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#437: Adulthood Is A Scary Horse

Ahoy there,
I have this general problem. I am almost 30, and I am not a grown-up person. I am a college drop out, have never had a ‘real’ job. I’m working for almost 3 years now at a job that doesn’t pay a lot, but really easy and it’s basically the only one I could get. And I also still live with my mum [I live in a country which is in a constant, 25-years long economical crisis, so it's not really easy to get away from that] Also, most of my life I’ve been really shy, so no girlfriend ever either. I do feel much more confident in last 2-3 years, but some things I still cannot overcome.

Most important, I cannot commit to anything really. Whatever I start doing [like trying to learn some program language to maybe be able to work in IT], I never finish, I easily get bored, lose concentration. It’s like that with almost everything. I always delay things, because of laziness and sometimes fear. I get in a fight with a family members cause I’m keeping everything inside, and than it explodes and I [and them] say stupid things. I don’t even know what I want to be in terms of professional career. I have one idea, start reading about that, than I get bored and go to something else.
I live in a small town, most of my friends moved to a bigger city. I want it too, but in order to do that, I’d have to find a job. That is really hard right now even for someone who has a college diploma and better skills than me. I know I’m not stupid, I know I am good at some things [though my knowledge in any area is too general], but how do I make that step and start really trying hard to be better at something? Obviously, that’s not my only problem, but I feel like I have to change something in this area to be able to improve in some others…

El Capitan

Elodie Under Glass here.

Yes, adulthood is a scary horse. You can make up all sorts of excuses not to get onto its back: “Oh, I have a funny feeling in my leg. My horse allergy is playing up.” But in the meantime, you’re not winning any races, and everyone else knows that you’re secretly afraid of horses. Your dreams are big! Your intentions are good! But you have to get on the horse.

Captain Awkward: The Horses In Costumes Edition

“Hey kids! COME FOR A WILD RIDE IN A RECESSION ECONOMY.”

These are hard times for our generation. The Horse of Adulthood has never looked so unappealing. Raised to believe that we were entitled to a better life than our parents had, we are confronted instead with stagnant housing, staggering tuition fees, rampant unemployment, climate change, recessions, and rains of frogs. It is rough to be an under-thirty; I sympathize greatly. Why would you want to get on this horse? It doesn’t look like it’s any fun to ride, and it also looks like a very long fall from its very tall back. You know that if you trust yourself to this animal, you risk rejection, failure and hurt. It’s easier to be “lazy and afraid” than to commit to this animal.

There are so many reasons not to touch it, it’s a wonder that anyone ever manages to – wait, what? Your friends have already – what? Balls. Did they get better horses? Because you can’t even find the start button on – what? They’re winning the – how did they do that? They entered the Olympics? They’ve won the Olympics? WHAT IS HAPPENING.

So I have two beginnings for you, two opposing-but-necessary thought-pathways that you have to synthesize into your brain. They are contradictory. You will not like them. But you must read them.  They are:

  1. These are hard times, and it is okay to be where you are! Your position is perfectly understandable, and there is absolutely no shame in it. You can work on this, and you can bring yourself into the life that you would like to have. Everyone takes a different path, and no one path is better than any other – some people simply come into themselves later in life.
  2. These are always hard times and everyone is in a recession. You are out of excuses and we are running out of patience. Others spent their twenties improving themselves, taking joy in their skills, building their futures and forming their hearts in the very same difficult economic climate; you spent your twenties so terrified of risk and rejection that you bummed yourself right out of the game, and it’s nobody else’s responsibility to haul you back into it. You are not inherently entitled to a regular wage, a pleasant job, a comfortable home or a willing girlfriend, and complaining that life has not yet handed you these things because “you still need to work on your confidence” is naive at best and offensive at worst.

Absorb and reconcile these two pathways in your head. Both are true. You are in an understandable place; but you have been selfish with your energy and lazy with your opportunities. You are going through some very real, very difficult stuff; yet you have not given very much to the world. You have to pay something into the Universe’s collection plate before you can reasonably expect to get anything back. Give some piece of your body, soul, time, energy, labor, strength, intelligence, humor, wisdom, skill or beauty to the world. You have to risk! You have to work for it. You have to work to be good at working!

the pony in the red sweater represents emotional growth.

“What if I was small and tubby, and had a lovely sweater?”

What I want you to do is to forgive yourself, and try to understand yourself, and to spend some time with yourself; but I also want you to understand that there is work that you have to do here. You won’t get what you want without it. For example, once you receive the Magical Hat of +5 Confidence, you won’t stumble happily into Having A Girlfriend. You have to work to make yourself into a person who can have a relationship. This is labor. You have to work to make yourself into a person who can maintain a relationship. This, too, is hard work. You have to work to make yourself into a person who can handle the change of a relationship, whether it changes in death, breakup or marriage. Work? This work will bring you to your knees. And we haven’t even tackled the complexities of “living on your own” or “plowing into a career” yet.  It will be hard, by god. You’ll probably hate it.

But so far, you have not demonstrated that you can carry these burdens at all. Simply showing up at your workplace for 3 years has done absolutely nothing to build your character. (And please know that I know that you are good and smart and sweet. I believe it.) You live with your doubtlessly-lovely Mum, but of the twenty-one meals that the two of you presumably eat in a week, how many do you cook? What do you fix around the house? Are you a good housemate, who brings something to the home and pulls their weight? Or does your Mum have to spend her own time, care and labor to maintain you? Just because it’s your childhood home doesn’t mean you can’t grow up in it. That was rather the point of it all along. You need to start paying back the Universe for what you’ve been taking for thirty years; you can start by increasing 50% of your workload around the home. (Which will increase to 100% when you do get your own place. Think of it as life-skill-building.) If you already shoulder a good portion of the responsibility, then congratulations, you’ve got free time to spend!

Risk and rejection, El Capitan, that’s what you’ve been afraid of. You’ve been worried that you’ll commit time, labor and money into improving yourself in some way that you’ll hate. You’re getting bored as a defense mechanism. Unfortunately, you are no longer a teenager; you are losing the time that you need to build a future for yourself. Your twenty-year-old self did nothing for who-you-are-now, and you are doing the same to your forty-year-old self right now. You’ve really got  to do something.

dragons are a metaphor for adversity.

Sometimes horses are also dragons; life is complicated.

So start.  You can’t get anything until you’ve done something. You can’t even win the lottery without buying a ticket. I don’t know if you should enroll in a degree program without any direction; nor do I know if you should go to university to acquire this direction. I just know that you start by getting on the horse. Learning to ride it comes later. The plan comes later. Your salvation lies in the motion.

Step one. Check in with someone outside your family, whether they be a faith leader or a psychiatrist or an employee counselor. I do recommend that you look into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, because what you call “laziness” may be part of a pattern of conflict avoidance and risk-aversion – stories that you tell yourself so that you don’t have to feel like you’ve failed.  Also, you can drive yourself into a brain-chemical rut this way, so please go talk to someone if you feel like that could be an issue. A nice doctor can tell you if your short attention span and lack of focus have underlying medical reasons, or if you need to get some medicine to get back on track. I am not that doctor.

Step two. Put yourself into the universe. Finish something, Capitan. I don’t care what. Let your obligations to your future self be a motivation.  So I want you to volunteer. Do some work or labor for free. Let me be blunt and capitalistic: you don’t value your own time highly enough to make money or build skills with it, but there are people who could desperately use that time. Since you’re not using it, pay the Universe with it. I’ll take your word for it that you don’t have many marketable skills, but you do have empathy and compassion and a pair of hands. Got a strong back? Work on a community farm. Got a broken back? Sign up for Horsesmouth or another online mentoring forum. Try to help people; try to pay back this debt you carry. Build your skills. Build your connection to the world.

Step three. Take risks. If you volunteer, choose something outside your field. If you usually only do IT, do some manual labor. Do things you’re patently not good at. What is the worst that can happen – you’ll take the wrong job and you’ll starve? I’ve done that! I survived. It’s a bit extreme, and I don’t recommend it, but it certainly builds character! And that’s what you’re writing in for, isn’t it? “Dear Elodie, I need a bit of character.”

Step four. Read these.

Recommended Reading:

David Wong’s 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person. You need to read this. Now. [eta: with the caveats that it includes some problematic language including fat-shame - learn more in the comments - and that it strongly implies that people who do not work are not valuable. You are inherently valuable, Capitan.]

“What, so you’re saying that I can’t get girls like that unless I have a nice job and make lots of money?”

No, your brain jumps to that conclusion so you have an excuse to write off everyone who rejects you by thinking that they’re just being shallow and selfish. I’m asking what do you offer? Are you smart? Funny? Interesting? Talented? Ambitious? Creative? OK, now what do you do to demonstrate those attributes to the world? Don’t say that you’re a nice guy — that’s the bare minimum. Pretty girls have guys being nice to them 36 times a day. The patient is bleeding in the street. Do you know how to operate or not?

[...]

“I don’t have the money to take a cooking class.” Then fucking Google “how to cook.” They’ve even filtered out the porn now, it’s easier than ever. Damn it, you have to kill those excuses. Or they will kill you.

Then check out Jen Dziura’s When To Make Massive and Ballsy Life Changes For Your Career.

If you are in either of the situations I’ve described above – everything sucks, or everything is just-okay with no upward movement – then try a little experiment. How about a mind map? Start with where you are now. Plot two paths: incremental improvement (i.e., fixing your current situation), and radical, shocking, temporarily painful life change towards something better. Plot what is likely to happen as a result of each path in six months, one year, five years, ten years. Add a little side-arrow for the worst-case scenario for each path.

You’ll probably find that the worst-case scenarios for both paths are about the same. I mean, you could die in Moldova, or you could die being hit by a car on your way home from a data-processing job in Albany. But seriously, worst-case scenarios are often, well … feelings, or else very remote risks that look silly when you write them down.

Is the chance of a worst-case scenario greater when you take a riskier path? Probably. (Although people get laid off from “safe,” boring jobs all the time.) But is there any chance at all that that safer path will lead to the awesome results that you want?

And then, just for fun, I prescribe Oh! The Places You’ll Go by Dr Suess:

Out there things can happen
and frequently do
to people as brainy
and footsy as you.

And then things start to happen,
don’t worry. Don’t stew.
Just go right along.
You’ll start happening too.

Once you start feeling motivated and productive, get your Zen on. Try to be mindful and present with your tasks. Try to illuminate your day job; if you must sell clothes, learn to love the clothes. If you must chop carrots, be grateful for your knife. This is your real job. This is your real life.

“Before enlightenment; chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment; chop wood, carry water.”

And when you have gotten to a place where you can work mindfully, then reach for what Dear Sugar calls a big life, and realize what you sound like when you complain about your job. Read A Big Life:

You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself. I don’t say this as a condemnation—I need regular reminders to stop feeling sorry for myself too. I’m going to address you bluntly, but it’s a directness that rises from my compassion for you, not my judgment of you. You must separate the global injustice (why should some be shackled by student loan debt when others aren’t?) from the individual reality (I’ll be paying this damn bill forever).

As you and other long-time readers of this column may know, I’m a socialist at heart, but when it comes to the actual, individual way we live our lives, I adhere to an entirely pull-oneself-up-by-one’s-bootstraps creed. Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. Self-pity is a dead end road. You make the choice to drive down it. It’s up to you to decide to stay parked there or to turn around and drive out.

And when you are chastened and motivated, grateful and mindful and humble? When you have paid back the debt to the Universe for your years of taking, and when you have begun to give? When you stop being the passenger in your life and become the leader?
Then you’re already on the horse, and you haven’t even noticed that you’ve joined the great migration of the Adults, taken your place in our great endless meandering journey. You learn how to live as the person you are in the world that you live in, and you learn to change yourself and the world. You don’t just cling on for dear life; you learn to ride. The horse teaches you, and you teach the horse.

Did I do good? you’ll ask it shyly, and it will tell you: you’ve never been anything else.

Hold these truths. Read these things. Walk these steps, and keep on walking. I believe in you, El Capitan; please go forth, and show me that my belief has been a good investment.

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192 comments
  1. Laura said:

    Yay! I really liked this. I was having a bit of a funk today about being in debt and underpaid, so it feels like I’m attacking a mountain with the world’s tiniest pickaxe, but this was a wake-up call: “You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice.” So thanks Dear Sugar and Elodie Under Glass for bringing it to my attention.

    Sometimes I think the problem can be effort fatigue, because in adult world the effort and payoff are so far apart (insert something about horses and races and jumps here to fit with the theme). Also, I think it can turn into a deferment thing: I know sometimes I’m tempted to think, “Oh when I’ve paid off my debts, I can go out for drinks and have friends.” But really, I can have friends now and they can come over and play board games and we can all go in on a bottle of wine or something inexpensive.

    So LW, don’t defer living an awesome life until you can move to the big city (make that a goal, if you’d like, and start saving) because you can live an awesome life that doesn’t look like the adult life you expected to have.

  2. Part of why you’ve been able to let this go for so long is that you’ve had a big safety net. It’s a great thing to have — life is better with one than without one — but when we rely on our safety net, we don’t take chances. We never leave it. It’s scary! Something might go wrong! What if we leave it and it goes away?

    But you can’t really grow until you take risk; you can’t learn to take care of yourself until there’s nobody else taking care of you. You don’t really learn how to clean the house until nobody else follows you up to scrub the toilet you skipped over.

    So as terrible and hard as this is going to be, you may want to talk to your mom and ask her to stop being so nice. She can require you to gradually step up your game. You can work together on a plan for the next six months to a year where you shift to being the kid who lives with mom to being the adult whose mom lives with them.

    Or you can just take the risk, pack up a minimum amount of things, and move across town to some place with roommates. It is amazing how different that life is! You might have bedbugs, that’ll be a life lesson!

    Whatever else you do, have your doc check you for ADD/ADHD, you might have a touch of it. But even if you do have that or some other condition, all it does really is explain why shit is harder for you than it is for some people. But most people have some kind of shit that makes their life hard… and most people just fine a way to struggle through.

    A lot of my growing up involved crying hysterically the first time I was faced with a particular life adversity. But only the first time. Now, car accident on the highway? I’m the calm one taking everyone’s information.

    Finally, identify what you do with your time, where you go to hide, and work on getting out. Do you drink? Use some other substance? Play video games? Watch porn? Post endlessly on reddit? Whatever you do, you’ll probably have to wean yourself off that.

    • Laura said:

      Great advice! I too used to be a big crier in adversity (or wheezy panic, which is just as unhelpful) one of the things that helped me was just taking baby steps to be more in control. For example, I used to not pay bills, even when I had the money, because they made me feel panicky to open. Because that could not continue, I had one very anxiety-filled evening where I wrote a list of every recurring bill I have. Armed with that list, I can sit down on the first of every month and pay each item before it’s due, which kinda sucks cause I have to kiss my paycheck goodbye right away, but then I’m not spending all month feeling a tingly guilt about something I may have forgotten about.

      Ditto, rinsing dishes right away rather than putting them in the sink with lots of icky food bits. I will not tell you how long it took me to figure that one out, but it’s certainly been a game changer.

      Carbonatedwit is totally right about the time thing, too. Be really honest with yourself about what behaviors are holding you back or not bringing the kind of joy into your life that you want. Those are the behaviors you’ll need to tackle first.

    • Myrin said:

      I love how you phrased that!
      I very much dislike this cultural idea that living with one’s parents – especially one’s mum – somehow makes you a loser or childlike and that you absolutely have to live on your own to ever become a “correct” adult. As long as you don’t behave like a child or rather, expect things to be done for you that a parent does for their child because they’re not yet capable of doing so, you can – as someone below pointed out already – very well be an adult while living with your parent(s). But for that to be true, you also have to act like a grownup who lives together with another adult – as Elodie suggests, do it and I bet you’ll soon feel better in that regard already.

      • Because I struggle to write less than 2000 words for any given assignment, I had a big passage about how so many cultures look down on living with your parents, and this is it:

        I know a very good scientist who is strongly considering leaving her career, selling her townhouse and dropping everything that she has worked for to return to her native Greece, where she intends to move into her mother’s tiny, genteelly impoverished cottage in a miniscule fishing village that is hours away from anywhere. There she intends to live out the rest of her disabled mother’s days, caring for her, cooking for her, paying for her bills, making her last decades comfortable and charming and clean.

        This will gut her career, I thought sadly, but I was also impressed and moved. As we chatted, I couldn’t help but ask her, tentatively, what she intended to do back home, in a country that notoriously cannot afford to pay its scientists.

        “I expect I’ll find something.” She wasn’t that bothered. “You can have many lives,” she added, “but you only get one mother.”

        • Virginia said:

          This gave me a Good Cry. Thank you, Elodie.

          • Elikit said:

            I was with you, until I got to the part that said “decades” not “days” and then I was vaguely horrified.

          • Mary said:

            Elikit – yes, it sounds a bit more self-sacrificial than selfless to me. I do believe that someone can make that choice positively, but if it was a friend of mine I would worry a lot that they were making it negatively, as a way of avoiding having to take responsibility for aspects of their own life or something.

          • Xenophile said:

            But what if she’s genuinely close with her mother and it’s not a sacrifice to her? It’s not the choice I’d make, and I think it’s a damn shame that the caring for sick relatives tends to fall to female family members, but maybe she’d be happier being close to family than having a career.

