Adulting: 8 Tips for Graduates

Adulting. verb. “To behave like an adult; to do things that adults regularly have to do.”

Megan Sugden Photography print to 8x10 (33 of 83)

Photo by Megan Sugden Photography.

Dear Andrew (and other graduates),

Welcome to the real world. I’m still not sure how you got here.

When I graduated from high school, you were a pipsqueak with chubby cheeks and shaggy hair and a propensity to laugh until you cried.


You still laugh until you cry, and until recently, you had even longer, shaggier hair. But you also look like a sort-of adult, and you run faster than I can, and you stay up later than any of us. You’ll wear a mortarboard on Saturday, and the women in our family will cry, and you’ll be so glad to be done.

Then the fun begins.

Henceforth you must be an adult, or at least pretend to be one. Adults have to do hard things. For example, they must get out of bed even if no one forces them to do so. They must ensure that they eat, because no one else will buy bread when it runs out. They must do the laundry, at some point, maybe. Target will tell you which hangers to buy, and your advisors will tell you what classes to take. But only your oldest sister can tell you this – the random list of advice that you will probably never read (but definitely should. Oldest sisters always know best.)

  1. Learn how to cook at least one thing well. You will sometimes be asked to bring food to events. Or, perhaps, you might someday want to wow someone with some nice home cookin’. (Guys – girls are really, really impressed by men who can cook.) Have at least one recipe that you know won’t embarrass you. (If you really are hopeless, Ghiradelli brownie mix works miracles.)


  1. Track your spending. You really need to. I didn’t do this until after college, and I wish I would have started sooner. Seeing cold, hard numbers and realizing exactly where you throw your hard-earned cash is sobering.


  1. Find a hobby that is not Netflix. Binge-watching is easy and entertaining. It is not fulfilling. You will be a happier (and more interesting) human being if you step away from the screen for a while and actively participate in something. Sing. Lift weights. Paint. Yarn-bomb trees in parks. Start a paintball league. Bring back planking. Take walks after dinner. Just do something.


  1. Meet deadlines. You don’t run the world (yet). That means that you need to respect other people – and their time. Showing up on time and meeting deadlines makes you seem mature, which is especially valuable if you aren’t so certain that’s true. It also saves you money. Let’s be honest – no one likes late fees.


  1. Do not begin a new relationship in your first semester of college. In your first few months in a new place, you need time to adjust. You need time to establish a solid friend group. You need time to let yourself change and adapt to your new surroundings. Don’t spend all of your time pursuing one person and neglecting the rest of your life. You need healthy balance and other healthy relationships to be ready to date someone, and trust me, it will take all of your energy to develop those in your first semester. Make yourself at home, then work on snagging that dreamboat.


  1. Remember your need for community and find it. We are not meant to meander through life alone. We need community. We need people to watch movies with on Friday nights, to laugh at dumb YouTube videos with, to sit in coffee shops with. Get out of your room, to events and churches and clubs and classes, and talk to people. Take the initiative and ask someone to grab dinner, or to attend a hall event with you, or to toss a Frisbee with you. You are not bothering them or wasting their time by asking them to spend time with you. People want to make friends, generally, and you are an interesting person who is worthy of being someone’s friend.


  1. Do not compare yourself to the Internet. Your life must amount to more than your Instagram feed or your number of Twitter followers. Otherwise, the most enjoyment you will get from a walk around the lake or a nice latte or a brunch with friends will be the likes you get on photos afterwards. That’s a piddly amount of enjoyment compared to the quiet thrill of being present in the moment and enjoying your life as it is, not as you want people to see it. And when you get snarky and jealous over the person who’s Instagram famous, remember: do not compare someone else’s public life to your private life. They don’t post the snapshots from the nights when they are convinced they’ll be single forever, or that time they failed a test, or that argument they just had with their girlfriend, or those times when they were so homesick they could cry. We are all human. We all have terrible days, and we all have good days. Filtered pictures do not change that.


