Pop Culture

'Adulting': How to navigate the complicated realm of the grown-up

Springing off of her popular blog, Kelly Williams Brown provides a handy and hilarious guide to credibly behaving like a fully formed, mature individual in "Adulting." Here's an excerpt.

1. Get Your Mind Right

The vast majority of this book is full of practical, interacting-with-the-world sorts of steps—wiping your counters or breaking up with your surly boyfriend or whatever. Most of being an adult is not up in your head, it’s in your actions. In fact, let’s get this out of the way now: Intentions are nice, but ultimately intentions don’t really matter because they only exist inside you. Meaning to send a thank-you note but then not doing it is exactly the same as never thinking to send one—that person is still receiving zero thank-you notes.

So, yes. Actions are greater than intentions. But before we get to those actions, there are just a few things you should know.

Step 1: Accept that you are not that special

This is the most difficult and important thing to accept if you wish to be a grown-up: You are not a Special Snowflake.

Step 2: Appreciate those who disagree with step 1

Well, you are to some people. Your parents, presumably, love you very much and think you are perhaps the most adorable, talented thing ever to prance upon this earth. Your friends agree with them, as do your favorite teachers, as does your significant other. When there is a You Parade, these people will be the flag bearers, the drum majors and majorettes, so make sure you are always flag bearing and drum majoring for them, too. These people who think so highly of us are very special and precious, and we must treasure them. Because here is the truth: Most of the world doesn’t give a flying f--k about you.

Step 3: Don’t get hurt when the world doesn’t care about you

It’s not as depressing as it sounds. It’s not as though the world hates you—it just has no idea who you are. It is, at best, indifferent to your wants and needs, your preferences, your pet peeves, and so on. When you walk into a new office, new city, new country, whatever, you are starting from scratch and cannot call upon that loving capital that your friends and family have for you. You sometimes find patches of immediately friendly people, but that won’t be the rule. It is now up to you to find and surround yourself with people for whom you feel affection and respect.

People will come to care about you, but only if you give them a valid reason. Don’t assume they’ll give you love like your parents, emotional support like your best friend, and cheerful feedback like a soccer coach for seven-year-olds. Because they won’t, unless you give them good reason to. And even then, they still probably won’t.

Step 4: Accept that right now, you are small-time

Before you go out into the world to seek your fortune, you make a lot of assumptions about how easy things will be or how quickly you’ll rocket to the top. You might hit this wall, hard, when The New York Times doesn’t beat a path to your door, but instead it is time for you to go be a reporter in rural Mississippi. Or you graduate law school with glorious visions of the important work you’ll do for the Southern Poverty Law Center, but find yourself photocopying briefs in Shreveport. Whatever happens immediately post-graduation, chances are good that it will be at least a little disappointing.

So for right now, being a small-time whatever is your position. It’s not shameful and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. It means you’re embarking on adulthood and starting from the beginning, just like every other person in the world must do. When you begin at the beginning, any progress you make is yours. From now on, it doesn’t matter who your parents are or how much money they make. It’s time to make your own money. You are the captain of your own destiny, even if it isn’t all that glamorous or fabulous at the moment.


Step 5: Set reasonable goals for yourself

There will never be a time when every item in my house is meticulously organized in cute storage solutions. It will just never, ever happen. So looking at a bunch of organization blogs and despairing that my living space doesn’t look like theirs is not a healthy thing for me to do.

A big part of being a well-adjusted person is accepting that you can’t be good at everything. Some things will always be hard. Decide what you can do in those arenas, without making yourself crazy or setting unreasonably high expectations, then feel proud when you do it.

Step 6: Stop enjoying things ironically. Just enjoy them

Know what? I love Britney Spears and Forever 21. And I could pretend like it’s this whole meta thing where I’m not actually enjoying it but rather just making this esoteric statement on lowbrow culture, but (insert handjob motion here).

The truth is that I love trashy dance pop and the garments that are its clothing equivalent. You don’t need to make your tastes a self-conscious statement about who you are. Just unapologetically like the things you like.

Step 7: Avoid shame boomerangs

I’m just going with shame because it would be too cumbersome to call them “Shame, Anxiety, Remorse, Dread, and Any Number of Ugly Emotions Boomerangs.”

Here’s how that process works:

inciting shame incident ---> bad feelings ---> forgetting and/or getting distracted for a little while ---> shame boomerang returns ---> bad feelings THE SEQUEL, et cetera, all f---ing day

This is the excellent strategy put forth by Internet friend Emily:

Step 1. Acknowledge the problem, and take any possible steps to correct it.

Step 2. Figure out how you will avoid making this same mistake again.

Step 3. Decide on a coping mechanism mantra that you will repeat when the shame boomerang returns (“It’s done, and I won’t do it again”) and then play a diverting mental game, like thinking up what you would name a trio of Siamese kittens.

She didn’t put this in, so I will:

Step 4. Really try not to make the mistake again. If the mistake happens again and again, then take a hard look at what you are doing and why.

This is an excerpt from ADULTING by Kelly Williams Brown. Copyright © 2013 by Kelly Williams Brown. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, New York, NY. All rights reserved.