emerging Adulthood’ in 2000, which suggested an added life-stage between adolescence and adulthood that generally occurs between 18 and 25 years of age. According to Arnett, this is a period characterized by “in-between-ness” and ambiguity regarding their status as a ‘real’ adult. Having just left my teen years and moving into my 20s (happy birthday to me!), I am in the midst of self-discovery. In this process, I have looked to others who are a little farther along than me as my reference point.
I am not someone who is afraid of asking questions, but in this regard I have mainly been a passive observer. When I interact with and work with those in their mid-20s or older, questions begin populating my mind; what do they prioritize? How to their day-to-day responsibilities differ from mine? Are they still as wild and carefree as they were in college? If not, when, how, and why did they change? How has ‘growing up’ shaped their purpose in life?… I have thousands more where these came from. The shift in mentality that occurs in one’s 20’s seems so drastic. I know I am on the cusp of that change, so I guess I just want a closer glimpse of what it looks like.
Figuring out ‘what it looks like,’ unsurprisingly, turns out to be very hard. There is no one-size-fits-all way to grow up, and this is very scary. After 18 years of structured academic assignments with due dates, chores with deadlines, and instrumental recitals that your parents signed you up for, you kind of have to figure out the rest on your own. Even if you are reaching out to a friend, family member, or colleague for advice, it is still your job to take the initiative to make that connection, ask the right questions, and manage the relationship going forward.
As an adolescent, behavior can often be excused or attributed to an age-appropriate lack of maturity. Becoming an independent person takes that immunity away and we are expected to act like grown-ups. Unfortunately, I am almost 1,000 words into this blog post and still don’t know what grown-ups are supposed to act like and how it would/should differ from how I act now.
In reality, I am relatively positive that there is not one umbrella answer that will smoothly transition an adolescent to a functional adult. Instead, I have decided to lay out some super accessible, universal higher-level tasks which have begun easing my transition.
Shamelessly ask questions
It is more than okay to not know things. The people who actually care about you and your success will be eager to help (if nobody will help, reconsider who you’re surrounding yourself with… I’ll get to that). From colloquial young adult dilemmas such as time management, career discovery, and exercise to highly personal ones like emotional instability, romantic relationships, and substance abuse, never be afraid to share. We only have a life’s worth of sharing opportunities, so starting now, learning, and personally optimizing from here is your best bet.
Identify and manage your Board of You
This past March, I had the privilege of travelling to the Bay Area with my Entrepreneurs Leadership Program (ELP) cohort and hearing from a number influential entrepreneurs, including Pete Giordano. In Pete’s discussion with our group, he introduced us to an idea called ‘The Board of You’ (learn more from the hyperlink above), which challenged us to identify the small group of people in our lives that we have meaningful, intentional, and active relationships with. In other words, these are the people who revel in your successes, suffer in your defeats, and would still be there when the dust settles. They also should have your best interests at heart. For me, I have been fortunate enough to have an amazing two parents and brother who are easily the first three people on my board, and I know that is not true in a lot of homes. If you wouldn’t put your immediate family on your board, that is totally fine. Instead, fill those spots with the people who invest in you, share with you, and push you to be your best self. To do this, however, these people should know you very well, thus managing those relationships is of paramount importance. Getting through emerging adulthood is not easy, so having a group of dedicated individuals in your corner will give you a base to lean on when you need it (and even when you don’t). (Note: Avoid building a board of solely like-minded, similar aged peers. It is highly valuable to hear advice from individuals with more life and adult experience than you, especially as you are still ‘finding’ your adult self).
Explore anything and everything that interests you
Millennials get a ton of shit. We don’t have attention spans. We are engrossed in internet and social media culture. We have no allegiance to anything. First of all, phbbbt that we’re “awesome.” Second of all, we now have the tools and ability to learn about a variety of different things quite quickly. With modern search engines and devices, we can dive into the things that interest us instantaneously and just keep digging. Lastly, changing careers and/or visions several times in emerging and early adulthood has become a typical practice. Bottom line, you don’t need to have it all figured out right now. While you are in the process of figuring it out, try not worry about the end outcome, as this will leave you open to a world of possibilities. These possibilities may range far from what you were expecting. I can deeply relate to this. I came to Michigan determined to be a sports agent, and now I am an incoming junior majoring in information science and interning at an advertising technology company. If anyone told 17-year-old me that this is what I would be doing on the eve of my 20th birthday, I would have probably laughed in their face or told them that my brain didn’t work that way. Lo and behold, here I am learning to code, working in tech, and even wishing I had started sooner (zero regrets though — another fine piece of advice).