  1. Know that everyone has one really terrible college semester. Mine was fall semester, freshman year. I didn’t feel like anyone truly knew me, or like I would ever find my place on that big college campus, or like I was any good at anything. I literally counted the days until I could go home at each college break, and I sobbed every time I had to return. But I kept showing up (I was paying tuition, after all), and tried to form deeper relationships, and gave myself grace. And like all terrible life seasons, it got better. If you’re going through one of the nasty seasons, you will not stay there forever. Things are not hopeless. Hang in there.


Many blessings to you, Andrew, and to all of those headed off on new adventures. May the transitions be smooth, the chances to do laundry for free be frequent, the backpacks light, and the memories stupendous.



Adult-ish. adjective. Describing a person who is becoming more mature and working towards becoming a Real, Certified Adult. When Real, Certified Adult cars are handed out is unsure: legal drinking age? Marriage? Parenthood? I’m confused. You’ll see.

mountain road.jpg

The current mystery of my universe: I am becoming an adult.

First it was the apartment. Then the sensible shoes. Then the real job, with paychecks and responsibility.

Now it’s the car.

A few weeks ago, I took the final road trip in the Nimbus 2000. I snapped a picture at the gas station before driving onto the interstate. It was awkward.


Six hours later, we cruised into the dealership together. A test drive was waiting for me.

When I left the keys in that old green Alero, my new car smoothly accelerated onto the highway, my brother tested the Sirius XM trial, my grandpa listened from the back seat, and I felt a twinge of sadness.

There was some misplaced affection for that vehicle.

Three summers ago, I had been desperate for a car to drive to my Ed placements. This one had appeared, in need of repairs but within my very small budget. The name was fortuitous. I was rereading Harry Potter, the car was made in the year 2000, it was my first set of wheels like Harry’s first broomstick – we officially dubbed it the Nimbus 2000 on its maiden flight. The car even came with its own set of curses – a malfunctioning security sensor that randomly delayed its starting, jerky acceleration, strange groans that started coming towards the end.

But I could get myself to Target. I had my own bag of sunflower seeds in the console. Wheels were freedom.

I started driving the long road trips home rather than bumming rides that got me close enough. Harry Potter audiobook casettes and Scotty McCreery played through scratchy speakers. When my sister joined me, she would sleep across Minnesota, then we’d tell stories and pass Angie’s kettle corn across the console. When our brother was there, he put up with our chatter and we filled up the trunk.

The car didn’t start once in the winter, the last night before the boyfriend moved out of the dorms and to Washington, D.C. After I’d called my dad in a panic, she started. We drove around the neighborhood, hunting for Christmas lights, then stopped at a park. We sat on the swings, holding hands, hoping she would start again. She did. Mostly.

After the boyfriend moved, I picked him up at the airport every few months. We’d hoist his suitcase into the trunk and hug in the parking ramp. He always wore his sports coat to keep it from wrinkling, and I stashed the airport receipts with pens and lip gloss in the dash.

Things are different now.

Sometimes the long drives home have company. Sometimes my breaks from teaching don’t align with college vacations, and I spend six hours alone with podcasts. The boyfriend lives closer now. His apartment is a 28-minute trek across the city. The drive still feels too long.

The car is different now.


It’s called the Firebolt. It’s pretty. It has a CD player. It requires consistent payments, and hopefully not consistent repairs. It starts reliably.

I don’t know what adulthood is, exactly. But it’s beginning to feel like the pursuit of reliability. Reliable income, reliable relationship, reliable car.

If that’s the case, I’m going to fail.

(We all are.)

I used to joke about the required prayers to start the car in the morning, the encouraging dashboard pat when we moved forward at green lights. I thought those would be unnecessary with an upgrade. I thought they’d be unnecessary when I got my life together.