            In plenty of cultures, it’s super weird not to live with your parents. While I lived in the Middle East, people used to ask me all the time with varying degrees of pity, “But don’t you miss your mother? Why wouldn’t you want to live with your parents? It’s been how long since you last hugged your mother? Oh you poor thing, you must be so lonely!” If your mom is your best friend, is it really so strange to want to be closer to her?

    • Totally agree with removing the safety net. What you want to do and what you know you should be doing are very different from actually having to do it. Feelings of shame and guilt are bad, but you can learn to live with them. Doing so mostly makes people even more innert. It certainly did for me.

      It wasn’t until I was completely out of my comfort zone and had to depend on myself that I got over it and learned to plow ahead (or, in the very least, be content to tred water).

      Having someone to rely on is a luxury that LW can use as a failsafe. The trick is moving himself far enough away so that going back is terribly inconvienent.

    • Kelly said:

      27 years old, been living outside of home for almost 5 years, and it’s not been til recently that I failed to cry and call my Mum every time anything went wrong to try and find out what to do.
      Now I try the internet first ;)

  3. Verbal said:

    That lack of focus could be a medical condition. Ask your doctor about ADD.

    • It’s a good idea for the LW to check in with a medical professional, but in this post we’re going to hold off from Diagnosin’ Over The Internet, as per the Captain’s very sensible policy. (The policy: “we don’t diagnose people over the internet around here.”) I’ve let this comment through, but I’m going to make a rule for this post: useful life stories involving people overcoming focus problems are very welcome! LW might benefit from hearing some relevant experiences, particularly those from people who have developed good habits and behaviors.

      Diagnosin’ is not helpful.

      • Baytree said:

        Diagnosin’ is not helpful, but ADD is often overlooked in adults even by psychiatrists who ought to know better. I would never tell the LW that he has it or anything else, but I would say that it’s good to ask specifically about it (any any other commonly misdiagnosed conditions).

      • You have too much time on your hands! My first inclination was to lecture you but I sense you know all those things. You are falling helplessness into a very dark place. Your struggles are very similar to something I have been experiencing over the last several months. And I came to the conclusion that I had too much time on my hands!

        Hey, baby steps first! They are small victories and you have taken your first step. The answers you seek should be long term goals right now. What has happened in the last two years to increase your confidence level?

        You are at an unhappy place and it sounds like you have been there for a while. Your letter was heartfelt and honest, showing you want help. You also need to want to help yourself.

        I think your boredom is a cover, when things start getting challenging. You have a lot time on your hands in a small, country, town where nothing happens. Why challenge yourself?

        I am often alone with my thoughts and I can get into some pretty bad places, it is a good thing to be able to share those thoughts. There is nothing better than that! It makes me feel connected…when people listen to me.

        Don’t worry about not knowing exacting what you want! It will come to you once you get going; I think the next step is reaching out for professional help.

        There has been an explosion in the use of behavioral therapy to induce relaxation, increase confidence, and decrease anxiety. I am amazed, it works! If you have insurance, this process should be easy.

      • AR said:

        The problem is that, while taking a *diagnosis* ['You have ADD!'] isn’t helpful, pointing out that someone might want to look into something that can be a probably cause *can* be a life changing thing, in a very good way – which seems to be what’s happening here. At least, imo.

        • Kaz said:

          Yeah; I was in my twenties when I realised that my focus and getting things done problems had an underlying neurological cause (Asperger’s, not ADD – but there’s actually a pretty big symptom overlap between the two, e.g. executive dysfunction can be part of both). Thinking about it in terms of laziness and procrastination really, really fucked me up, and a lot of the advice people give for those things was actively toxic for me. If there *is* an underlying issue, LW needs to find out stat.

      • Yeah, I’m in with the ‘no armchair psychology’ camp, but second that it’s a good idea to just go to your doctor (if such a thing is financially possible where you live) and explain the feelings and struggles.

        Even if no diagnosis is relevant, I think it’s always a good idea to feel like you have your local doctor informed and on your side. You never know what help there is for you until you tell someone you might need it, even if it’s something like a lifeskills class and not a diagnosis.

        I know where I live there’s a lot of social programs designed to help people develop new skills and generally interact more with the world and get them out and doing something new, and the GP (your regular doctor) is usually the person who could inform you about these things.

  4. Starting to take responsibility for some easy things at home is a great way to grow into being a fully functioning adult. Start a dinner schedule, take turns doing the laundry, that sort of thing. I know it may seem easier to just let things be, but at some time in the future you will be forced to do these things by yourself. It’s better to learn them now somewhere you feel safe rather than to fall into the stressful sea of hungry piranhas without knowing how to swim. You might say you’ve got a great boat now and the piranhas will never catch you, but one day the boat will break. Will you know how to fix it or will you get eaten alive piece by tiny piece?

    My suggestion is you set aside a few weeks (three?) to learn a new skill. Treat yourself to something after you’ve done the work. Evaluate. And then try again, until you know how to build a piranha-safe vessel. You have to put some capital in the bank before you can make a withdrawal. That goes for life, too.

  5. Ellen Fremedon said:

    One more thing to keep in mind, El Capitan– whether you’re an adult has nothing to do with your job, or your relationship status, or where you live. Work on becoming a grownup because you want to be one– because you want to improve the world with your presence, and pay forward what you’ve been given. Work to get a more challenging job or to find a partner or to have your own home because you want those things.

    Recognize that these are two completely different projects. And that ultimately, the only one you’re in complete control of is whether you grow up.

    You may end up a grownup and still not find a good job, especially in these hard times; or you may make a reasoned and adult choice to stay in a low-level job because it gives you something else you value, like stability or time. You may end up a grownup who still can’t find a partner, because there’s no degree of awesome that compels people to love you; or you may end up a grownup who makes a choice to prioritize other things than dating, or who likes the independence of being single. You may end up a grownup who can’t afford to live alone, especially in these hard times; or you may decide that, hey, you and your mom actually make a good team and you want to keep living at home.

    You can make any of these choices and still be a grownup. Best of luck to you.

    • You may end up a grownup and still not find a good job, especially in these hard times; or you may make a reasoned and adult choice to stay in a low-level job because it gives you something else you value, like stability or time. You may end up a grownup who still can’t find a partner, because there’s no degree of awesome that compels people to love you; or you may end up a grownup who makes a choice to prioritize other things than dating, or who likes the independence of being single. You may end up a grownup who can’t afford to live alone, especially in these hard times; or you may decide that, hey, you and your mom actually make a good team and you want to keep living at home.

      YES. So much yes to all of this!

      • Word to this! I moved back in with my parents over a year ago and when I start beating myself up about it and how I’ll never have my own place again, my mother is like: “Kathryn, you COULD have your own house or apartment someday if you wanted to, while saving up money here. OR, you could save up money while living with us and then buy YOUR VERY OWN house down the Shore and then rent it out and make money off of that! There’s nothing wrong with that. And your father and I (well, just me) could go down there and I’d finally have my house on the beach!” (that last part may be unspoken by her but trust me, it’s keenly implied).

    • Seriously! Today is my coworker’s birthday (mid-20s) and someone said something about her being an adult, and she was like, “I’m not really an adult, I don’t have a mortgage… or kids… or any of those things.” And I thought, some people never have those things — that doesn’t mean they’re not adults!

      • CoolNewAnonymousNickname said:

        44 here, no mortgage (but trying to get a small one soon!) and childfree by choice. I would say I am, more often than not, a card-carrying adult. The beautiful thing about doing Grown-up things (bill paying, cleaning, working, shopping,etc) is the more of them you do, the more ammo you have to squash those ‘I’m-a-big-phony’ feelings. And everyone has them. Everyone. They don’t give out Grown Up cards to show that you’ve officially become an adult. And everyone sometimes feels like they are going to get caught out as a child in disguise, someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. That is ok. Keep taking small steps, because that’s what all long roads and ‘insurmountable’ tasks are made of–just little tasks, repeated often.

        • straycat said:

          “The beautiful thing about doing Grown-up things (bill paying, cleaning, working, shopping,etc) is the more of them you do, the more ammo you have to squash those ‘I’m-a-big-phony’ feelings.”

          Yes. You’re absolutely right, Cool. Also, the more ammo you have to squash the “HELP, THIS IS SCARY AND I DON’T WANNA” feelings.

        • The single most holy-shit-I-am-an-adult moment I have ever had happened recently. I had left my apartment (which I share with my boyfriend, and which happens to be full of our shared collection of stuffed animals and video games, FYI) and was headed down the hallway when I realized, “Oh shit, forgot my keys.” and I went back to get them, and picked them up, and went, hey, these are MY KEYS. Not just A KEY, which I have always had (emergency key to my parents’ house) but my KEYS – mailbox key, door key, building fob, locker key, bike keys, university building fob, that one weird key that doesn’t go to anything I own….AND the emergency key to my parents’ house. It’s still there, but it comes after all the other things that are mine.

        • They don’t give out “You are Officially a Grown Up” cards…but they should.

          Anyone artsy feeling like making one?

          • Zooey said:

            I like the trophy in Hyperbole and a Half. That post is required reading for anyone with ‘when will I be a grown-up’? feelings (so – anyone). Just put dfown your coffee cup first.

          • Private Business said:

            I totally am contemplating this. The problem is that I don’t want to break my anonymity on this site to link to it if I do (or set up Yet Another Thingy for it). :(

      • Ellex said:

        LOL…I have a good job. I own a car and a house. I have a mortgage, I pay my bills on time, I have had renovations done on the house and have solid plans for more. I have a retirement plan. I’ve done all sorts of cool and all sorts of horrible grown-up shit. I am looking at the near side of 40. I don’t get carded anymore. I’ve been incredibly lucky, I’ve worked really hard, and my future looks great.

        I still don’t feel like an adult at least 50% of the time. I don’t feel like a phony, though…I feel young at heart.

        • miss_chevious said:

          ^^Yep, this is me. I almost never feel like an “adult.” But it sounds like you and I differ from the LW in that the LW seems to want the feeling to happen before the tasks.

        • Freya said:

          Being an adult means never having to apologise for my Smurf collection, even though this is entirely weird to everyone I know – except for the people whose eyes light up when I mention this, because then they can admit they have a similar collection :-P

          • Ellex said:

            A Smurf collection – cool! Yes, being an adult means if you don’t like my cute little plush rats in my office, just be grateful I don’t bring in the realistic ones from home. Yes – I have a toy rat collection. I will also proudly display the Hoops & Yoyo birthday card my mother gave me. And yes, you still need to treat me like an adult – because I am one.

    • Oyceter said:

      Thank you for this! I actually found the Cracked article (and some of Elodie’s post, particularly the bits about just getting on the horse) very difficult to read because of some of the unstated assumptions about adulthood and the notion that the universe is give and take. I think it’s great if LW wants to get a girlfriend/move out/get a job/whatever, but I don’t think any of those is essential to adulthood-ness, and I actually find the idea of those external things as essential very harmful. I’m bringing in a lot of my own baggage, but I got a fair number of pep talks that resembled both the Cracked article and the current response that weren’t particularly helpful.

      Frex, I really sideye the idea of a “real” job. A job is real if you are doing something helpful and getting something out of it. It might be personal satisfaction. It might be that bit of money. It might be just getting out of the house. You do not have to have 100% OMG AMAZING job that cures cancer and makes you feel like a giant to be doing a real job.

      So, LW. I don’t know if it helps, but I sympathize a great deal. I am glad Elodie has some steps for action near the bottom, because I do think that “getting on the horse” is a good idea. I just think that to do so, you have to break it down, because it’s easy to say “getting on the horse.” But first you have to find a horse, and a saddle, and then figure out how to mount, etc. I guess my two cents would be to first try and figure out one single thing you would like to learn and apply to a job you want/volunteer work. I think the volunteering suggestion is great, though given my own experience, you might find the volunteer application form scary. It’s okay! They are looking for people, and you shouldn’t have to have prior volunteer experience, even if they ask for it.

      Second, for house stuff, I like what a lot of commenters say about talking to your mom and asking what you can contribute. Is there a set of chores she’d like you to do? Is there rent you can chip in for? Bills?

      I frequently get super overwhelmed with all the adult stuffs to do, so I have instated a policy of one Big Life Improvement to focus on at a time. So maybe my budget isn’t perfectly balanced and I eat out too much and blah blah blah. I will still work toward Big Life Improvement goal! And set backs just mean an additional day, not that the entire thing must be trashed.

      Anyway, hope this helps somewhat, and I cheer you on LW!

      • On the whole ‘scary volunteer forms’ thing: they will ask a lot of questions that, in a job application, you might see as being Questions That Will Find You Out. Like ‘what previous experience do you have?’ And it’s true, in a job application you saying ‘none, but I am looking to learn’ would be an answer that might make them think twice about taking you on. Most volunteer places, though, ask that because they NEED you, they just want to know where to put you. Don’t be afraid to tell them you know nothing about house-building, or selling things to people! Just tell them what you can do, and they will be happy to have you.

      • zweisatz said:

        I’m with you on the balance in the universe.

        hanks for mentioning you only try One Big Life Change at a time. I am currently reading a book about how you can tackle your depression and it also stated this point, but I still want to do everything at once. Needless to say, that just helps making me feel as overwhelmed as I’ve always felt. But your comment made the approach a bit more real to me. It’s always good to hear from people who have already implemented a certain approach.

      • From the version of the post I didn’t use because it was too long (perhaps I should have)

        Some members of the Awkward Army, reading this right now, can share wonderful stories of great loves that entered late in their lives; stories of leaving a secure career at 45 to start crazy new businesses with no safety net; stories of reinventing themselves completely when they were much older than you, when they had given up on pulling themselves towards that bright future, and they still discovered within themselves the seeds of a new life, a new chance. There are splendid tales. Take some hope in them. Let them hold you up; let them inspire you to WORK.

        Some members of the Awkward Army can tell you stories about how, at the age of seventeen, they were finishing school while earning enough wages to support disabled parents; stories of hacking their way through harder times than yours to succeed, only to bury a husband before the age of thirty; stories of working on their IT degrees while being in prison; stories of being the girlfriend of the Person Who Waited For Life To Happen To Them. They have stories of how they clawed their own bright futures from societies that actively excluded them. They are splendid tales. Take some understanding from them. Let them keep you on the ground; let them inspire you to WORK.

        There are different kinds of work, and different kinds of labor. For many of us, our instinctive reaction when reading this letter will be something like “Oh my God, GET A JOB ALREADY,” because many of us share cultures that venerate Work Outside the Home like a terrible god that must be worshiped for 60 hours a week. There are some big narratives that we’re all dealing with here. For example, the story that “Hard Work Is Inherently Good And If You Work Hard You Will Be Rewarded – So If You Are Struggling Then Clearly You Aren’t Working Hard Enough.” That’s a big, popular story. (And if it was true, the global business of poverty would evaporate, wouldn’t it? If all it took was labor, nobody would choose to be poor. I speak from experience.)

        Yet nobody works harder to survive than the poor, and the rich are not somehow more deserving, and capitalism wouldn’t function without Unpaid Work Inside the Home.

        And there are people, too, who when reading this letter will point out that there are some people for whom Work Outside The Home is not an option. That’s another story: the story where The Only Work Can Be Done Outside the home. (If that story was true, my disabled mother would be lazy, but she’s the hardest-working person I know.)

        We’ve got lots of conflicting ideas about what work is, but we generally agree that labor performed for money is inherently somehow more noble than the labor of raising children or the work of getting up in the morning. I also struggle with this, because, like Dear Sugar, there was no point in my life where I could afford NOT to work; there was no safety net for my family, and my own baggage means that I can’t help being frustrated that you, OP, have opportunities that we didn’t have. Together, let’s throw these ideas out the window, ok? That’s not the work I want you to do. I want you to labor on the construction of yourself. You, yourself, are a lovely and worthwhile project, Capitan; you’re the best investment you have. You’re a grownup when you decide that you are; you’re rich when you have enough money; you’re successful when you can live as you want to. Let’s work on getting you the things that you want, not the Work that Society Respects. Society is not very clever or compassionate, you see.

        I didn’t include this because it took up so much space, and I thought my ramblings on capitalism and the different types of labor and my experience growing up in poverty and my own inherent biases were necessary to someone who asked me “I want a girlfriend, a place of my own and a nice job: HOW DO I GET THOSE.” But it’s a great topic to engage in.

        • Thanks for sharing this–it’s all important.

          For what it’s worth, the LW *does* have a job outside the home, and he’s been working there for three years! It may not be very fulfilling or well-paid, but it’s not nothing.

        • Hexiva said:

          I really wish you’d left that in the post. I think it would’ve made the post a lot less painful for me to read, because I’m in a similar situation to LW . . . except I physically can’t do a lot of things, possibly including work, because I’m chronically ill.

          It’s a lot harder to hear “you just gotta get on that horse!” when I would probably dislocate my hips trying.

          • Naamah said:

            Seconded. Really. I’ve actually been upset about this particular answer since I read it, because it actually really hurt me. I feel like an over-sensitive twit, but . . . I’m in a position where being able to even work IN the home doing something every day is impossible. Some days all I do is get out of bed and say some nice things to people on the internet. My greatest victory in life is simply being alive. So reading the whole “ride the horse” thing is just . . . it really hurts. I wish. I wish to GOD I could even LEAVE the house every day, but I cannot. I, too, identified with LW, a great deal. So the answer seemed to kind of sucker punch me with Stuff I Cannot Do.

            I do wanna say, I really hope, LW, that things go well for you! You actually sound like you are off to a good start, no matter how much that doesn’t look like it’s true.

