6 Things I did not know about Adulthood and Living by Myself
by Shyama Lalita, Daya Client
When I was little, in school and in college, I was eager to move out of my parents house and have my own space where I could live by my own desires and no longer worry about following rules set by others. I was looking forward to freedom- freedom of thought, expression, relationships, food, lifestyle, schedule and so on. I thought my parents were holding me back and I felt very limited in what I could do.
I was also very influenced by the Western culture where teenagers get to move out and stay someplace else for college. It gave young adults an opportunity to explore the world and decide what kind of experiences they wanted to have in life. They were free to create and live those experiences all by themselves. I remember during college, I even begged my parents to rent a separate house for me where I could live alone but they could still visit me often. They denied my request, of course. However, I felt bound living with them and got desperate to move out.
After I graduated, I went to the USA for post-graduation. That is where I started my independent living. At first, it was amazing. I could eat whatever and whenever I wanted, I could watch the videos I liked any time I wanted, I set up and decorated the apartment the way I liked, I could go out shopping or hang out with friends or go wherever etc. I could change my lifestyle however and whenever I deemed necessary. I could follow my own whims and I never had to answer anyone about what I was doing or how I was doing things. It was liberating!
It all lasted only a few months before the reality of adult, independent life struck me. And it has been striking me hard ever since. Every day I find new challenges to meet, new insights about who I am and new ways to look at life. I have grown so much and am filled with so much information that I did not get while living in the bubble drawn by my parents. The ups and downs are continuous and I don’t see them ever stopping. There is always something good to go with the bad and vice versa.
No matter how much a parent tries, I don’t think anyone can perfectly teach the things that can be learnt only by having first-hand experiences. Whether the independence comes due to moving for college or moving for work or getting married and settling into a new house, there are some lessons for everyone who enters this new phase of life. Here is a list of things I learnt as an adult.
Use freedom wisely
We all know the phrase “with power comes responsibility”. The power to do anything at any time is very fascinating but be mindful of it. Whether it is education, career, handling household responsibilities, forming relationships, etc., it is important to not lose sight of the duties and what is going to form the foundation of the future.
Freedom also means making good choices. Choices about food, time management, budgeting and choosing relationships. Constantly educating myself about good vs. bad was necessary to avoid pitfalls, addictions, losing inner voice and getting lost in the overwhelm. Role models, mentors, and well-meaning friends/family help in maintaining sanity and cross-checking selves to ensure things are not going on the wrong track that I might regret later.
While living on my own, I had to make a lot of decisions by myself and what I think is good for me. I have made a lot of decisions that I am not so proud of today. Things would have been much different if I had listened to seniors and basic advice I got from my friends. When decisions are big or hard to make, I realized that gathering as much information as possible and seeking out other peoples’ advice helped in making better decisions. Learning from others’ experiences, who have been through similar situations in their lives, made the process of becoming wiser quicker.
Set healthy boundaries
When I was living with my parents, my schedule, eating habits, whom I talked to, my expenditure, how I was using my time etc. was determined a lot by what my parents would approve of and consider acceptable. When I was living alone, I had to make up my own rules.
For example, when I was with my parents, I was given limited time to chat with my friends. That automatically kept me away from a lot of negative influences and characters in my life. I didn't even know what negative relationships meant at that time. When I moved out, I was exposed to politics, manipulation, toxicity, and people who pulled me down. Not knowing how to set clear boundaries, I either engaged in their toxicity out of guilt or I completely blocked them out of my life or burst out on them with rage. I had to learn to set healthy boundaries and be assertive, so I am not getting exploited or thrown out of the game.
Don’t lose old friends
Growing up, I always got advice to not pay attention to peers. I was told that they are with me only temporarily and once school or college is over, everyone will be on their way and no one will ever communicate with each other. When things were falling apart in my life, instead of reaching out to those same old friends, I cut contact with them. I was ashamed of where I was and what happened in my life when their lives seemed to be perfect on social media. I did not talk to anyone for years, and I disabled all my social media accounts and changed my phone number so no one could reach me. I did this because of my belief that one day they are no longer going to be my friends anyway.
Later when I needed friends in my life more than anything, I did not have any. Friends that have grown up together, especially those with whom we have spent a lot of time together, know us the best and can relate to us the most. It is very hard to find common ground and make friends from scratch once we are grown up. Life takes over and it is not the same as friends who know our life’s story and understand us well.
When I eventually reached out to my old friends, it turned out that they were so helpful and still so welcoming towards me even though I had ruthlessly cut chords with them. I realized that they were the most meaningful relationships I had in my life.
There may be disagreements and fights amongst old friends. However, no one knows us better than them and having grown up in the same situation, they can understand and help us the most.
When I was growing up, my older generation came from a very different background. Things were moving from siloed communities to larger, more connected communities with the invention of the phone. For them, communicating with other people was the only way they found out what was going on in the world. Most had FOMO and fear of getting secluded. So, in their perspective, maintaining friendships and family relationships, although superficially, was a huge deal to ensure they could continue to learn from each other and progress. People would endure a lot of turmoil but maintain their family connections.
However, as time passed, nuclear families were created. Then the internet came along. And with it, came Google and YouTube. Now any information that one may possibly ever need in their lives is all available at the tip of the fingers. People don’t need friends to tell them which is a good hair salon near them or good places to eat in the city. The information is all out there.
I realized that what people truly need is better relationships. Social media helps in maintaining connections and keeping in touch, if used wisely. But as social animals, we need deep, fulfilling relationships that usually happen through one-on-one conversations and confiding in each other. Never lose track of those relationships.
When I was living with my parents, my parents’ relationship with my uncle decided what kind of relationship I had with my uncle. However, when I was by myself, I had to decide by myself what kind of relationships I would like to keep with whom. So, I had to be careful not to fall prey into fake relationships that might seem to be “the thing” at the time but are only going to harm me in future. It was also important to segregate relationships. For me, it was not advisable to make work colleagues as best friends. Or dump all my feelings out on my boss because they were supposed to take care of me. As I grew, I had to learn how to fulfill my needs of having deep connections and navigate the situations without jeopardizing my relationships. I had a fixed list of people I would fall back on to help me in my downtimes with whom I could share every detail of my life.
Let it go
Some people, like me, really like to take all responsibilities and want to fulfill them all with perfection. That only made me slog all day and feel the drudgery of life instead of seeking new opportunities to learn and grow. When living by myself, a lot of responsibilities that I had never thought of came on my shoulders. Rent, utilities, food, dishwashing, laundry, studies, job etc. and I had to learn to balance them all. I ended up just running from one place to another only trying to get things done.
After a few years, when I was completely burnt out and my health collapsed, I realized the lesson of letting things go. I didn’t have to do it all right all the time. I forgot to explore new avenues and also have some fun time in between. I had to learn that it is okay to make mistakes as I go since I can only do my best at the time with the knowledge and understanding I have. And things may change in future and I have to keep changing myself to move with the times. I also learnt this from a 100-year-old woman in this video.
Be your best friend
When living far from family and friends, things tend to get lonely especially when having bad days or when I need someone to share the joy of my achievements. Not everyone was immediately available when I needed them.
When I was with my parents and had friends around me, I was also emotionally dependent on them. I used to seek validation from them to make me feel good. When I started to live alone, I did not have that validation from anyone, and I was continuously trying to seek it from strangers. It landed me in huge trouble at times. I learnt that the foundation of confidence and self-worth needs to be created early on in life, so it becomes easier when no one else is around. In those times, being one’s own best friend was the only way to go on.
What is something that you learnt from having to live alone?