But cars and lives that haven’t fallen apart are miracles. They sure aren’t my doing. (I’m still not convinced I could change a tire.) I can’t guarantee my shiny new car won’t rust or break down. I can’t guarantee my safety or that of those I love. I can’t guarantee my students will learn. I can’t guarantee anything. Except that I will lose control at some point.

Those prayers are still necessary.

And somehow they work. Things break down. We may wreck things. Very long detours and even longer waits in traffic may delay us. But we still arrive where we were meant to be. Maybe stressed, maybe bruised, maybe late, maybe grateful, maybe dead tired. But we get there.

That’s the mystery I won’t ever solve, no matter how adult-ish I become.





Interim. noun. An intervening time, a temporary or provisional arrangement.

jblaha via Flickr

jblaha via Flickr

On a tired evening, I read a post by Emily Freeman. She shared these words, from John O’Donohue in To Bless the Space Between Us:

You are in this time of the interim where everything seems withheld.

The path you took to get here has washed out; the way forward is still concealed from you.

You cannot lay claim to anything; In this place of dusk, your eyes are blurred;

And there is no mirror. As far as you can, hold your confidence.

Do not allow your confusion to squander.

This call which is loosening your roots in false ground, that you might come free from all you have outgrown.

I stopped scrolling mindlessly. I read those words again. I let them sink and felt them resonate.

Because I am in this time of the interim.

The last of summer just slipped through my fingers. Not long ago, we had a golden day, a gift in Minnesota October. It was eighty degrees and sunshine and bursts of fall color. I sat outside in shorts and read Fitzgerald. And then, the next morning, the wind snatched the door from my hands as I left my apartment and blew in steel gray clouds. The temps waver now. We have blessed mild sun today and I forget my jacket most mornings, but the leaves are crumbling. I know what’s coming soon. I’m bracing for it.

I’m nearly done with my seventh week of student teaching. I’m prepping and teaching all but a tiny handful of kiddos. The battle does not rage, but rolls on, day by day. We’ve finished 18 hours of conferences, so many hours in the small room for the number of families who show. The assessments for state licensing are so much work, typed in 11-point font on too many pages, with so little payoff. Sometimes I feel like a real teacher, worrying what videos my third grader is posting of herself on YouTube and wondering how to authentically incorporate music for the boy who sings Wiz Kalifa while staring at his journal. And sometimes I feel like a fraud. I have no paycheck, no year-long commitment to this school and these students. I am still a college student, tied to supervisors and seminar hours and my university email.

I don’t know where I’m going. I have eleven more weeks of clarity, three with my elementary kiddos and eight in  7th grade Language Arts. And then my life is blank, all haze. Job boards and program applications offer many options and little clarity. “It will be interesting,” I say. “It will all work out.” I believe it because I have no choice, because belief precedes sight in my brand of faith.

Relationships get complicated. We muddle through the everydays of long-distance and wonder if it’s worth it, if it will work out. This is no easy business, the in-between of “I like you” and “I do.” I’m feeling desperation to be permanently attached to someone, to come home to the same arms every night. I see it happening for friends on my Facebook feed, while I sit solitary in my apartment and burn with quiet cynicism. It’s not yet time for me. Maybe it won’t ever be. For now, I buy a plane ticket and pray and try to build a life anchored on more than one boy. But still the distance, the unknown, the unfulfilled ache.

I don’t know what I’ve outgrown. I can’t go back, to classes with familiar professors and the friendly faces in chapel and close circles with girls in the dorms. I don’t want to. But there are holes left. I used to know my place in community, sitting on industrial carpet under twinkle lights, or standing in line to buy cookies from the cafe after chapel. Those everyday intersections are gone. The connections remain, a little dusty but still whole and real. I need to reach out. I need to be known.

This is the space between student and adult, between classes and jobs, between past and future. This is the interim. This is life. We live and move in the moments between, the moments of not yet, the moments of mystery and blind faith. And through it, the blurry and the broken, we keep moving. We keep growing. We keep trusting that God makes cosmos from emptiness, life from dust, and beauty from our cracked little souls.