          • I am deeply sorry for your hurt and I assure you that you are an inherently valuable person.

            The LW is a nice, able-bodied, intelligent 20-something male(?) who may benefit from talking to a counselor; he claims “I am not an adult because I have not acquired the things that I specifically want to have (job, house, partner)” and he specifically asked “how do I make that step and start really trying hard to be better at something?” The LW has held down a job outside the home for three years, but he believes that his problem is that he is not passionate about it. His self-identified problem is that he “cannot commit to anything really.”

            That is the question I answered, with the answers that I had in my hands, with my own life narrative behind it (“I WISH that my impoverished, disabled, mentally ill family had the luxury of supporting me while I tried out different things and found my way! They wished that, too! You are LUCKY, son! Appreciate your damn privileges!”) That might have come out a bit strongly, but as Captain Awkward so beautifully put it:

            I have my own issues and biases that definitely affect how I approach questions. I own that completely, because it’s my opinion about what might work. I never claimed to be in some position of impartiality and calm acceptance. You’re the expert on your own life. Take what’s useful and use it.

            Now, if you were talking to me, saying “I am on the floor and I can’t get up; when society isn’t holding my face under water, I’m doing it to myself; how can I live this way?” well, I would cry for you, Naamah, and bear witness to your pain, and tell you that you are wonderful and that you are working hard and that I appreciate, so much, what you do. We would talk about how we have both been pressed to the ground by mental illness, poverty and pain, and how we can help each other climb back up. We would talk about how to get started in the morning, and how sometimes, getting dressed is enough. (Thank you, Naamah, for what you do.)

            It is wonderfully kind of you to empathize with the LW, and it speaks well to your compassion and generous spirit. You’re not being an oversensitive twit by wanting the best for him. And thank you for your perspective and constructive criticism.

            But I don’t think this letter is for you, Naamah. It is not criticizing you because it is not addressed to you. Do not borrow this burden: it is not yours to bear. This letter is not for you! You are doing just fine for yourself. The only thing you need to hear is “here! have a gold star!”

            The only advice I can give you, Naamah, is this: The world is wounded, and sometimes that wounds us sensitive people. If you don’t have a filter between yourself and this great inescapable dread and pain, then look after yourself instead. You are lovely, and you are enough. You don’t have to take on pain that you can’t handle. Sometimes these letters aren’t for you. Sometimes you can hand a burden back. This has taken me a long time to learn.

          • n said:

            “The LW is a nice, able-bodied, intelligent 20-something male(?) who may benefit from talking to a counselor; he claims “I am not an adult because I have not acquired the things that I specifically want to have (job, house, partner)” and he specifically asked “how do I make that step and start really trying hard to be better at something?” The LW has held down a job outside the home for three years, but he believes that his problem is that he is not passionate about it. His self-identified problem is that he “cannot commit to anything really.””
            I know at least two people who seem to fit this description. And yet they don’t need any Randian cracked.com-style butt-kicking. They’ve been doing this libertarian self-kicking into adulthood for way too long (since they were teens), and it’s gotten them precisely nowhere. Now they need therapy and nice things so they can figure out why they avoid commitment, why they lack passion, why they can’t “start trying hard” or make “that step” or any step at all… They might seem all able and intelligent and privileged, but still it’s huge progress when you finally see them outside with the dog instead of hiding deep in a video game.
            Sometimes people have wounds where you can’t see them.

          • Molly Moon said:

            I’m a lot like the people you describe, n. I could have written the letter, but I could have written the answer, too. I’ve done a lot of thinking about what I need to do in my life for it to not suck so hard, but for some reason I can’t really get past thinking about it. The conclusions I’ve drawn and the steps to take I’ve thought of are pretty much exactly the ones in the answer, but knowing that hasn’t helped me any. I just can’t seem to get over the impulse to tell myself I can put off change until tomorrow.

            And the impulse to say that I’m not lazy, I’m just practicing wu wei. Which is probably wrong because I learned what wu wei was from Wikipedia.

            My guess is my problem is pretty intractable without therapy, because goddamnit I’ve been trying for most of my life to be better so if I could do it myself I’d be fixed by now, but the thing is, getting therapy requires effort. :P but someday, I’m sure.

          • Molly, I have the exact same problem with getting out the door (as evidenced by the fact that I signed up for the gym in November, and have just gone in for the first time.)

            If you want to take a class or start a new activity, consider mentioning it to a friend, roommate, sibling, partner, coworker or neighbour? For example, “Hey, Batool, can you come to a Tuesday night dance class with me?” Or “I would love to learn to knit, could we eat lunch together and you can show me?” Or “Internet friend, can we show each other our novels and only make nice noises?” Sometimes, if you include someone in an activity, you’ll be more likely to commit to it. You might also feel more comfortable forming a routine, and even if you don’t like the activity, you can talk about it later with your friend.

            Therapy and counselling … I’ve done this too, shied away from help when I desperately needed it. Because it sounds like work and I might be required to talk on the phone or pay money or travel or I might accidentally fart in the presence of the therapist and then I would have to leave town. In bad times I have asked a lover or best friend to arrange it for me. You’ve just said aloud that you think you need it; perhaps you can say it slightly louder to a trusted loved one. “X, I’d like to talk to a therapist actually, but I’ve gotten myself tangled up in their Yelp reviews. I’ll IM you some links, can you help me pick?” ‘ Take a deep breath. This is hard work for an introvert. “Husband, can you make this appointment please?” Find yourself nearly not-going. “Z, if you drive me to my appointment on Wednesday, I promise I will finally go jogging with you.” Then promise yourself cake at the end.

            This has worked for me in the past!

          • Yes! Committing to a thing, having a human being waiting to see you, it makes a huge difference for me. It’s like, I have to go to the gym/trainer the way I have to go to the doctor. Sometimes it’ll be a fine thing, sometimes it’ll be a sucky thing, but still I gotta do it, because there’s a person there counting on me. (I just started. Tonight is my second visit ever.)

            LW (and everyone I guess), when you talk to people in your lives to ask them for help, you can ask them for specific things (making this appointment please!) or for general support. You might also consider asking them to approach you with lots of positive reinforcement, and avoid negative reinforcement.

            I mean, check out Elodie! Elodie just went to the gym! That is awesome! It’s great she did so and I’m really happy for her and I hope she can keep going! And I just started going to a gym and I am hopeful and I feel like it’s a good thing for me and so I’m like “yay beginning to do the gym thing! Go us!”

            Note how in all that, I totally elided the bit about how it’s been since November or how much my fancy trainer gym costs. Because that doesn’t matter, it’s jerkbrain fodder. It’s not helpful.

            What’s important is what we do next, and “Great job!” is what gets us to do more great things.

        • mintylime said:

          Thank you for sharing that.

          As someone who grew up expecting to always be Working Outside The Home At A Real Job For Money, it’s been difficult emotionally to find myself a Working In The Home Not For Money Without Even A Job Title People Understand (some because we just don’t need me to, some it’s a long story).

          The narratives about Real Jobs Are Outside The Home And Make Money and the prejudices about the value of Work In The Home are strong and deeply internalized. :(

          • Xenophile said:

            Yes! My whole life I’ve been completely focused on “must study hard so I can work hard,” exacerbated by my mother’s bitterness about being a stay at home parent. I wasn’t going to be a miserable housewife like her, no sirree! Fast forward to being unemployed and depressed, and cleaning while my boyfriend’s at work. On top of genuine financial worries, I was beating myself up because all the cooking and cleaning wasn’t ‘real’ work, just something to fill my time and distract me from the scary, scary job applications. I felt guilty for not bringing more money into the household.

            As it turned out, my working at home enabled my boyfriend to work longer hours. He could work an extra hour or two each day, and didn’t have to take time off to take the cats to the vets, let in the plumber, or prepare the apartment for fumigation. In part because of his longer work hours, he recently received a 25% raise, and is using it to pay for my martial arts classes, because it helps ease my depression and hypoglycemia. A few months ago I would have viewed that as charity, but now I feel like I earned it.

            I can’t remember which blog it was, or the exact wording, but I once read something along these lines: “Radical homesteading means that homemaking is a political act.” The food we eat and the products we buy have economic and political consequences, and building a lifestyle that considers those consequences reveals our values. I’m not just cooking and cleaning, I’m trying to save money and be an ethical consumer at the same time. And I’m finally finding a reason to use the sewing skills my mom taught me.

    • Kelly said:

      Excellent reply! There are so many things that stop people reaching the ‘milestones’ of grown-up-ness because of circumstances out of their control (disability, etc). But they can still be considered a grown-up because of their attitudes and maturity.

  6. n said:

    I’d say, get some therapy. Your situation could be caused by thousands of things, many of them at the same time.
    Are you allowed to cook your own food at your Mother’s house? Do your own laundry? “Allowed” might sound a bit strong, but do you ever cook or do laundry, or is it more “convenient” and “easier” and whatnot to just let her do it? In other words, are you allowed basic self-care and self-nurturing in your life, and do you want to do it?
    Do you have fear of abandonment and/or fear of commitment? I read that 25% of Americans have one of those, and 25% the other. That stuff alone could keep you terrified to move away from Mother, without you even being aware of it, and it is harder to detect than it sounds.
    Do you ever think there’s no point in getting a higher paying job, because then your Mother would stop giving you money or free food, and that would be unpleasant? You could be avoiding money and not even know it.
    When you try to study IT or anything, do you ever self-sabotage by doing too easy things (like listening to a 100th video lecture on “this is a variable and this is an operand” for newbies) and getting bored or trying some things that are too hard and getting discouraged?
    Some people need to stop being sorry for themselves, but then again, some people need to start. Do you ever feel sorry for yourself? If not, you might want to try it a bit, it’s a good gateway to self-care.
    What I’m trying to say is, these things are much easier to sort out with a therapist.

  7. Kathryn said:

    I just want to say that this was all fantastic advice. Particularly “David Wong’s 6 Harsh Truths That Will Make You A Better Person” which should be required reading in high school !

  8. Two thoughts on learning new things:

    -Have an end goal in mind. I am learning this BECAUSE I want this. Right now it sounds like you’re learning things because you think it might be valuable in some nebulous future way (“trying to learn some program language to maybe be able to work in IT”). Do you actually want to work in IT? Have you talked to people who work in IT about their jobs? Are you sure that learning this particular language is the one skill you are missing to be able to land the specific job title you want?

    -How do you learn best? I’ve tried teaching myself out of books before, and I always get bored/frustrated and give up. I need structure, like a class. See what free or low-cost options there are online or in your community for the particular skill you’re trying to learn. Or there are online videos for teaching you all sorts of things. Find what works to keep you engaged.

  9. Laura said:

    Oh I also wanted to share something that has helped me so much: http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/2010/06/this-is-why-ill-never-be-adult.html

    I am exactly the same way, so I’ve instituted the ‘do one thing’ policy. Everyday I try to do one difficult, adult thing. Then I’m done for the day. If there’s another adult thing that needs to be done, it can be done tomorrow.

    Sometimes I think being an adult looks easy from the outside, so those of us for whom it’s tricky because of anxiety or depression or attention deficit think that we’ll never be able to do the adult thing. But accepting that it will be hard and that struggling doesn’t equal failing has been really useful to me in overcoming that negative, self-defeating attitude that can sometimes stand in the way of even trying.

    • DFTBAwkward said:

      I also have trouble sometimes doing basic adult things. Paying bills isn’t a problem, but I’ll forget or put off other “hard” things – going to the post office, sending an important email. I’ve also started the “do one thing” rule this year. Every day I set a goal and I make sure that by the end of the day I’ve done that thing, sent the email, done that chore, etc. It has helped SO MUCH. One goal a day is manageable and it keeps these tasks from piling up and overwhelming me. And sometimes I do more than one! Because taking action to do one thing makes doing other things easier! So I really recommend this model to help you start on this process.

      Some words from John Green that have helped me a lot just to get my head around it:
      “So here’s the best way to overcome this block in my experience: You have to acknowledge that the thing you are about to do, even though there is nothing technically difficult about it, is extremely hard for you to do at this particular moment. You know that it is extremely hard because you have failed to do it on many previous occasions.

      You don’t need to think about why it is so difficult; you just have to accept that it is difficult.

      (I have to do this all the time when it comes to doing the dishes, which is not a hard chore, but I get very anxious about it and overwhelmed and my brain just says THE DISHES WILL BE THE HARDEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED, and I have to tell my brain: Okay. You are right. The dishes will be very hard. But I am going to do them! I am going to do this very difficult thing!)

      So then once you have accepted in a non-judgmental way that for whatever reason this thing you have to do is very difficult for you, you can then psych yourself up to do it, and then you do it: You’re brushing your teeth, and you spend a solid minute or two brushing all the surfaces, and then you spit and rinse your mouth out, and you have just done a really difficult thing.

      Maybe the world does not recognize it as difficult. But you know! You have just done something really significant that was not easy for you. And in my experience, if you go through this process—acknowledging the difficulty, psyching yourself up, doing the thing—for a while, you will find that it gets easier and easier and the mental block gets easier to live with.”

      aaaand I’d also recommend adulting.com, which is a great blog I like very much.

      • wonderbink said:

        Do you mean http://adultingblog.com/? Because adulting.com led me to a very scary place.

      • Yes yes yes, a thousand times yes! Also adulting.com is full of brilliance. It’s also on tumblr.

      • RK said:

        Can you provide a link to the site you’re talking about? Adulting.com didn’t take me to a site that seemed particular informative re: being responsible and shit.

        • DFTBAwkward said:

          Yes oh my gosh adultingblog.com! So sorry for giving out the wrong link!

      • I read momastery.com (which is a good space in a lot of ways and problematic in other ways, but there you go. Heavy on kids, sisterhood, and jesus for my taste, but full of living honestly, vulnerably, right out in the open, which I like.) She talks about how We Can Do Hard Things. Yes we can!

        And boy howdy when DAMNIT I CAN DO HARD THINGS has to apply to getting up and taking a shower and getting to work, that’s gonna be a tough day, but I can do hard things. I can!

      • killiara said:

        As someone who had to swallow her fear and get a flu shot because dammit, mama has the flu and not doing too well but I don’t handle flu well and it’d kill her to get me sick, even though NEEDLESOHGODNONONONONONONONONO, I am so with you on the sometimes the simplest things can seem the most difficult thing in the world.

        • Kelly said:

          Did you give yourself a treat afterwards? If you have a needle thing you should ALWAYS give yourself a treat afterwards, because they are the worst things to gear yourself up for.

          (I too am a NEEDLESOHGODNONONONONONONONONO person)

      • Oh my gosh this made me cry because YES. Sometimes those things are really really hard and it’s okay to find them hard.

        I find making phone calls really difficult and it’s only recently that I’ve had a breakthrough where I have realised that the freakout I have over making a phone call is managable. The freakout that makes it impossible to make the phone call is the one that starts slightly later and goes “I CAN’T EVEN MAKE THIS PHONE CALL I WILL NEVER BE A REAL ADULT I FAIL AT EVERYTHING BECAUSE I CAN’T DO THIS ONE SIMPLE THING THAT I SHOULD BE ABLE TO DO FAIL FAIL FAIL”

        Thank you for some more words to remind myself that the phone call or eating a meal, or getting out of bed or putting the laundry away or leaving the house or whatever other thing I am finding really hard… are actually hard.

        • Bittybird said:

          Thank YOU for this comment. Phone fear is my biggie! It’s gotten so bad that it’s overflowed from phone fear into Generic Message Fear and hindered my ability to read/send emails (which used to be a safe zone). Sometimes I’m so ashamed of it it makes me ill, and I feel like such a failure at life because I’ve ruined a lot of chances for myself by chickening out of sending/answering important things (like job applications >__< ) I've been ignoring all week. I've come to accept that it's ALWAYS going to be awful and terrifying, and I'm also trying to accept the bitter pill that I've ruined a lot of life chances by letting the fear control me. It feels so unfair, that other people find it so easy naturally, you know? Like they'll always be ahead, off doing big things while I'm fighting an endless battle inside of me. I just have to remember that even if no one sees it, those little things I do every day that are secretly big awful difficult things, they're a big awesome achievement for me and I gotta keep doing them. They're not actually as awful once they're done.

          • n said:

            I used to fear and avoid phone calls and emails too. Especially calling and emailing employers, clients and other authority figures. Therapy helped. For motivation, too.
            I don’t about that cognitive behaviour therapy stuff though. I’d recommend humanist/existential instead.

        • Ainuvande said:

          Oh my gosh fear of phone calls! I literally had to have my therapist sit next to me and hold my hand to make certain big scary phone calls (finding a psychiatrist, talking to the student loan people, pricing oil companies for my apartment). And after she told me I did a great job, and was articulate and polite, and probably the best phone call the person on the other end had all day, and totally not a burden (my bigger issue). But I still freak out about them. So after hard phone calls: some kind of treat. Always. abcedfefjdioa;ndjaoifewoavneioweifn dkwoap

    • anonymouse said:

      One conversation that made me feel So Much Better happened with my graduate school advisor. I was changing my treatment for depression because the maintenance treatment for my chronic depression was no longer effective and was giving her an update on my life. This was a few months into developing a new treatment plan and I made the comment that I was so tired of being responsible and proactive about my depression treatment (eating well, going to bed on time, meds, exercising, getting anything done at work, and maintaining relationships gets old after a while). My uber-successful, tenured professor also gets sick of being responsible for stuff! Being an adult can look easy from the outside, but that’s totally not true! And, alas, impostor syndrome never really goes away. This conversation still makes me feel better every time I don’t want to [do responsible adult thing].

