The transition from the end of school to the beginning of adulthood is very hard. Today that transition lasts longer than it used to, because there are so many choices and so few tried and true career paths — if any — that work anymore.

Here are five things to keep in mind to make the transition into adulthood a litte easier:

1. Don’t expect things to fall into place too soon.
Today most people use their twenties as a time to search, and then settle down around age thirty. It’s a smart thing to do given the wide range of choices there are for young people today. It’s a great idea to use your twenties to explore — as long as you don’t berate yourself for not knowing what you’re doing. In fact, it’s only a very small percentage of college graduates who know what they are doing with their lives when they graduate. Most start figuring it out when they leave college.

2. Take some risks.
Maybe you’ll move a bunch of times before you figure out the place that will make you most happy. And you’ll probably change jobs three or four times to find something you like. Exploration is common — in a wide range of arenas — and smart. It’s the only way to really know what you like, and this is the time to do it. When you are living in a dump and you hate your job, you can reframe your situation in a way that acknowledges that you are a living in a time where you are trying things to see what works – nothing is permanent and you learn from bad choices.

3. Lookout for depression.
One of the demographic groups at highest risk for depression are people in their early twenties. This is because the transition to adulthood is so difficult. And the time people often feel depression is about a year after graduation, when their work life turns out to be much less interesting than anticipated, and college friends are scattered geographically and making new friends is difficult. Depression is a treatable disease, if you get treatment. Depression is serious — it’s not a time to rely solely on friends and family. Call a professional.

4. Calm down about your debt.
Yes, young people today start out life with more debt than ever before, but this doesn’t have to be a road to disaster. Think in terms of workarounds. For example, most likely your version of the American dream is not about money, so you can fulfill your dreams while dealing with debt. And while you probably want to do work that fulfills you, you don’t have to starve doing that — CollegeSurfing Insider gives examples of how you can pair soul-filling work with good-paying work to find a career that will make you happy.

5. Surround yourself with mentors.
One of the most important indicators of how good you will be at getting what you want in adult life is how strong your network of mentors is. One of the Mentors can be a wide range of people. Your parents count. Your friends count. And your parents’ friends count. But you need to start roping them in early. Mentor relationships require cultivation, and the earlier you start the more support you’ll have getting through your twenties.

So what about Coachology? Hallie Crawford is a career coach who works a lot with young people who are just starting out in their work life. She is donating 90 minutes of coaching (over the phone) to help someone get themselves on track, in terms of where they want to go and how they can get there. You don’t need to set your path in stone, but it’s good to have some path in mind, even knowing that it will change. Hallie can help you find your path by understanding yourself a little bit better in terms of your career.

To get a better sense of Hallie’s ideas, check out her blog. To get free coaching from Hallie, send an email to me by Sunday, March 18, with three sentences describing what you’d like to get from working with Hallie.

17 replies
  1. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    To the “take some risks” suggestion I’d add: try living in a different city or two from the one in which you grew up or went to college.

    Think about which cities have lots of companies in a particular industry that might interest you. Try living in one of those cities.

    Long term, career wise you may be happier if you live in a city with lots of career opportunities in “software” or “biotechnology” or “financial advising” whatever is starting to interest you.

    But, you need to know if you’d be happy in that city outside of work life — would it be too far from close friends and family (or not far enough based on comments about meddling parents in Penelope’s blog yesterday)? Or is it missing your favorite recreational possibility (skiing, surfing, etc.)?

    If you live in new places for a year or two, you’ll know the answer to these questions and whether you’d rather move back to your home city or not.

    * * * * * *
    Yeah, good point, Wendy. I confess that until I moved to Madison, Wisc., I had never met anyone who did not go work in one or two big cities before picking a resting spot.

    Going to a big city or two after graduation makes such a big difference in terms of life possibilities. A big city opens doors that a smaller city can’t. Not just when you’re there, but throughout your career.

    –Penelope

  2. Susan
    Susan says:

    These points really reasonated with me, particularly #3. I took it for granted that I would always be surrounded by people my age. Surprise! Once you start working, it can feel like a job in itself to connect with people close to your age, even if you live in a city. You will definitely be getting an email from !

  3. Wendy Waters
    Wendy Waters says:

    I should have added above, that if you can at all make it work, to try living and/or working (even if volunteering) in another country. The life experience will be something you can draw on for years to come.

    And a living abroad experience can be written up on a resume in such a way as to make you and your resume stand out — particularly if you do something really unique or even if you do something ordinary but in an exotic place (like being a ski lift attendant in Japan or Russia).

  4. Rambler.
    Rambler. says:

    I am not sure if I can ask your opinion on this, Have you come across people in mid 20s, with good work experience, lacking knowledge of what is important in life? If yes what would you advice

    * * * * * *

    I have come across people of every age with good work experience who don’t know what is important in life. This is the human condition, I think. I mean, why are we here? No one knows, right?