    • thneedle said:

      Sometimes I think being an adult looks easy from the outside

      My father had a great phrase which my mother passed along to me, and now I’ll share it with you. It was this:

      “Stranded in adulthood”

      And I think it acknowledges all this stuff about “it’s hard, it’s no fun, but it gots to happen” that we’re talking about here.

    • Amy Pond said:

      Omigosh, yes, that hyperbole and a half post, when I first read it years ago, pretty much described me. I used to try and do all the things at once, because that was what you were meant to do, yeah, and everyone else did them just fine, except that I would inevitably become overwhelmed and everything would crash and burn. I’ve learnt it’s important not to exceed my limits, or else I have a small breakdown, but I do try and push at them slowly over time.

      One thing I did find though is that if I really, really love something, I’m less likely to fall apart doing it, even it it’s really stressful. When I was straight out of school I tried for a year to do a degree in IT and failed miserably at most of my subjects. But when I found something I actually, really wanted to do for the rest of my life – archaeology, which I am currently studying – I found that I was able to do well at my subjects (sometimes I was a wreck of a human being at the end of semester, but I did well in my subjects!), because even though it was really, really difficult for me, I was also really, really motivated to do it.

      • Mary said:

        I think people super-under-estimate how important motivation is. There are big differences between having to do a thing, wanting to do a thing because you want the effect of having done it, and wanting to do a thing because you’ll enjoy the experience of doing it. And then there’s all the morality stuff where if you’re not motivated to do a thing, it’s because you’re somehow secretly a bad person, rather than just not motivated to do it.

        Figuring out the difference between the stuff that you’re actually motivated to do and the stuff that you want to have done but aren’t motivated to actually do is really huge. It doesn’t mean that you can’t or won’t ever do the stuff in the latter category, but you can start to see how you’ll need to structure it in particular ways or create some kind of system for motivating yourself to do it (treats! commitments to other people! a peer group that rewards you for doing that stuff! whatever works!) rather than just beating yourself up for not doing it.

  10. FindAStone said:

    LW, I feel a lot of your pain. I am 27. I live with my dad. I have a retail job that is okay and I generally don’t hate it, but it’s not getting me anywhere. My goal in life right now is to move out, and my little retail job does not pay me enough for me to be able to afford rent, bills AND food. It’s annoying. I feel like I’m failing at being a grown-up.

    So how to be better at being an adult, I do not know. I wish I had advice for you, but we are sharing a boat, you and I.

    But that being said, there are a lot of things I do now that I was not able to do five or six years ago that I do now with joy and without even thinking about it. I go shopping, or I go to breakfast by myself, or I go to the grocery store, or I go up to the bar and see friends. These things seem totally normal and bland, but five or six years ago, they were entirely impossible. Sometimes you make steps without even realizing it. Or sometimes you just have to go out there and be terrified. Life is terrifying. You have to live it anyway. And you can either let life terrify the shit out of you and you can spend your time hiding under your bed, or you can say “Hey, you know what, fuck you” and nibble away at it until one day it’s gone. And you can walk away from something with the pride of knowing, “Wow, I just did that like it was nothing, and five years ago I wouldn’t have been able to leave the house.”

    I believe I got off track a little. But I believe in you, and I think you can do it. Also, please do read David Wong’s article, that thing was amazing. It’ll feel like he kicked your ass when you’re done, but it’s good advice. I wish you the best of luck.

  11. All this is wonderful advice, but Mommy has probably invested greatly in keeping her little boy at home and may do her best to sabotage improvement.

    • Wow, you are bringing a lot of assumptions to the table there. The LW says (1) living with mum and (2) gets in fights with family members. That’s it.

    • Ellex said:

      I didn’t see anything in the LW’s letter that would lead me to assume that.

      Even if that was the case, pretty much all the advice here would still be applicable.

    • Myrin said:

      Hm, where do you get this from?
      All the LW says about their mother – among other things that make them unhappy – is “And I also still live with my mum [I live in a country which is in a constant, 25-years long economical crisis, so it's not really easy to get away from that]“.
      It could very well be exactly as you say but for all we know the mother could be happy to have her child with her but wouldn’t mind if they moved out or she could even prefer to live alone and have hir live somewhere else. We don’t know that and it seems a bit unfair to me to make such an assumption.

      • n said:

        But that’s the thing. Boomerang children come home for thousands of reasons. It could be Mom’s sabotage. It could be LW’s self-sabotage. It could be both or neither. There’s too little information in this letter. We are mostly just guessing.
        What scares me is that most of advice here is all like “get up, be a warrior, do things you can’t do! pay to society, give something to others!”
        I actually ended up at home after being a can-do warrior for too long and too hard. Forced myself to do things I couldn’t and gave things I couldn’t afford and self-neglected to the extreme. Burned out and failed at everything and just had to run home in the end. LW here doesn’t even say why they dropped out of college. Did they try too much or too little? Do they self-pity a lot or avoid self-pity like the plague and prefer to hide in video games instead?
        So we can’t make assumptions about LW’s Mother too. Was she clingy and dragged her kid back home? Or was she cold and neglectful and made the kid run back, all anxious they might lose the last of her if they didn’t stay at the same house forever? It could be both. It could be neither.
        Let the LW sift through these answers and comments and find whatever sticks to their situation.

        • Myrin said:

          I’m not sure if you disagree with me? As far as I can see you said exactly the same things I meant, only in a more detailed and elaborate way. I was just chiming in because the original commenter’s tone sounded unjustifiably judgemental.

    • pfcmarie said:

      lolwut

    • Pterinochilus murinus said:

      I’m glad someone mentioned this possibility. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that it’s probable, but it does happen. My parents were actually furious when I started saving for an emergency fund. They yelled at me for wasting their money on it when that’s what they’re there for. That was when I reminded them that while they still pay some of my bills, my income does not come from them. Cue feelingsdrama. I guess they didn’t like not being able to shame me as often for how much money I cost them.

  12. Clementine Danger said:

    I personally heartily recommend working for a charity for a while, if you have the time. Preferably something challenging. It’s a great way to get out of the house, become part of a larger community, build relationships and get on the horse (hur hur), and you get rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, the pride and satisfaction of having helped your community and, if people around you are so inclined, compliments for being a Good Guy. Plus, it’s safe. Your livelihood, doesn’t depend on it, so there’s some margin for error.

    And yes, that David Wong article is just filled with delicious advice. So is this post, and this thread. Good luck! Trust me, if anyone knows how hard all this can be, it’s me.

    • Ellex said:

      That’s a great idea for a first step. It gets you out of the house, meeting new people, feeling good about yourself, and maybe even provides some networking opportunities to network to find a job or place to move to.

    • Plus, if LW decides to go in a different direction, job-wise, volunteer work teaches you useful skills that can go on a resume.

  13. Zeugma said:

    I want to register the following objection to the Wong article (which, though the article isn’t linked in the post, was written as a response to people linking it around on Tumblr): http://roane72.tumblr.com/post/38184908150/this-is-a-fluffy-kitten-in-fact-this-is-my

    In particular, ‘I’m not saying that self-improvement is a bad thing. On the contrary. But I do think that ANY form of self-improvement requires that you believe you are worth improving on. Are you going to want to do home improvement on a house you hate?’

    I think this is a good article, broadly speaking, and LW, I wish you all the best in trying to get on that horse! I have every confidence in you. But please do take the Wong article with a grain of salt, if you read it. I understand why people think it’s good advice, but I also think that parts of it — I’m thinking in particular of the fourth ‘harsh truth’ — can be brutal and demoralising reading for someone who might not already have the best sense of their own self-worth.

    I also want to second Ellen Fremedon’s comment, which is generally excellent advice.

    • Mary said:

      I was a bit o_O at the thing where your fat friends will hate you if you lose weight. Because losing weight is unequivocally a good thing and fat people are all jealous of skinny people! Woah.

  14. Wong’s article is the best thing I’ve ever read on Cracked. Seriously, give it a read. It should be required reading for everybody.

    • Will said:

      I have been saying for years that reading Cracked will make you a better person. That article is the most dramatic illustration of why.

  15. The volunteering advice is spot-on. We *need* to be a part of the world, and we *need* to use our skills and talents toward something larger than ourselves. One of the problems of disengagement is that people get stuck in their own heads. Our heads, often times, are ugly places. They are small and tight and cramped. They smell like musty basements. No one is happy if they’re stuck in a musty basement all day. That’s just a fact.

    In the end, work is good. Do work. It doesn’t matter if you are paid. It doesn’t matter if it’s not aligned with your degree. Work; contribute; live.

    I really hope this kid takes your advice, Captain Awkward. You were right on the money.

    • Kim said:

      Not just that volunteering is good for its own sake, but being *told* people appreciate what you’re doing can be very encouraging, and that’s much more likely to happen in volunteering than in most jobs.

      And maybe LW could try something new that has explicit feedback. I have similar problems as the LW when it comes to sticking with stuff, but always find it far easier if people are telling me they think what I’m doing is cool/worthwhile. Even if they’re just saying nice things about your stuff because you say nice things about theirs, it still gives that warm glow of community and validation, and can keep you going until you’re actually good enough to make some money off it.

  16. The LW sounds a lot like my brother (except my brother doesn’t even have a job – his life consists of tv, table-top RPGs and computer games; at least the RPGs get him out and socialising).

    Fear of failure is so powerful and debilitating. I’ve suffered from it too but in different ways. For me committing myself to something really helps. If I convince myself I have to go through the experience, I can’t skip it, then I will make myself. Sometimes I need to ask for help, and that often makes me feel like an instant failure, but when I do ask I’m not treated as a failure and things work out in the end. The more times I’ve faced these situations and made it through the easier it is the next time. I also find thinking through the worst case scenario helps, working out how bad things might actually be and how I could deal with it; this is about the practicalities, not the emotions because I often find my emotional response, if unchecked, is completely disproportionate.

    There is so much good advice on this page. Good luck to the LW, I hope you find a path which works for yo.

    • bluecandles said:

      Geekyisgood – I think we share the same brother. I wish I could figure out a way to help him….

      I think the worst case scenario thing could work – instead of feeling crippled by the fear, you’ve taken control & planned for it. So, there’s nothing in your way that you know you can’t deal with. How empowering and… freeing. I may use this tactic in the future.

      • With my brother (and my sister who’s in a similar situation but caused by awful depression) I long realised that I could do nothing to help them get out of this – they have to do it themselves. My mum hasn’t realised this though and her interfering only seems to make things worse (and oh do I hate it when she does it to me). But relationships vary and not everyone is as stubborn as we kids are.

        I’m glad you like the worst-case-scenario tactic. I have to credit my partner with it – he’s the one who made me do it first when I was stressing out about some uni coursework.

        • bluecandles said:

          I can empathise with you – it is tough to see it happen to those we care about. Yes, I don’t think I could help my brother, trying to ‘help’ him against his will would only cause damage to his confidence.

  17. This is one of my favorite articles/answers on CA ever. Standing ovation!

  18. Admiral Backward said:

    Beautiful; I think I have something in my eye. If only this advice had come to me in high school.

  19. Mary said:

    I think the advice to start doing stuff around the house is brilliant – it’s not going out into a new scary place, you have very little to lose, but it will build some confidence and it is being part of a team.

    The thing that seemed like a bit of a gap in Elodie’s advice is that your mum may have her own ideas about who does things around the house. If you currently don’t do much housework and you suddenly start trying to do the laundry and the cooking and things like that, she might be delighted and relieved, but she might equally be horrified by it. She might stress out because you’re not doing it right, that you’re going to break stuff, that the food you’re making is disgusting and you make way more mess than she would. Or she might just really enjoy looking after you and get a lot of her own self-esteem that way. Either way, the point is that she might not immediately jump for delight when you start trying to take a bit more responsibility for this stuff, so you probably do need to discuss it with her. You might need to explain to her that you’re doing this for your own good, because it’s time you started growing up a bit and you need to learn this stuff. Hopefully she’ll be supportive and show you how to do laundry and teach you some basic meals, but if she really strongly resists it all, then she’s not actually a helpful person for you, and you might need to put moving out higher up on your priority list.

    Good luck, LW!

    • As someone currently living with parents, having spent over ten years away, I know that living with the people who brought you up isn’t *quite* the same as living with housemates, but the same method applies:

      1. Declare a desire for changing the way something happens.
      2. Listen to the response, answer any questions, negotiate an agreement on how to go forward.
      3. Experiment with the agreed change.
      4. Renegotiate if necessary.
      5. Experiment some more.

      For parents, it helps to throw in good reasons for change; “I want to do more around the house in order to feel more independent/ to contribute more of my fair share/ to practice for when I live alone.”

      All change is experiment. I’ve lived with my folks and my fiance’s folks (moving between the two places) for over two years now and there are still some things we haven’t yet ironed out with my folks. Plans for new methods do not always work first time, for all number of reasons – and sometimes, alas, those reasons are infuriating because people don’t always listen! But so long as you have to live with them, you have to return to the conference table and talk it over.

      It would be a terrific mistake to just change the way you do things without talking to the other people in the house about what you want to do and why and listening to any concerns or the things that other people need.

      • Mary said:

        Yes, exactly! And that process of listening and negotiating is not a massive inconvenience standing in your way or anything like that, it’s a part of your becoming adult. It’s a good thing!

  20. I feel for LW. This sounds very much like the situation and feelings I was going through when I was in my early 20’s (I’ve just turned 30, now). I lived at home, didn’t contribute to the household nearly as much as I should have, and felt ashamed as I watched my friends advance in life and leave me behind. I had a lot of self loathing and shame as both of my older sisters had moved away to have academic carreers soon to be followed by real carreers.

    The way I was living was simply too easy. If I became determined to do something, I’d eventually fizzle out and revert back to old habits. My mother was too loving and “helped” me far too much. If I was surly or felt overwhelmed by sadfeels she’d tell me to relax, gather myself, and try again when I was ready. It was a very sweet thought, but very poor motivation.

    After graduating highschool, I worked in a clothing shop, several dollar stores, the YMCA, two small restaurants, landscaped, designed websites, tried to join the army, and took a single year of college before dropping out. I considered work in everything from beauty school to sailing. To say that I was scattered was an understatement. Interviews went terribly for me because I didn’t know how to sell something that I didn’t believe in. “Why should you hire me? I don’t know. You probably shouldn’t.” The stagnation and the fear became circular.

    Although I didn’t have trouble finding sexual/romantic relationships, I found it hard to maintain them. I’d focus on my partner as an escape, like a drug. When things became serious, I’d feel resentful if they had personal sucess, or I’d feel uneasy and restless knowing that I didn’t want to stay where I was for the long term.

    My perpetual teenagehood finally ended when I got a chance to apprentice in a tattoo shop with a friend of a cousin with whom I wasn’t very close. The shop didn’t exist yet, it was to be opened in a town I’d never been to that was located an eleven hour drive through the mountains away. Art had always been my only real constant talent or interest. I had assumed that doing it for a living was a hopeless dream so ignored it for all practical causes. I had a once in a lifetime chance. I took it. It was scary as hell. I was still a lost child.

    My life changed. Permanently. Suddenly I was on my own and too far away to casually rely on my parents. My apprenticeship was unpaid, so I had to get a second job waitressing in a bar. Suddenly I was too busy to sit around feeling sorry for myself. My mentor turned out to be a dick. I hated waitressing. Too bad. I had to grit through it. I had rent to pay. I had to eat. I learned to cook. I learned to budget.

    Some of it was awful. Some of it was great. Those first couple of years shaped and scarred me. The most significant change was in myself. I didn’t have to wait to find confidence in life before living it. I had to start living it to find my feet…the confidence came later.

    • nouvelle said:

      +1

      Not to be totally weird, but I found your story delightful and relatable and I want to watch the movie version of it.

      “Growing up” can be the hardest thing ever. I still feel like a fraud most of the time.

      • The thing about “Growing up” is that people see it as a finite destination when really it’s just the gradual and constant development of a person. I think Joe Rogan put it the best way.

        “Remember when you were a kid and you thought there were real grown-ups?…you were crying and got sent to your room and you said ‘one day I’m gonna be a grown-up and everything’s gonna make sense!’ Then one day you’re like 25 at the supermarket and the bag boy calls you ‘sir’ and you’re like ‘WTF! …You mean I’m a grown up? We’re all f**ked!”

    • misspiggy said:

      ‘I had assumed that doing it for a living was a hopeless dream so ignored it for all practical causes.’ I think this is very important.

      LW, what dreams did you once have that you put aside? Which is the biggest, shimmeriest and most terrifying? What would happen if you started to take steps towards that dream? I’m not saying give up your day job, or move home – but often it helps to be going in the direction of the things that excite you most. Even if it’s too late to become the international teen tennis sensation you wanted to be, throw yourself into tennis after work and see what happens. Maybe you’ll become a coach, maybe you’ll start managing your local tennis club, maybe you’ll get a fulfilling hobby and a whole new group of friends. But if you move in that direction then you will create opportunities for yourself which will take you somewhere exciting.

      It does not matter if you feel you are not going to be good at whatever it is. The point is to keep getting better than you are now, not to reach a particular standard. This can be extraordinarily difficult if you are a perfectionist. LW, is there any chance you are a perfectionist? Do you drop things because it seems you can never be ‘good enough’ at them? When you reach an obstacle do you feel there is no point trying? If so, it is important to accept that nobody is ever good enough at anything – even world class experts. A messy problem that you struggle through messily is what teaches you how to be better at something.

      Having said that, I’m reading this blog because I can’t currently face the current messy problem I am struggling with. This life stuff isn’t easy, is it?

    • UnsuckableButtercup said:

      “Why should you hire me? I don’t know. You probably shouldn’t.”

      UGH! Oh, God, tell me how to get out of this! I’ve been let go from the job I had since 2002, when I got out out of college. I can’t blame them, I was performing terribly, but I found out this was just a thyroid issue. (“Just” a thyroid issue— ha! And your car’s poor gas mileage is “just” because you’ve left the handbrake on. LW, do get your thyroid check, if you can, it’s a revelation.)

      Trouble is, when I tried to rely on a minister for lay counseling, she used the excuse to come into my home rent-free and take over my life, destroying my concept of self, throwing out my meds, trying to poison my cat… for my own good, of course. And then there was the rape, my daughter running away, the ex-husband accusing me of molesting him as a child… gah. I’m a wreck. I know it. I probably deserve it. And therapy doesn’t seem to take with me, I tried it for about ten years in my teens and early twenties, and the anti-depressants only seem to help me alleviate terrible PMS…

      I was good at my job. I was GREAT at my job, even if you didn’t consider all of the above. But what employer would want the remnants of such a hot, dramatic mess? I can’t bring myself to write a cover letter six days out of seven… and I can’t justify the expense/ risk of therapy when I can barely feed myself. (And I’d rather not spend the resources of a sliding-scale therapist on a situation that is very probably not going to pay great return.)

      I know, I know, self-pity, just do it. But if someone knows the way out— without inflicting myself on a non-profit who does good in the world— I’d love to hear it.

      • Mary said:

        >>without inflicting myself on a non-profit who does good in the world

        Why is that a non-option? Obviously the way you’ve set it up, it’s because you’re seeing yourself as more of a burden than a help. Which is fine, honestly – plenty of non-profits know they operate as a halfway-house for people who need some help getting back into the world, and that’s part of their mission, even if not explicitly. Is there a good reason why you’re discounting that option at the start?

        • UnsuckableButtercup said:

          Well, I meant as a volunteer. I feel like toxic waste these days. I DON’T want to be stinking up other people’s lives, especially if they are then forced to pretend I am doing them a service.

          And therapy… if it worked on me, I’d be the Secretary General of the United Nations, after spending so very many hours of my teens and early twenties on the couch. Or I’d at least have a working marriage, a job, friends, a family who wasn’t ashamed of me… I feel very strongly that resources should be spent on those who do not inherently squander them.

          I feel bad: you offered a logical point, and I just rejected it out of hand. But… I bet those halfway houses see certain people walk through their doors, and think, “Oh, G-d, one of THESE. Can we please see someone who is serious about getting help, instead of Ms. Mopey-Impossible of Greater Toxic Waste?”

          • The only volunteer job I ever had that made me feel as if I were doing some actual good was at the SPCA. It can be really gross work…it’s mostly cleaning various poop and washing a lot of litter pans, bowls, and bedding. The animals are often sick since it’s hard to contain the spread of anything in such close quarters. Despite all that, it was wonderful work. I was doing something that felt important and I didn’t have to be around a lot of people. Sometimes I’d get a little free time and I could just bond with the animals. I’d reccomend it…you just have to be ready for a little heartache. Not every animal gets adopted out and sometimes there’s an endline.

            While I understand that working for free isn’t exactly what you had in mind, it will give you something to do in the mean time just to get out of bed. I don’t know about you, but sweet needy kitties is a lot better incentive to get my ass up at 6am than a regular job or school or whatever. I tend to like animals more than people. Having a volunteer job while you’re between paying jobs will be more interview friendly as well.

            “According to your resume, you’ve been unemployed since blah blah blah”
            “I felt that I was in a rut and needed some stimulation. I’ve been volunteering at blah blah and I feel that it’s really put a new perspective on my life etc chain of positive bs that makes unemployment sound like a spirit quest and thus you are now super enlightened employee….or something. I still suck at interviews.

          • Manatee said:

            The place I volunteer actually gets more funding for having lots of volunteers. At first I was really annoyed by how inefficient it was to have hoards of people who weren’t prticularly qualified doing this work, but then I realised that part of the point of the project is to get local people to work on the project, give them this experience, that’s why the volunteer element is a condition of their funding. You also see it in a lot of charity shops which are often staffed by people the charity is designed to help. Volunteering is not just about the end goals of the tasks, volunteer sector work often has multiple other agendas and is often run by open hearted people who want to help others, so maybe you don’t need to worry so much about applying. Good luck. :)

        • Mary said:

          No, I knew you meant as a volunteer! A lot of amazing volunteer work is done by people in your situation – people who don’t have the confidence to go out and get paid work, but who can be an extra pair of hands and build their confidence up gradually. I totally get that you feel so bruised and useless at the moment that you can’t believe that anyone could be pleased to see you, but you know, I bet you are totally capable of sorting second-hand clothes, or put cans of food into boxes.

          When you walk in, most people will look at you and think, “Ah good, another pair of hands!” A few might spot that you are feeling rubbish, but they’re more likely to think, “Oh gosh, she looks just like I felt a couple of years ago. I’ll go and say hello.” People who take leadership positions in volunteer organisations are used to people who feel like they’ve been jettisoned coming through the door, and if they’re any good they’ll know how to make you feel welcome. (If they don’t, they are crap, not you – try somewhere else.)

          Anyway, I won’t go on at you any more! But if you’ve got anyone you trust who’ll go with you to a local charity shop or food co-op or local community garden group or something like that, then think about it. It’s a scary first step, but the first step is usually the scariest. Masses of luck.

          • UnsuckableButtercup said:

            Thank you. Sorry, I’m all sniffly now.

      • Baytree said:

        Buttercup, there are jerks out there in the world. It sounds like you’ve run into more than a few of them. There’s also times when nobody’s being a jerk but things end up sucking anyways, and it sounds like you’ve run into that too. But here’s the important thing:

        Bad things happening to you doesn’t make you a bad person!

        You say all these horrible things happened and that you “probably deserve it.” No one deserves to be falsely accused, no one deserves to be taken advantage of or manipulated or abused or raped, and certainly no one deserves to have their cat poisoned!

        I know you weren’t really asking for this kind of advice, but maybe it might be good to give therapy another shot? ‘Cause thyroid problems can manifest as depression, which might be why therapy didn’t work for you during high school. But all those other things you mentioned came after that and it sounds like they had very real, lasting effects on you that a good therapist could help with.

        Whatever you end up doing… do it knowing that there are people out there who will appreciate you for who you are. I think I speak for most of the Awkward Army when I say that we love you even though we have never met you.

  21. Several people above mentioned committing to yourself to change. It’s a great first step if you keep the commitments you make to yourself. For me, however, I’ve found it much more helpful to commit to doing something with other people. For me, it’s easier to let myself down than to let my lunch acquaintance down. So, as you’re doing your self-evaluation be sure to keep in mind how to set your self up for a win. Or, if you don’t know that, how to avoid setting yourself up in a way that has already proven not to work. Good luck.

  22. bluecandles said:

    I don’t know if it’s possible in the job you’re doing, LW, but I managed to scrape my way out of some crappy jobs in my adulthood by taking on ‘developmental’ work at… work. I was supposed to be just admin, but they recognised I wanted to do more and gave me the opportunity to do extra, more skilled work. And then, when an opportunity came along, a very lucky and rare one, I had the skills & experience to apply for it, and get it. I may not have regarded the job or organisation I was in, as what I wanted to be in life, but I am using it to get more experience, better pay & independence, the financial freedom to figure out where I want to go.

    Even if it’s not your dream, if you can find some way to use your job to advance your career in some direction, that will give you so much confidence and something to put on your CV. And possibly better pay and more freedom to move where you want. Every little step counts.

    As someone who spent her 20s in a rut of temp jobs and unemployment, often living with her parents and hiding inside daydreams and fear of rejection, I know how that feels. Like it’s never going to end. It can end. Accept your own indecision and live your life anyway. Start ‘adulting’. I delayed mine because I kept waiting for a big leap from that situation into knowing my whole life, it being brilliant, and having my dream career. Instead, I took muuuch smaller steps and accepted that dream life was not going to happen in one step. It still isn’t, but I have managed to stay employed despite the recession, despite my own mental health issues, and live a fairly independent life.

    You have taken the first step forward by writing to Captain Awkward, which was incredibly brave to admit you needed help and you want your life to get better. Start by taking other step forwards, read what elodie said, read the commenters’ suggestions, and decide which steps you’re going to start on first. And, give yourself a high five for every step you take forward.

    Addendum to that: if you don’t enjoy IT programming courses, don’t do ‘em. Maybe try out some free courses on coursera.com/ edx.org, watch a few video lectures, and see what does interest you, not what *should* interest you. They may or may not lead to a Fantastic Brilliant Career, but they might just show you what route not to go in.

  23. straycat said:

    As a certified late developer, I have been in places a lot similar to where the LW is. Around the time that most people are settling down with their ‘the one’ I was just starting to figure out friendship; and I’ve only just now (ten years after most people of my generation) found the courage and stamina to take ownership of my career. I imagine I’ll finally figure out romance around the time that most people hit their second divorces. So I have a certain amount of experience of kickstarting a life late, and what works and what doesn’t.

    LW, I have tried a lot of the things Elodie Under Glass suggests, and many of them worked for me, and many of them failed utterly. I daresay many of them will work for you, and others will fail. They won’t be the same ones that I failed with, because the problems you’re facing are not the problems that I faced.

    And here we hit the main thing I want to say: learn to know yourself.

    You seem to have a pretty good picture of your weaknesses. Where have you succeeded? What are your strengths? What, if any, are your obsessions? One thing I learned pretty quickly was that it’s a lot easier to reduce your weaknesses by using your strengths. Back in the day, I taught myself html and css (shush, guys, these were useful skills in the low-wage job I had ten years back) by making a fanfiction website, because I wanted somewhere to put the fanfiction. I treated social skills as an analytical/research project because I’d accidentally started to form a few friendships and needed to figure out how not to break them again. So I used things I wanted/needed, and strengths I had, to help me along the way to getting skills I didn’t have. I don’t know what your strengths are, but you do, and I’m willing to bet you can use them to tackle far more things than you’ve used them for so far.

    The other thing is about things that scare you, like if you’re making some kind of big change in your life which will take a lot of work and put you into a weird unknown situation. You can get a hell of a long way by doing them while not thinking about them. I generally start off by going “IF I’m going to do it, which I’m probably not, I’d break it down into these tiny little steps.” So I have a list of small tasks, and I can pick them off one at a time without even once having to think about the big scary thing I was trying to accomplish.

    It’s taken me many, many years of adult life to get to where most adults were in half the time, and I’ve not really sped up any, but the independence, the freedom and the opportunities are more than worth it.

  24. K said:

    LW, I understand how you feel. A few years ago, I was unemployed (having both physically and mentally broken down under the stress of my job), living at my parents’ house, and unsure of what to do next. Elodie’s advice is spot on. I would add – decide to do something different and commit to doing it, like cooking dinner one night a week until you move out on your own. In this case, smaller is better because you want it to be something you can commit to doing and something you can succeed at doing. You’ll be able to build on that forward momentum.

    I would definitely second the recommendation to volunteer. It will help you feel good about your strengths and the skills you do have. Even if you don’t think they matter, you have abilities that are useful. You’ll also get that much closer to figuring out what you’re passionate about (even if you decide there are certain tasks you could never be paid enough money to do again).

    Go get ‘em, LW.

  25. Ellex said:

    LW, I’ve been where you are. I dropped out of college (not enough funds to pay for it), was in a really bad place emotionally, and although my parents were supportive, they were also poor.

    It took an enormous amount of personal courage, encouragement from my family, and me getting to the point where I just couldn’t take my situation anymore to get me moving.

    I can tell you is that getting started is the hardest part. Keeping your momentum up is hard, too, don’t think that once you get going it’s all easy downhill coasting. But that first step really is the hardest one.

    There’s also nothing wrong in asking other people to help give you a push to get you started, either. Just don’t ask more than they are able or willing to give, make sure you pay it back ASAP(whether monetary or otherwise), and be suitably appreciative of their assistance.

  26. Bee said:

    I’m trying to think of things that have helped me in my own life. Here goes.

    1. Although this seems totally at odds with elodie’s great advice to try something you’ll fail at, it’s not: I never set myself up for failure. When I was setting huge goals and running out of steam before I completed them, (a) I constantly beat myself up about never finishing what I started, and (b) not finishing what I started became a habit. Now, I’ll focus on one discrete task that I can complete in a week or less (e.g., send emails to three people with awesome jobs asking for informational interviews), instead of having an overwhelming goal (e.g., learning a programming language so I can get a tech job).

    Note that you can set these kinds of small, measurable goals for yourself at the same time that you also make space for yourself to sometimes fail by experimenting with completely new things.

    2. I became aware of all the negative shit I kept saying to myself. The first thing that stood out to me in your letter is that you call yourself “not a grown-up person.” You are a grown-up person. I mean, I’m not trying to force you to define yourself in a certain way; lots of olds (me) still think of themselves as immature little kids at heart. But it seems to me that if you’re sad or bothered by thinking of yourself as not a grown-up person, the first thing you can do about that is start acknowledging that you are, in fact, a grown-up person.

    Easier said than done, I know. It feels weird telling yourself something you know isn’t true, especially when the way you know it isn’t true is because you tell yourself it isn’t true every single day. And why would you lie to you? Anyway, thinking of yourself as not a grown-up person may have become a habit, and it’ll take a while to break that habit, but you can do it! I have faith.

    It’s good to note, also, that while there are some requirements for being a grown-up person, they aren’t as strict as you think. Lots of grown-up people don’t have degrees or girlfriends or professional careers. That doesn’t mean that you’re wrong for wanting those things! (If you do.) It just means that you’re a grown-up person who has some unmet goals still. (As, I swear!, we all do.)

  27. So this: “Most important, I cannot commit to anything really. Whatever I start doing [like trying to learn some program language to maybe be able to work in IT], I never finish, I easily get bored, lose concentration.” is exactly how I am.

    Not everyone is a self starter, or a self teacher. I am always stunned by the people who “taught themselves how to read” or whatever. Uhh no. I didn’t do that, because I was PLAYING like a normal child. I don’t work out unless I have a scheduled workout based activity not in my house. Why? Because working out is tedious and mildly unpleasant (sweat, pain, all those things.) Why would I want to spend time doing something tedious and unpleasant when I could do something that is entirely pleasant? (Play Call of Duty, for instance.)

    But that doesn’t mean that I don’t work out, it means that I have to plan around my own laziness. I have to make not working out seem worse than working out. So I pay money for dance classes, I only take dance classes I can go to directly from work, I give myself no excuses to not go. I don’t try to make myself into someone I’m not. (i.e. a person who actually enjoys any part of the workout process)

    What I’m saying is don’t beat yourself up too much for not being one of those people who learns programming or becomes an amazing hacker for funsies. What you should do is plan around your own laziness. (And I do say laziness, because for me, it is laziness. Maybe deep down you really are afraid of failure or something, but I know that I personally just prefer to do things that are easy and fun to things that are hard even when they are a bigger payoff. But I figure if it weren’t for lazy people no one would ever have invented the wheel, or grub hub, so I don’t see it as a bad thing.)

    For me, learning things like programming is only interesting when I have a big interesting problem I want to solve. I have to start with a big interesting goal as the goal, and then I will learn all the things I need to learn in order to solve that problem. “Learning to Program” is a good goal, but it is boring, and tedious and unlikely to keep you up late at night. “Building a Robot That will Get me a Beer” is AWESOME and brag about on the internet worthy. It will be hard, there will be lots of pieces, I may need help from strangers, and I may hit major road blocks, but even if I don’t achieve my goal I will at least know what it is I need to do before I can build that robot.

    Think about what kinds of things might get you interested, and what might keep you motivated, is it a structured environment? A public commitment to achieving a goal? I highly recommend this article on “You are not so smart” http://youarenotsosmart.com/2010/10/27/procrastination/about procrastination, it talks about how people who don’t procrastinate are just better into tricking themselves into doing what is best for them.

    My suggestion is that you figure out how to trick yourself.

    I think at the end of the day about 95% of the responsible adult things I do are to avoid consequences that would actually just be a bigger hassle. Waiting to do the Laundry too long = bigger hassle, not paying bills so things get shut off = bigger hassle than paying on time.

    You need to make giving up the harder choice, and eventually it wont even seem like an option.

    • gallant_girl said:

      THIS. I’ve gotten the idea in my head that its super important to be innately hardworking, motivated, and good at time management. Then I beat myself up because I’m usually impulsive, distracted, and lazy. I’ve never really learned how to do things, but have gotten through prep school, a year and a half or Ivy League college, and a few jobs while procrastinating horribly just because I’m good at jumping through hoops and telling people what they want to hear. Its helpful to hear from someone who accepts that they’re lazy, but gets stuff done anyway. I don’t think I’ll ever magically morph into someone who actually wants to work hard or isn’t super tempted to choose the activity that gives a short term reward, but I hope to be able to trick myself into being engaged and productive.