    I have written a bunch about my experience at the World Trade Center (some is on this blog). I was standing next to the first tower that fell, and I felt myself suffocating. I went through all those stages of accepting death, and at the last minute, found some clear air. When I thought I was going to die, all I cared about was that the people I loved were taken care of. I didn’t think of anythign beyond the four or five most important people in my life.

    Afterward, I thought I really knew about what was important in life. I got pregnant. I cut back on my work hours.

    But you know what? I only got a little better knowlege. I don’t know anything, really. No one does. We all just try our best, and every day, if we are trying hard to understand ourselves, we know a little more. That’s all.

    Penelope

  5. Rambler.
    Rambler. says:

    Thanks a lot for such a fast response. If I could add to my question, there are few people who do not know what is important, and few others who think there is nothing important in life and may be temporary but nothing seems to excite them, What would you say to people of the second category.

    * * * * * *

    I am pretty sure that people who are not excited by anything are depressed and need professional help.

    Excitement about stuff is, of course, not completely rational. We are all going to die, nothing lasts forever, we do not know the meaning of life, etc.

    But still, part of being human is an ability to get excited by things. I think part of the reason we don’t all go jump off a bridge right now is that we think that aroud the corner there will be another thing that is fun, exciting, makes us happy. This is a core part of being human, I think. Believeing that and being curious about what’s next.

    That’s why I think that someone who cannot be excited by anything has a mental disorder and would benefit from professional help.

    I think about this all the time, but it’s a tough topic. And I wonder what other people think. Do people agree/disgaree with me?

    -Penelope

  6. Rambler.
    Rambler. says:

    I seem to beging all my discussions with you with a dilemma, but here it is, hoping your question at the end was not just formailty.

    I would chose to disagree with you regarding professional help. I myself sometimes feel not so excited, but wouldnt say there is nothing in this world that excites me.

    I feel lack of excitement shows lack of priorities in life. And generally people lack priority only when they trying to find new ones. After chasing something for so long in life, for example education a hefty paying job, they fail to add to their priorities.
    I feel this is definitely temporary and some get new interests from friends, some find their own, and Interests themselves find a fortunate few.
    Its really nice to discuss with you these things. And Its even more nice to find a person who thinks about these things.

    * * * * * *

    It sounds like you are excited about finding new priorities. That seems like a good place to be. And very different than not excited about anything.

    –Penelope

  7. Aaron Erickson
    Aaron Erickson says:

    6. Upon first job our of college, contribute to your 401k at the maximum you can stand, put the money into a good index fund, and forget about it.

    You will thank yourself for the rest of your life for your austerity. All these people talking about job security in other threads don’t realize that you can take more risks with your job when you are rich. Its very hard to stand up to your boss and tell them that they are wrong when you have to worry about the idea that losing your next check could make you homeless.

    On the other hand, when you combine a good asset base with the ability to consume very little, you buy yourself the freedom to truly persue your dreams.

  8. ashna
    ashna says:

    I agree that until we take some risks in life and try different options, it is hard to know for sure what we really want in life. I can say it from personal experience. Having raised in a cultured family, some boundaries and limitations are highly expected. But I earned my trust and I think my parents are pretty ok with my decision making and taking my life in my hands, my way. So yeah, I am excited because I will be moving out soon, and also I intend to look into a study abroad session for a semester before I graduate.

    Thanks for the good points :)

  9. Ryan @ Planting Dollars
    Ryan @ Planting Dollars says:

    Spot on post… take risks, be smart with your money, live way below your means and explore! I’m having a blast doing these things!

    I think the hardest one for me to follow is #1 as I’m a tad impatient and want everything to fall into place. Starting to realize that I need to simply enjoy what I’m doing each day rather than hoping for some miracle for everything to be perfect. All we really have is today.

  10. Cindy@Australian College of Physical Education
    Cindy@Australian College of Physical Education says:

    It is normal for twenty-somethings to feel lost and confused right after college with so many options available. If the graduate can afford it, I would recommend a year of rest and fun to re-energize after studying for years, then start seriously looking for a job. You can try working in different industries until you find the one you like most, or get higher education while working part-time.

  11. Model Railway Trains
    Model Railway Trains says:

    The person who risks nothing, does nothing, has nothing, is nothing, and becomes nothing. He may avoid suffering and sorrow, but he simply cannot learn and feel and change and grow and love and live.

  12. Ryan
    Ryan says:

    Hi my name is Ryan I’m 25 and curenty felling depressed .. I have a lot of stress building a new house and a new boat running a business list goes on and on do u think I could be depressed simply. Cuz I have to much to do and feel overwelmed?

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