      LW, I’m also in a situation where I’m trying to figure out how to be an adult, albeit I’m younger than you. I think what alot of the advice on this thread is aimed at is learning how to do things. People talk about how learning is a skill, and once you know how to learn given your style you can learn anything. I think maybe doing things is the same. Sure “paying a bill,” “asking someone out,” and “applying for a new job.” are all fairly different actions. But I think if you learn how to get yourself to do things then you can do all of them.

      One part of learning to do for me is summed up nicely here http://zenhabits.net/discomfort/

  28. learn2learn said:

    For learning how to learn and self-motivate, I’d recommend two books: Drive by Daniel Pink, and How Children Learn by John Holt.
    Holt’s book seems to be about toddlers but it’s empowered me to finally tackle the Rubik’s Cube. And I’m 32.
    After these two books, I also read Gladwell’s Outliers, and he seems to have the same model as Daniel Pink, except Gladwell’s seems outdated and a lot less clear. He’s all like, “oh, you need 10k hours to become a genius in anything, and that sounds like being sentenced to hard labour, but it’s all worth it in the end”. And if you’ve read Daniel Pink, you know that you have to set Goldilocks tasks for yourself (not too easy, not too hard, but just right) and then it’s not hard labour anymore, it’s 10k hours of fun.
    Then you add Holt to the mix, which basically means “messing around” and free-playing with the thing you’re learning before you go on to read any explanations or listening to any lectures. And all of a sudden, you can learn things because they’re fun.

    • kristinmh said:

      Incidentally, doing stuff in that “Goldilocks zone” is supposed to get you into the “flow” state. Which is lots of fun if you can find it.

      It sounds like the advice to seek cognitive behaviour therapy is spot on for you. You seem to be stuck in a self-hating spiral, where you don’t do anything because it’s pointless, then you hate yourself for not doing anything. A good therapist can give you some tools to break that cycle.

      A small hint: give yourself small, achievable goals. Honestly, there are days when I put ‘Put on pants’ on my to-do list, because at least that will get checked off.

      Good luck! You can do it!

    • meerkat said:

      I think I do use Goldilocks goals. When I’m working I say, “Well, first I’ll do this page/document/etc.” without thinking about how big the whole project is, and usually I finish early. But for other purposes, I have trouble because I seriously do not care about anything I can reasonably accomplish. For example, I have always wanted to be a writer, but I am busy and depressed and perfectionistic. So if I set myself a goal that is actually feasible, like “write something every week even if it’s just a few paragraphs,” I really do not feel any good things about achieving that incredibly pathetic goal, and soon enough I stop doing it because it is not rewarding in any way.

      • n said:

        Hey, I’m trying to become a writer too :)
        Maybe it’s not a Goldilock’s task if it feels pathetic and unrewarding. If you read How Children Learn (by John Holt), you might find some stuff that makes learning interesting. Free play and messing around is very important before you start anything, because it gets you familiar with things and less afraid to break something, and it also gives you ideas for more advanced stuff. So you might want to start with something childish and carefree, like write a bunch of nonsense haiku poems, or take somebody else’s horror short story and invert the horrible bit to make it funny, and write that up in a few sentences or paragraphs. Having new ideas is usually rewarding, so try to make up more of those. Besides, when you have tons of ideas written down, you might find that some of them are easier and more rewarding to make into actual stories.
        Daniel Pink says that to keep the intrinsic motivation, you have to do these things without expecting any money for them. So I had to ask myself: what would I write in my spare time that nobody would ever publish or buy? Practice, exercises and idea sketches are just that: writing for my own fun and writing to master the process itself. And then the minutes just add up and you might find yourself spending more time writing each week without having to set a time goal at all.
        That perfectionistic bit: yeah, it sucks a lot. I used to be always like, I must get it right the first time. It felt like I was writing my Collected Stories all the time and I couldn’t even make a typo or It Would All Suck Forever and then I would be too shamed and disgraced to write anything ever again. This sort of perfectionism made me incapable of even reading my first drafts or notes because looking at the imperfections was too painful, and I’d rather just play a video game. But this psychological glitch could be caused by a bunch of different reasons, like being punished and demeaned for mistakes at home or at school in childhood, and of course it is hard to diagnose and needs a lot of searching and guessing and talking about it in a safe place. So I guess you’d have to get therapy for the perfectionism. It certainly helped me, so I just keep recommending it to everyone.

  29. Briznecko said:

    Elodie Under Glass this is beautiful, smart, and perfectly timed! As usual, duh.

    LW I’m actually from the opposite side of this – I went out, conquered the world, and proceeded to fail (Well not fail, I don’t see it that way. Lemme explain).

    When I graduated from high school I promptly moved to a completely new state and took the risky chance of going to a private art college. I graduated and moved again into a completely new city to pursue a graduate degree. You see this whole time I had a GRAND LIFE NARRATIVE. I would get ALL TEH DEGREES and become the most AWESOMEST ART HISTORIAN EVAH.

    I finished my coursework and decided to move back to private art college state to get a job, reconnect with friends, and finish my MA thesis. Then the thesis dragged on and on. It was bogged down for many reasons, including family tragedy plus incompatibility with my adviser, but those reasons are not important for this discussion. What is important is it got to the point where I could no longer do it. I had to make the hard decision to quit my program.

    But…quit? That meant I was a COMPLETE FAILURE. If I don’t finish I won’t become the most AWESOMEST ART HISTORIAN AT ALL. My GRAND LIFE NARRATIVE would be ruined! (Isn’t the jerky brain so much fun?)

    I’ve come to realize that I’m not a failure. Yes, I did not finish the degree, but I gained incredibly valuable knowledge. I learned who I was and what I am passionate about, I learned how to budget (Ugh, graduate pay might as well be non-existent), I learned how to take care of myself, and overall how to be an adult. But that’s not all! I gained many wonderful friends as well as learned how to be happy being alone.

    Also? It’s not the end of the world. I may not become a professional historian anytime soon, but I can apply the skills I’ve learned into building a career that I like and pays the bills. Then I can focus on my historian geek-outs for fun, and pick up embroidery! BONUS!

    If anything, for me, life is full of accumulating EXPERIENCES. Living at home with your Mom is like living in a nice soft cocoon. It’s so safe, isn’t it? It’s comfy, you have your immediate needs taken care of, no worries about anything from the outside getting to you (like that HUGE and SCARY horse, what if it steps on you? It’ll break the cocoon!).
    But…what kind of EXPERIENCES can you have while living in that safe and warm cocoon? Getting bummed out about feeling “stuck” in the cocoon won’t magically give you those experiences. You have to just go for it! You’ll probably fail, all of us do, but damn, wasn’t the journey FUN? Or at the very least INFORMATIVE?

  30. shevek returning said:

    Late developers represent! Dear LW, I have been where you are. After dropping out of university, I spent most of my twenties living in my mother’s house, working dead-end civil service jobs and pretty much being the family disappointment and fuck-up. Perhaps more damagingly, I was incapable of taking any action to change myself or my situation because I was paralysed by self-doubt and self-loathing and basically any of the self-s that make you feel like your whole world is defined by every negative thing you, or others, can think of yourself. I felt like the Typhoid Mary of despair and apathy.

    I am not that person anymore. I can’t tell you at what exact point in the last six years I started to change into the person that thought she was capable of going back to university to get a degree, or supporting myself financially, or asking someone out, or moving to a different city, or teaching, or presenting a paper at an overseas conference. I do know that I could only do that because one day, out of the pure need for something to change, I started looking for ways I could take control of myself and my circumstances. Just in small ways at first. I applied for training courses at work. (They were incredibly dull but they got me out of the office.) I signed up for one night class after another. (Everything from Egyptian mythology to scriptwriting to computer programming.) I redecorated my bedroom. (It helped that I needed to paint over the drawing I’d done of Brandon Lee on my wallpaper as a fourteen year old.) I started keeping a journal so that I could sort through my feelings that way rather than just feeling this constant low-grade anger at other people and my own brain. I talked to friends. I stopped talking to other (more toxic) friends. I learned the basics of cooking rather than microwaving. (I made soup! Actual, edible soup!) And once I took that control, the action followed; alternatively, once I took action, the control followed. Taking control, taking action, even in tiny little ways, was a remarkable feeling. To paraphase Theodore Roethke, I learned by going where I had to go. It might seem impossible right now but if I’ve done it, I know you can too.

    Maybe you feel like you have no control over anything that goes on in your life at the moment: it’s your mother’s house, you work in a job that doesn’t necessarily value you, you’d like to form a relationship but that seems out of reach at the moment. Maybe you feel, as I did, like you are just rolling around here and there at the mercy of events around you, like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. But here’s the thing: you’ve already acted! You wrote into Captain Awkward to ask for help and advice. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch couldn’t do that! (You may argue that the GPGP hasn’t evolved opposable thumbs yet but pshaw, I say: you’re on your way.)

    Just by emailing the Captain, you’ve begun to change yourself and your life but you need to build on that beginning. Perhaps you can do that by asserting control in small ways, like I did: carve out small dominions for yourself, like writing a journal or taking a night class or making an appointment with a doctor or counsellor. Join a dating site. Join a reading group. Volunteer for dog-walking. Talk to your mother about changes you could make together. Control and action: like the tiny but awesome ponies that drive the carriage of change. Good luck!

  31. apricity said:

    The good thing about becoming an adult is that it is not like knitting a scarf. A scarf in progress is not all that useful. Too short! Too prone to unravelling! Attached to an unwieldy ball of wool!

    Whereas every bit of work you do towards becoming an adult will make your life easier. You don’t have to achieve all your major life goals before you start seeing the pay-off on your efforts.

    Once I changed my Adulting narrative from “Look at all the huge things I have not done yet!” to “Wow, look how much I’ve learned bit by bit, I’ve really levelled up”, I felt a lot better.

    Back this strategy up by doing one small thing at a time. Today, I did the laundry. Today, I rang up and made that appointment. Today, I entered that competition I’ve been meaning to enter. It is amazing how those tiny achieveable things build up.

    I still haven’t achieved many of my major life goals. But that’s fine! I have many years of life left to do them in, and so do you, LW. Focus on the future, not on the past.

    • I like your scarf metaphor. I’ve been realizing in a more solid way lately that I’m never going to be a Finished Product, nor is anyone else around me, and it’s so very helpful.

      • apricity said:

        I’m glad it’s helpful! A good point also about applying it to the people around you.

    • Rosemary said:


      Once I changed my Adulting narrative from “Look at all the huge things I have not done yet!” to “Wow, look how much I’ve learned bit by bit, I’ve really levelled up”, I felt a lot better.

      This is so perfect. I’ll have to remember this.

      • apricity said:

        I still sometimes forget to think this way but it’s a great counter-argument to the jerk-brain.

    • Kim said:

      I’ve often thought that someone needs to make a RL RPG. It gives you quests to do (do the laundry, take out the rubbish etc) and you get XP and rewards as you level up. Actually, I always thought of it as a game for kids to get them to do chores, but it would work for adults (like me!) who need some extra motivation too.

      What the rewards would be or just how you’d fit it into life (though using gps to show where quest items were would be cool) I don’t know, but I like the idea of it.

      • mintylime said:

        Been done. One of them is called Chore Wars, but I’m sure there’s more out there.

      • Epiphyta said:

        May I commend Chore Wars to your attention?

      • Xenophile said:

        See also: mindbloom.com and superbetter.com. Superbetter is specifically health-related, and Mindbloom is for keeping track of goals and habits.Jane McGonigal (sp?) has a TED talk about Superbetter, and how she got the idea for it while recovering from a traumatic brain injury. I’ve seen a few others online but those are the two I’ve tried.

      • apricity said:

        For me personally those kinds of sites can feel a little grind-y, but I know some people love them.

  32. Rae said:

    The thing that helps me is to-do lists. I have one big to-do list on a white board at my desk that has long term goals, a weekly to-do list in a notebook, and sometimes if I’m really overwhelmed by that weekly to-do list I’ll make daily ones. The point of all this is to break big goals up into little, manageable steps. “Change careers” becomes “complete a spreadsheet of possible alternate careers” on the whiteboard, a checklist of a few careers to research this week in the notebook, and “research job x” becomes a line on the daily to-do list between “do the dishes” and “check the mail.” If I’m procrastinating, I might start daydreaming about some far-off thing that I want to do, but then I think of how that big dream is represented by an item on the whiteboard…and how that requires completing the smaller step that’s the notebook…and then, oh yeah, I should be doing that thing on my daily to-do list that I’m supposed to be doing right now.

    It helps me because I can look at each little thing in isolation, without having to worry I’m forgetting something or fretting about how I’ll never get to where I want to be. Plus, I can look back on the stuff I’ve already crossed off the list and tell myself – see! I get things done! Even if they’re just little things, they add up. First I unloaded the dishwasher. Success! Step one! Then I took a shower. Success! Step two! Then I researched the qualifications, responsibilities, salary, and availability of a particular job. Success again! Over time, it becomes a clean house, a well-cared for self, and a list of options I can use to set my next big goal.

    You don’t have to write it all out like that. Maybe having a big whiteboard of ideas would seem like too much to you. Maybe you just want a simple, short list of one thing to do each day this week. My basic point is that it might help if you take big vague dreams and turn them into short-term steps that don’t seem as overwhelming. That’s why the advice in the OP about just cooking one meal is a great start. Do one little thing, then do another. Over time, it adds up to horseback riding!

  33. MHM said:

    Great article. I like the statement about the two opposite yet true realities.

    Just wanted to mention that for cognitive-behavioural therapy, mostly you would look to find a psychologist. Psychiatrists may do CBT, but it is easier and often cheaper to find a psychologist. Psychiatrists can prescribe meds and psychologists cannot.

    Wishing the LW good luck!

  34. Smilla said:

    Some of the advice referenced in this article really made me feel miserable. Life is not a meritocracy. Hard work is important, but no one gets to a good place in life without a few lucky breaks. Whether it’s your parents paying your tuition, being born middle-class, whatever.

    “Nobody’s going to do your life for you. You have to do it yourself, whether you’re rich or poor, out of money or raking it in, the beneficiary of ridiculous fortune or terrible injustice. And you have to do it no matter what is true. No matter what is hard. No matter what unjust, sad, sucky things have befallen you. ”

    No one has to live their life. They just don’t. I consider giving up my life everyday. I’ve been working really hard for 16 years and I still am not considered a successful adult and I probably never will be. I have a severe mental illness that I cannot seem to overcome. I have a crippling amount of debt that makes it impossible for me to make ends meet. I went to school in my 30s and graduated summa cum laude, but I keep failing in my career because I’m not mentally tough enough. According to the Cracked.com article, I’m not a worthy human being deserving of a relationship, because I suck at my job and don’t have a few neat party tricks. The only thing that keeps me going is the thought that maybe being a generous, kind, interesting person is good enough. Maybe I’m good enough, even if I am a proto-adult with a crappy job and no home.

    • bluecandles said:

      I didn’t read the article as I’m not a cracked.com fan so I don’t know what it said, but

      Despite everything you’ve dealt with and have to keep on dealing with, you keep on trying, because…

      “The only thing that keeps me going is the thought that maybe being a generous, kind, interesting person is good enough”

      In my book, it is. And it’s more than what some ‘adults’ out there realise, or even achieve.

      • Smilla said:

        Thank you! And now that I am thinking more rationally (see my other comment below) I agree that it is enough.

        • bluecandles said:

          I’m glad to see that. :)

    • DefectiveSeaLion said:

      Yea, that article is horrible. It basically tells you not to take advantage of your resources because you “should” be supporting yourself. Never mind that everyone from your mom to NPR is telling you to take an unpaid internship to gain experience. Nope, you should take the first paying job that comes along so that you can be “worthy”. That article IS depression brain.

      • Smilla said:

        Ahhh! I was hoping this comment would be deleted because I was drunk, in the throes of PMS, and feeling very sorry for myself. How embarrassing.

        I’m glad you agree with me about Cracked article, and I really love the comments that clearly explain why it’s so problematic (I’m not very good with words and would just call it some Ayn Rand bullshit). I am glad that C.Awkward and Elodie have addressed it, too.

        Internships are for the very lucky who can afford to work for free. It burns me when they are suggested to new university grads as something obvious we should all do.

      • “That article IS depression brain.”

        Yes yes yes. Thank you for articulating this! I really hated that article too, but couldn’t articulate why. And then you nailed it.

      • Smilla said:

        Boggle is adorable! I have never seen him before.

    • mintylime said:

      The only thing that keeps me going is the thought that maybe being a generous, kind, interesting person is good enough.

      This is a place where Wong’s opinion piece kind of falls down for many of CA readers, mostly because he wrote it for a different audience (I suspect “entitled 20-something boys”) who needed to be beaten about the head and shoulders with their entrails to realize that just saying “but I’m a nice guy!” isn’t enough.

      What it comes down to, in my opinion, is … how does “being a generous, kind, interesting person” express itself in your life? What is it that you do that is generous, kind, and/or interesting? Are you the sounding board for your friends? Do you feed stray kittens/friends/coworkers/neighbors? Are you the person who knows Tolkien trivia or knits amazing hats or are awesome in bed or something? Are you the person your friends can count on for [something]?

      They totally don’t have to be things you do for a living (this is where the article is badly written). They aren’t party tricks. They’re just the usual things you do because you’re you. They are what people value about you.

      I have friends I describe as funny, kind, etc. and for each of them, there was at least one time when there was an action that lead to me having that descriptor for them.

      Being awesome is enough … when it’s not just the words. (Even if actions sometimes are in words.)

      I’m reminded of another CA post: The Sandwich Means “I Love You”: a Valentine. Sometimes we make the sandwich, sometimes we get the sandwich.

      Sorry, I may be rambling at this point, so I’ll just stop here.

      • I think is an important point, and much more elegantly stated than in the Cracked article. Action does count for something. Maybe not in such a cold “the world just wants what it can get out of you” kind of way, but like you said, your good qualities have to manifest themselves in some way, or they don’t exist. Thinking of yourself as a nice and generous person is nothing more than a delusion if you are actually mean and selfish to every person in your life.

    • gallant_girl said:

      Yeah I think the article needs to be written with a heavy sense of taking it with a grain of salt. I thought the most depressing thing about the article was its view of a world where only able bodied, skinny, feelingless, borderline sociopathic, workaholic, uber capitalists are worthy and can be successful. Wong seems to think that all the world is like this all the time and that its right for it to be like that.

      That said: I did get something out of it. For some reason that + the Dear Sugar article helped me compassionately kick myself in the ass. I kinda wish mintylime + katz + smilla + elodieunderglass + Jennifer P + other awesome people would write a list of hard truths so those of us who like our ass kicking without a side of jerkbrain, objectivism, and body hatred.

      I think what I got out of it (as a twenty something, middle class/well educated, cis, non-neurotypical, able bodied, sex/body positive, white, queer, female who’s on a break from college and has only escaped major entitlement issues because my Mama militantly squashed it out of me) is the following…

      -What you have the ability to do is important for how society treats you and what sort of jobs you can get.
      -Many (but not all!) interactions are based on people having needs and negotiating to get these needs filled. (Its basically preference utilitariansm for any political/economic theory nerds out there.)
      -Your work should benefit other people or add value to society, even if it doesn’t produce money. As a perfectionist this was the most helpful part for me. I don’t have to fix the world. I don’t have to accumulate great accomplishments that make me look smart. I just need to do things that are valuable to society and beneficial to other people.
      -Not doing things probably makes hating yourself worse. If you can learn to do things without beating yourself up even more you’ll probably feel better about yourself.
      -If you’re a good person on the inside you have to do things that express your goodness.
      -Its okay to change yourself so you act less self serving, lazy, and inconsiderate.
      -Your brain is a stubborn motherfucker. Its okay! Evolution made you this way (http://www.thedirtynormal.com/2011/11/23/the-monkey-and-the-mind/)! Actually you should probably take a moment to honor your embodied mind. One of the things it does is help you maintain a healthy sense of self and hold firm to your values when the Wong’s of the world try to get you to believe shit. It will also make change hard and make you deny things that are otherwise true.

  35. katz said:

    Elodie, you are a fount of wisdom!

    Cracked, however, is not a fount of wisdom, especially not that article, which is terrible regardless of people’s propensity to link to it. We were talking about the problems with it a little while ago (there’s a diversion about fashionable prosthetics, then the discussion really gets going here).

    • Discombobulated said:

      Yeah, I’ve never liked that article either. Apparently men are valued for what they can do, and women are valued for being Zooey Deschanel lookalikes who feel guilty every time they eat a salad (this is pretty much verbatim from the article).

    • Zeugma said:

      I agree entirely — even if what he’s saying wasn’t completely reliant on a definition of ‘better’ I don’t subscribe to and never will, the way he frames everyone who disagrees with him as a loser who’s going to fail at life forever is both disingenuous and cruel.

    • It’s a fair point and well-made, but I’ll let the article stand. A caveat will be attached.

      • katz said:

        Thanks, especially for mentioning the fat-shaming bit.

  36. goldenpeanut said:

    Seconding the “see a medical professional about the short attention span and lack of focus” advice. There are many things that can cause both of those, and many of the things that cause them can be helped.

    If a medical professional is out of reach for whatever reason, or to supplement medical help, start looking around for focus strategies. For example, the Pomodoro technique gives a certain number of minutes for working, and then a certain number of minutes for a break. Many people play around with their work/break time to best suit them. The website Lifehacker.com posts various articles on how to stay focused and get things done. Different techniques work for different people. For me, different techniques work on different days. Try various things on for size, and see what helps. If one doesn’t work, it’s ok. Try another one, or try it under different circumstances.

  37. Caorann said:

    Oh, LW. I was in a very similar place as you when I was your age. I wasn’t living at home because of my bad family situation, but everything else? The same. I was a college drop-out working a low wage job that I hated and I was living with a friend because I couldn’t manage on my own. I couldn’t commit to anything; I couldn’t finish anything; I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere.

    Everything that elodieunderglass has suggested is a good idea. I wish that someone had given me this advice back then. I might have gotten on track sooner. I would emphasize getting a good therapist that you can work with and a psychiatrist. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy really helps with changing your thoughts which changes your feelings which will help you change your behavior. I’ve started Dialectical Behavioral Therapy as well. That can help you with overwhelming feelings that can get in the way of committing and completing things. Medication may help either in the short term to get you started or long term to deal with chronic issues.

    I got therapy and started taking medication to help with my depression, anxiety and ADD. I went back to college and managed to work full time and go to school full time and got my degree. I got a job in a different state and moved away. I live in my own apartment, I have a car payment, I pay my bills, and I have a job that pays well and that I love because it allows me to serve my country and help people. None of this happened overnight. It took many small steps and there were many failures and much backsliding along the way. I had a lot of help from Team Me. I still don’t feel like an adult and I’m 43! I’m still working to reach all of my goals.

    You’ve already taken the first step- deciding that you’re not happy where you are and you want to change your life. I really think that if you start small and break down all of these overwhelming problems into small steps so that they aren’t so overwhelming, you can succeed. Find your Team You and get help. I’m rooting for you and I believe in you.

  38. PCSDevil said:

    LW, there’s so much good advice here, but I want to add a little bit: find things to say “yes” to. I was just thinking about this today. I have some pretty good contacts for work and am building a pretty good professional reputation in part because when someone says, “Hey, can you do X?” My default response is, “Yes! Thank you for thinking of me!” I know you’re still working out what you want to do, but this applies to all kinds of situations. Try looking for ways to say “yes.”

    Also (and I’m sorry if someone has beaten me to this, but comments keep being added and it’s hard to keep up), regarding your career, maybe stop trying to be interested in stuff, if that makes sense, and try getting interested in people. Think about what kind of people in the world you think you can help. What kind of people are out there whose lives you think you could make better? Are there people who need to learn how to do something you’re good at? Are there people whose physical surroundings could be made more comfortable or more beautiful by something you can do? Are there people in some kind of pain that you know how to assuage? Try not thinking about the task or the work–everything is work. Think about the people and see where that takes you.

  39. Kelly said:

    If you’ve got career aspirations, holy hell, follow them. But these ‘easy’, low-paying jobs? Someone’s always got to do them. I do data entry and while I definitely feel pressures in my job and have built knowledge I definitely did not have before, it’s not specialised and not something anyone envies me for. But you know what? My job is the bedrock of this company. If not for my data, the company would have no research to sell, and no way to make money.
    My job is also a means to an end. It allows me to do the other things I want to in life. I make enough money to pay rent and live away from my parents (my country’s economic situation is probably better in yours in that my entry-level job allows me to do that). It funds my other passions, like travel (I try to get overseas once a year, and spend a lot of time planning and researching. New York this year!) and photography. It allows me to leave my work at work, and have time for those passions (something my higher-paying, fancier-titled first job didn’t. I took work home every. single. day. That company collapsed in the GFC! Probably because they had one girl fresh out of uni in her first job EVER doing several people’s job. I got to cope with this while also learning to live out of home, on my own. I don’t recommend it!).

    I’m just gonna put this out there: I’m getting towards my late twenties, and I don’t think I know more than a couple of people who work in jobs that they feel passionate about in any way than a it-pays-my-bills way. All of us who have one are just happy to have one. It’s tough out there, you have a job, so don’t be *too* hard on yourself. Work on having non-career-based happiness, because jobs can be taken away. Passions can’t.

  40. Pterinochilus murinus said:

    LW, I’ve been in your shoes. I’d like to give you some kudos for getting a job and hanging onto it for three years. That’s not nothing. And it’s a good position to be in when looking for a new job.

    Here’s my best bit of self-improvement advice: accomplishing things is the best stimulant. Getting something done, even something small (take a shower? change the cat litter? take out the trash? pick stuff off the couch and put them away?) will give you a little boost that you can then apply to other work. And if you then keep a list of what you’ve gotten done, looking back at it and seeing what you’re capable of and DID achieve can be really inspiring. And on really bad days when you didn’t get much done at all, you can still say “I didn’t do nothing. I made my bed, and I fed the cat. That’s not nothing.” Also, keep a list of things you want to get done. Possibly several lists – today, this week, this month, this year. Then you can transfer items from one list to another, and eventually to the ‘done’ list, and that feels really good.

    Good luck.

    • Rose Fox said:

      Seconded. I’ve been in a terrible spiral of anxiety and depression lately (slowly improving with drugs and therapy and love and support, but still not fun) and my partners offered to take over my share of the household chores. I said yes, because my resources are really low, but asked them to leave me one thing a night–loading the dishwasher, or sweeping the floor–so I could still get a small feeling of accomplishment out of the day. My friend Kevin calls it “microvalidation”.

    • Naamah said:

      Agreed! This has actually been really helpful for me.

      I found it critical to not allow myself to do the making lists of things to do part without also doing the making a list of things I accomplished part. I needed the validation.

      My strategy was to make a list of five things I wanted to get done next. Not the things that needed doing the most, but just . . . things. Things I thought I could do, or things I knew would make me feel better if I DID do. Sometimes it was a big chore – clean the kitchen. Sometimes it was little – write that email. I wrote the lists in my journal book. And as I did them, I would check them off. Then, when I had written two more journal pages, which might take me a week or only a couple days, I would write the list again, adding new things to replace the things I HAD done. There was no time limit on anything. I recorded the stuff I actually got done in a separate little book, so the book was full of victories only.

      I go back to doing this whenever I get down enough to have decision fatigue and am all “I don’t know what to do next so I guess I will do nothing and hold perfectly still and maybe it will all just stop.” Simple things. Bathroom trash. Wipe down mirror. Straighten a bookshelf. Fold shirts.

      • Pterinochilus murinus said:

        I love the idea of a book of victories.

  41. AmyB said:

    Sorry, I’m just to tired tonight to read previous posts… but, your job. You have one. You have a supervisor, a boss, a company owner. Those people a) make more money than you, and b) probably started in the same position you’re in now. If you don’t have a driving passion for another career, make it the one you’re in. Learn about it. Find out how to move up. If that’s not an option (like, it’s a two-man shop and the other man is the owner) look at similar businesses in the same field, that have room for growth. Get mentoring on how to move into a management or trade position or expand your skill set.

    Seriously, even if you’re flipping burgers… how successful do you think the Colonel Sanders is?

    It’s not about the money either. It’s about the movement. I had no direction in life but I got a job that fell in my lap. I planned to get out and do something else but I still gave 110%.

    The boss noticed. I got moved around. I got rostered to work with people who could teach me. My job was still in the same place but slightly different.I still planned on leaving. I was head hunted, offered better positions and more training opportunities.

    Now? I run my own shop and I’m completing a Bachelor degree (Me, a high school drop out). Not only that, I LOVE my job. Like, I could not imagine doing anything else, I’m THAT HAPPY. I’m fullfilled, I feel confident, secure, I know that I’m a hell of a worker, I have an amazing skill set and if I lost this job, I could find 5 more in a day.

    All because of the job I didn’t really want.

  42. Kaz said:

    I do recommend that you look into Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, because what you call “laziness” may be part of a pattern of conflict avoidance and risk-aversion – stories that you tell yourself so that you don’t have to feel like you’ve failed. Also, you can drive yourself into a brain-chemical rut this way, so please go talk to someone if you feel like that could be an issue. A nice doctor can tell you if your short attention span and lack of focus have underlying medical reasons, or if you need to get some medicine to get back on track.

    Agreed.

    For ages I thought that my difficulties with Getting Things Done were due to laziness, tried various tactics to beat procrastination I found and… none of it worked. When I was in my twenties, I finally realised that the difficulties I was having were actually a common symptom for people on the autistic spectrum. The issue wasn’t that I was lazy, it was that I was disabled. (In retrospect, some of the things I was too “lazy” to do – eating when I was hungry?! – should have clued me in. But the narrative in our society is that if you don’t do things you should do and there’s no immediately apparent reason, that = laziness. My counter-narrative: laziness is a choice. If you’re not choosing not to do X, if you honestly want to do X but just can’t somehow, there is something else going on.) So I have Strong Feelings on the general lack of awareness that “laziness” and procrastination can have other causes.

    Also: on Adulting While Disabled. The core part of being an adult, for me, is this: at the end of the day, shit has to get done. But! It doesn’t matter how it gets done, so if shit isn’t getting done try a different approach. The core part of adulting while disabled: your difficulties are real, take them into account when planning things. (*Don’t* go “well one day they’ll go away and THEN I’ll do X, Y and Z”). If your problems get in the way of getting shit done, find a way around them.

    Example. I have very very serious problems keeping my living space even remotely tidy. I lived in a horrible mess for years. I beat myself up about it, a lot! None of the strategies people recommend helped. So instead? I outsourced. I went “okay. I cannot do this on my own. I don’t have the spoons necessary, and none of the tricks people use can change that. I need help.” Then I went and hired a support worker through the disability service, who now comes every two weeks to help me clean and tidy. Problem solved!

    I use this as an example because a lot of people tie in adulting with external markers… like cleaning your flat on your own. They’d believe that I am currently not acting like an adult because I am paying someone to do certain part-of-being-an-adult tasks for me, and I should go back to trying to figure out the right trick to do everything on my own. They’d be wrong! The time I was bashing my head against the same wall over and over again going “I have to do this on my own!” was when I was not being an adult. The time I went “okay, this isn’t working, new strategy” was me facing reality and making sure the shit that needed to get done (making sure my environment was one I actually wanted to live in) did get done! I count it as one of my most adulty moments.

    LW, there are things in your letter where I go “can you work around this somehow?” Quickly losing interest in things – are there any jobs that will let you do a variety of different things? Is there any more low-key interest that persists longer? Would you be happy doing a relatively unfulfilling job that gives you enough spare time to engage in your hobbies? Or procrastination – can you find some external signals for “okay, time to start working on X now?” (Forex: I have a great deal of difficulty tearing myself away from the internet. I use a socket timer to turn off the internet at night so I get to sleep and use RSI typing break software throughout the day to help me do stuff like minor tidying, cooking or making tea.) Is there something other people could do to help you get started? Are there certain environments you work better in? (I go to coffee shops to get my PhD work done; removes the distractions.) That kind of thing! Because you might be disabled or you might be afraid of failing or any number of things, but in any case you are definitely having difficulties right here right now and that needs to be part of your planning. And when it comes to things like “get over my procrastination issues so I can do X” I am a great fan of cutting out the middle-man.

    • mintylime said:

      Just so you know, I think “observed that I can’t do the thing alone, hired someone to help with the thing, and have the money to hire someone to help with the thing” is a definite sign that you *are* an adult. Because you observed the problem and *solved it*.

    • Rose Fox said:

      The core part of being an adult, for me, is this: at the end of the day, shit has to get done. But! It doesn’t matter how it gets done, so if shit isn’t getting done try a different approach.

      Also known as “If it’s stupid but it works, it’s not stupid”.

      The core part of adulting while disabled: your difficulties are real, take them into account when planning things.

      I think this is a core part of adulting, period. Everyone has difficulties, and no one’s difficulties magically go away when ignored or yelled at. They are real, and you have to work with them (a flaw in one situation might be an asset in another) or around them (if there’s a mountain in your way, you can tunnel through or go over or around or dynamite the damn thing, but you have to deal with it one way or another to get where you’re going).

  43. Kelly said:

    “You have to work to make yourself into a person who can handle the change of a relationship, whether it changes in death, breakup or marriage. Work? This work will bring you to your knees… It will be hard, by god. You’ll probably hate it.”

    This line struck me right now. My partner died last July, and it’s still a daily struggle to get up and make it to work even part time (so thankful I’m in grad school and they’re letting me do part time right now), and try to have flashes of happiness and keep doing things. It’s a constant flux between feeling like “this sucks, but I can do this and if he’s out there, he’s cheering me on and just keep going and the sadness will not be so bad after a while” and “oh my god how can this pain ever go away?” I do hate this – he shouldn’t have died so young from a stupid burst appendix. The only answer is to keep trucking and hope in the moments when I can. But that line about working to make yourself into a person who can handle this – it is work, and it’s going to take the year or more that everyone has told me it would, and it sucks. It’s nice to see it put in such stark terms. Thank you. I’d never thought of it quite that way before. It’s another mantra to tell myself when it’s bad.

    • OneTwoThree said:

      I am so sorry for your loss.

      • Kelly said:

        Thanks. *hug*

    • Naamah said:

      I do not know you, but I admire you. I am sorry you went through that.

  44. Teija said:

    Elodie Under Glass, I want to thank you so much for writing this in a way that both acknowledges those feelings of fear and self-doubt that leads people to not take the initiative in their own path toward adulthood, but also driving home the point that no one can do it for them, and they have to do it on their own, and until they do, they are forever going to be disadvantaging their future self.

    I, for a long time, watched a sibling stagnate in the space between high school and adulthood, and it was heartbreaking, because none of us could come up with any really effective way to help her. We could give all the advice we wanted, and we could try to lift her out of it herself, but she was too willing to let us carry the weight. In trying to help her we were just becoming more crutches. It took a lot of reflection to see that. But she has finally found that spark of self-motivation and has started to really make steps toward independence and adulthood and I am so, so proud of her, and so happy that she has finally begun to move toward getting away from the place where she was. I know she was unhappy there, and I can see it in her now that it’s changing for the better. So as I read this I was nodding along in total agreement. It has to be self-motivated. No one can help you come out of it. But I want to say that for those stuck in that same funk, there are people in your life that love you, and that want to help you and see you come up from your low place, because you are awesome.

  45. Hazel said:

    I am doing this now. It’s hard and painful. The most painful thing about it is the feeling of certainty that still plagues me, that I wasted a decade of my life being ill and miserable and furious with myself. I learned by drips and drabs what needed to be done and how no one was going to do it but me. I learned that the immutable, achieve-or-die goal that I set for myself was the wrong goal and it’s a little humiliating how much effort I put into achieving it before I realized I was trying for the wrong thing. Okay, a lot humiliating.

    Gradually I am teaching myself to aspire to more. I am seeking out various sources of help and rejecting solutions that don’t show results. I learned to reduce vague goals into tasks that are concrete and measurable, and to sort those tasks into important achievements and empty distractions. Without realizing I had done so, I stopped congratulating myself on performing mundane ongoing tasks like laundry and dishes. They became just things that get done, sometimes sooner and sometimes later. I refocused my energy on vital goals that matter in the long term. I set up a system to track my progress.

    Because I choose to view myself as a progression towards something better, I can think of my wasted years as something that will one day make a great story. Yes, someday in the future I’ll be able to impart all sorts of wise words about life at a dinner party, and it will start with how I wasted a decade of my life on devotion to unhappiness. Happiness is work, it doesn’t come naturally or easily (to me). But, happiness also makes you strong and since I want to be strong, it’s work worth doing.

  46. Xenophile said:

    This post couldn’t have come at a more opportune time for me! Thank you!

    I think for those of us muddling through our 20s, it’s also important to remind ourselves that maturity is both learned and multifaceted. I’m still really immature in some respects–time management? what’s that?–but I like to think that all the time I’ve spent reading this blog (instead of working, oops) has helped me refine my people skills and taught me a lot about relationships. Sort of like growing up by proxy. I mean, if I had to figure all this stuff out by myself, who knows how long it’d take me! Thankfully Captain Awkward has given us such great terms like African Violets and Firthing. Thank you Captain!

  47. DefectiveSeaLion said:

    Word of warning, if you tend towards beating yourself up, avoid the Cracked article. I read it and ended up stuck in a horrible depression for weeks. It is very much beating you into growing up. Which is the exact worst thing I needed. I beat myself up just fine on my own, I don’t need anyone telling me that depression-brain is right.

    • RedJohn said:

      Agreed. I especially love (read: hate) the part where if you react *well* to being verbally abused and called worthless, that shows you’re awesome and motivated. If you think maybe screaming at people that they suck is jerkish, if not directly counterintuitive to motivating someone, then you’re just a whiny incapable child who doesn’t like being scolded. And we’re recommending this for people having anxiety and depression spirals? Seriously?

    • Naamah said:

      Considering my mother tried to emotionally abuse me into being a grownup, yes, I am in full agreement. I don’t need anything backing up the version of her that is still in my head, telling me that being an adult is horrible and awful and no fun and I still have to do it starting NOW.

  48. Hurricane_Ciao said:

    What? No, I’m not weeping “I needed to hear this.” tears all over my keyboard. Yer crazee. <_< Ahem. So.

  49. Rose Fox said:

    Dear LW,

    I have been where you are. Dropped out of college three times; worked in tech in California when the dot-com bubble was bursting; lived off my credit cards (still paying off that debt) and the kindness of strangers when I couldn’t find work; when I did get jobs, I quit or got fired within a year. I tried to start my own business and it collapsed almost immediately. (I’m pretty impressed that you’ve held the same job for three years!) And oh, do I hear you on that getting bored thing! In my five years at three different colleges, I had five different majors. I’ve worked in probably twenty different industries. Not only am I easily bored, I have no tolerance for being bored or annoyed or stressed, or for office politics or jockeying to get ahead or basically any kind of discomfort. I have a messed-up body clock that means I can’t work 9-to-5 hours, and intermittent crippling anxiety and depression, and a recurring injury in my dominant hand that makes any kind of physical labor or typing impossible when it flares up. I’m impatient and idiosyncratic. I was the world’s worst job prospect for years and years. I joked that I should have “shiftless dilettante” printed on business cards.

    Here’s what saved me:

    1) Therapy. Lots of it.

    2) Changing my perception of my job history. One day I saw a job ad that said something like, “You must write well, know a lot about the restaurant industry, and speak French.” Hey, I thought, I can do all those things! How many people have that unique combination of skills? Suddenly I realized that being a shiftless dilettante was the same thing as being well-rounded; that being jack of all trades and master of none was the same thing as being a Renaissance (wo)man. That shift in perception made it a lot easier for me to appreciate my unique skill set, and also made it a lot easier for me to market myself to potential employers and look for jobs where my particular eclectic blend of interests and knowledge was an asset rather than a liability.

    3) Finding the common threads in a lot of the jobs I’d had–excluding the ones that were really just about making ends meet, like tending bar–and trying to build on those natural inclinations. For example, when I was working in customer service, I rewrote all the training manuals; when I was in college the first time, I edited the student paper and helped my friends with their writing projects. Hm, I said, maybe I can do writing or editing. When I was making jewelry, I built my own website; when I was teaching video editing to teenagers, I insisted on upgrading the computer system and set it up myself. Hm, I said, maybe I can do tech-related things. Since those were things I did naturally and voluntarily, without anyone pushing me, I figured those were good starting points; I was less likely to get bored with things that were fun.

    4) Freelance work. Pursuant to item 3, I started looking for freelance opportunities in writing and in tech. I set up a lot of home networks, apprenticing myself to a hilarious San Francisco character who sprayed his car with orange air freshener to cover up the reek of pot smoke (n.b. do not do this; it doesn’t work and smells awful). I wrote a lot of book reviews and articles for places that paid pennies or nothing. It turns out that one clip each for a dozen publications still looks like an impressive portfolio if you focus on the number of clients rather than the number of articles, and if you advertise your home network setup services on Craigslist, no one checks your references or background. The tech stuff got boring, so I dropped it, but the writing stayed interesting, so I kept doing it; when the topics I was writing about got boring, I changed topics, again portraying myself as experienced and well-rounded and parlaying combinations of knowledge into interesting gigs. Freelancing gave me the freedom to set my own hours and do as much or as little as I wanted of whatever I liked, and as a bonus, I made money. I highly recommend this as a way of exploring your options and finding out what holds your interest. It can also lead to a happy steady job if you impress a client enough; that’s what happened to me.

    5) Figuring out which parts of me were unlikely to change, and not trying to be someone I wasn’t. My happy steady job is part-time and has been for six years, because I’m not cut out to be a full-time employee. I still do a lot of freelance work. Being part-time means I can keep my weird hours and have days of being disabled or miserable without risking my job. It gives me regular income and stability and I can handle what it asks of me. It sounds like you’re way more capable of holding down a full-time job than I am–awesome!–but I’m sure you have your own immutable personality characteristics. Turn as many of those into assets as you can, by which I mean asking yourself “in what industry are people who are _____ valued or at least not actively crapped on?”, and route around the rest. There’s no judgment in this at all, just simple acceptance of reality. I’m short; I’m never going to be a basketball player. I’m incapable of caring about office politics; I’m never going to do well in a company where jockeying for advancement is a major part of the culture. That’s just how it is, and that’s fine. There are plenty of opportunities for people like me, and there are plenty for you too. It’s a big world. You don’t have to try to lop off parts of yourself to fit into Cinderella’s shoe.

    That said, there are some parts of you that can change, and therapy will help you decide whether and how to change them. So let me emphasize item 1 again: therapy, and lots of it.

    You can definitely find your way from where you are to a happier sort of adulthood. But where you are is adulthood! It’s just not the adulthood you want. You are an adult, and being an adult means you get to shape your life.

    Hang in there. You’ll find your path to happiness, and the courage to take it.

  50. Troy said:

    Excellent post Elodie.

    The Cracked article? I like it while I also note its problematic aspects, but then I fall firmly into the “Fuck yes, let’s go out and sell some goddamned real estate!” category of personality (to quote Wong). I can easily imagine the article sending me to a dark place if I had a different personality.

    Cracked is often good for a laugh, sometimes good for knowledge, and occasionally good for a change in perspective. The LW would do well to remember, however, that Cracked is still just a comedy website. Don’t be overawed if your peers occasionally bombard your social media feeds with links to an article that you find underwhelming.

    [Cracked is also an exceptionally efficient time waster. Do plan your visits accordingly.]

    If you take away nothing else from Wong’s article, LW, take away this: lots (not all or even necessarily most, but at least a large minority) of people value a given individual only insofar as that individual provides things of value.* It’s not “fair”, it’s just the reality of the human situation. If you accept that reality and act accordingly, you will see rewards.

    *People value lots of things, most of which don’t require an awesome career or fancy education. Human life itself is valued by most, so don’t get down on yourself if you think you don’t provide anything of value. You do, and you can learn to provide more.

  51. I want to leave this on here, because it’s a possibility.

    I could have written this post (minus the being thirty thing – but all the stuff about being lazy and unmotivated and a useless human being and whatnot) several years ago. A year ago, even, I was failing out of uni and hardly getting out of bed and spending all my time on the internet and not doing my dishes. And I would have said it was because I was “lazy” and “just couldn’t seem to get anything done” and “found everything so hard so I just don’t bother”.

    A few months later I had a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with anxiety. By that point, I couldn’t leave my bedroom unless there was no one else in the house, otherwise my brain would scream at me that everyone would be angry at me and such. I wasn’t taking care of myself in the most basic ways (food/hygeine) and I hardly left the house.

    Yet had you asked me, I still would have described myself as “lazy”.

    Because it had been shoved into my head as a kid.

    You need to ask yourself, and ask yourself honestly: can you get over this? Are you just bored and lazy? Or does the idea of leaving the house make you want to curl up in bed for the next 24 hours without even getting out to eat? Is your jerkbrain just *telling* you that you’re being lazy, or are you actually lazy?

    Since getting better, I’ve discovered that I’m not lazy; in fact, at lower levels, my anxiety spurs me on to insane levels of productivity (compared to my physical limits which, because of not being so well, aren’t that high at present). I have no idea what happens at no anxiety because I’ve had anxiety since I was four or so (can’t remember earlier than that. Maybe she was born with it! (It’s Probably Not Maybelline)).

    Whatever the situation is, even people with anxiety such as myself need to tackle it. It’s hard and scary, but it’s possible. You don’t need to climb mount everest – just prise yourself slowly out of your comfort zone, slowly do a little more, and a little more, and a little more. Find some friends on Team You (the internet will totally do – start a blog! Cheer yourself and other people on!) to chat to when you need some encouragement and life has beat you down.

    Learn to pick yourself up and try again, instead of beating yourself up for failing into feeling so bad you can’t keep going. It’s one of life’s most valuable lessons.

  52. kanel said:

    LW, in many ways I am in a similar position. I have studied and I have an idea of the things I want to achieve in my life, however things are really rough and I find it hard to get ahead in my career. I am 30 and after 10 years away from home I had to go back to live with my mother for some time, because of economy and leaving a relationship. It was very straining to our relationship because of our respective less-than-ultimate life situations, mental health and other things. It made us both feel bad, so I got out and currently live with relatives and it works quite good, though after paying my rent with illustrations I now need to start paying proper rent. It’s scary with my sporadic freelance work and fluctuating, tiny income, but I’ll just have to make it work somehow.

    I work in the arts and in some ways I am a success and in some ways a failure. I have made a bit of a name for myself and get some work. I also get asked to do interviews sometimes for respected media. That’s cool and all, but I never know if I’ll be able to pay rent, food and public transportation. Also some of the things I want to do I know I am not at all good enough for. Yet. There is so much more I need to learn and practice and so much more I need to do to use my potential, but just like you, LW, I can often start things, but it’s way harder for me to finish them. I can be full of enthusiasm and determination, but it always wanes and something else catches my attention, be it project or procrastination. This is the same with my medium range goals. They often change (often simply just change priority order), which makes it so much harder to work toward them. I guess I haven’t really found my best way of working yet.

    I know for me I have mental health stuff I need to work through and this is taking a lot of my time and energy. I am looking to find a therapist for the first time to work through traumas and maybe depression. Hopefully that will make at least some things easier to handle, it’s step one in my current plan. Maybe that can help for you as well, but be aware that therapy is not a magic cure and that finding the right therapist can be a challenge and the wrong one can do some harm. These are things I have learned from others’ experiences and I hope that will help me avoid the worst pitfalls.

    I love this whole thread. Thank you all so much! The advice from elodieunderglass and commenters is great. I want to add that I took some good advice from this commencement speech by Neil Gaiman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI

    I also really love this Martha Graham quote:

    “There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others”

    This is aimed at people working in the arts, but I think it’s applicable to other areas as well. We all have things that come through only us, be they artistic expression of some kind or work in any other field. Essentially I read it as “Work. Do _your_ stuff and don’t ever stop even if it doesn’t seem good enough for you”. I know that’s something I need to tell myself over and over. I like the Goldilocks approach someone mentioned applied to this.

    The Wong text linked above can be a good kick-in-the-butt, but also really needs to be read with the right kind of glasses.

    I also gotta add that I react a little bit to all of these comments about how the LW should start to do more chores at home, assuming that zie is letting hir mother do all/most of that. I guess this is your interpretation of not being grown-up, but it didn’t say anywhere that zie doesn’t already do hir fair share or more, it only says that zie lives with her. Not all mothers are the houseworking kind and some kids have grown up doing more and more housework as they get older. IF however it is the case that LW doesn’t do hir 50 % or so, then I completely agree that stepping up that game is a good idea and also that communication about it is necessary.

    Long post from someone in a similar boat. We can do it! Let’s ride the horsies, it’ll be fun!

  53. I just wanted to thank LW, Elodie, and all the commenters for making this thread happen. As another somewhat lost young adult having trouble quite being an adult (in different ways than the LW, but still), I’m finding this really helpful.

  54. Troy said:

    I’ve managed to avoid ever reading Rand, but what I’ve heard about her is enough to make me hate the thought of being mistaken for a Randroid. Wong has never given me the impression of being a Randroid either, though not having read Rand that doesn’t mean much. I did a bit of Google searching and it became clear that Wong (and Cracked in general) is no fan of Rand. Among other things, as recently as January of last year Wong linked approvingly to a Rand-mocking (and not Cracked affiliated) blog post titled “I Was Shitting You People – A Message From Ayn Rand.”

    I think Wong’s point was “If you want a better life, you have literally no option other than trying to provide a greater value to other people and doing so would require lots of hard work, humility, and sacrifice.” I don’t think he was saying some of the things others have thought he was saying, and indeed pieces like Wong’s “6 Things Rich People Need to Stop Saying” [which, be warned, includes a sentence that would probably upset those who thought the article Elodie linked to was too blunt] directly contradict some of those assertions.

    • Troy said:

      Ugh, substitute “If you want a better life” for “If you want more social appreciation.” in the above comment. They aren’t totally overlapping things.

    • Ohhh, thank you for the “I Was Shitting You” link. Bwah.

      • Troy said:

        You’re welcome.

        • BTW, I have read Rand, and while I disagree with her in many things, I don’t regret the experience. It helps me understand where my objectivist friends are coming from, and it makes the parodies so much more fun!

  55. Naamah said:

    Elodie: I can’t respond to the specific comment you left me above, for whatever reason.

    *wags*

    Thank you. I do apologize if I came off as . . . crabby. Obviously, it all kicked me in a super-sensitive spot. I’m just at a point personally where I’m *exhausted* from, basically, being afraid all the time, and having to fight for all the things I need except the good company I have along for the ride. Thank you for being cool. I was perhaps being a bit sore about it. I’m just . . . tired. I’ve thought about writing to the team about it, but . . . there’s not much to be done that I’m not already doing. The past year has been especially bad, though ’13 is shaping up to be a better deal.

    I really, REALLY do wish LW well, with zero zilch nada resentment or envy. And I have a hunch (based on nothing at all, true, but a strong one) that things will work out for them. Also total confidence they will find themselves up to the work of making themselves, once they figure out where to apply the chisel and keep chipping away.

  56. Mechanic ex Machina said:

    This is beautiful and wonderful and wise, Elodie, and I’m glad I read it today.

    That is all.

  57. Lisa M. said:

    I wanted to chime in on the medical side. I know a bunch of people who have said to get checked for ADD. I had similar focus issues, and for me it turned out to be an undiagnosed autoimmune disorder. A lot of them cause what is known as “brain fog” which makes it very difficult to focus. Once that was diagnosed, I improved within days of starting treatment.

    Now, that’s not to say that everything got magically better overnight. From several years of being pretty much incapable of committing, I have had a lot of learning to do! But it may be something to think about.

  58. Louise said:

    What balanced and respectful advice – and yes, “Oh the places you’ll go” is awesome and I wish someone had told me about it in my 20s/early 30s.

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