Help me become a responsible adult...
August 19, 2007 5:31 AM   Subscribe

Help me become a responsible adult...

I graduated college a little over three years ago, and so far I feel like I'm failing completely at creating an adult life for myself. I don't really have a social life, or any real social relationships outside of work. I don't have a SO or any reasonable expectation of finding one. I don't have any hobbies or activities that I enjoy (except working). I have an idea of the things I should do (find a therapist, excercise every day, volunteer, take a class and try to meet people) but I have a lot of trouble motivating myself to actually do these things. Usually what happens is that I make an initial appointment to meet with a therapist or pre-pay for a set of classes and then never show.

The odd thing is, work is going great. I'm passionate about my job, and my projects usually go pretty well. I get a lot of positive feedback from my bosses. Then, during weekends and evenings, it's like someone flips a switch and I turn off. I can't seem to motivate myself to do anything, even little things like going outside for a walk or washing the dishes. It's like I'm waiting for someone to come tell me what to do. But since I live alone, the only person who's around to make me take responsibility for myself is me... and this doesn't seem to be something I'm capable of right now.

Has anyone dealt with a similar situation? How did you "grow up" and start taking responsibility for your own life, health, and happiness?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (36 answers total) 52 users marked this as a favorite
Sometimes, forcing yourself into situations where you need to be social and try harder works. You don't have any friends nearby? People at work who do things afterwards? People you can look to and trust to help keep you accountable?

Can you force yourself into a situation with a roommate? You just have to finally suck it up and go OUT and do things, instead of just allowing yourself to stay convinced you don't want to go out, or that it's not worth the trouble.

If you really want to change, just step out and start there. Try to make closer friends at work. Force yourself to talk to one stranger a day. Join interest groups that appeal to you. Take a class and require yourself to attend. (Somewhat more dramatically:) Remove the comfortable fallbacks from your life that let you stay at home easily. (Turn off cable, try a month without internet, don't turn on the AC, etc. ;-)

And shift your mindset. Instead of thinking of things you may be able to do, and this is the hardest part: just do them. Start with one. Start with a small one. And before that's done, throw the next one on the fire. Start walking, or join a gym. Sign up for a class. But attend. Talk to people. Go to a restaurant, flirt with the waiter/waitress. Or just make simple conversation. Get your feet wet.

And most importantly: get over yourself. Accept that you'll probably look stupid and say a few stupid things, and learn to laugh at that and have fun with it. I've transformed myself into a pretty solid extrovert, but it's a road paved with occasional stupid moments and things you just have to laugh at. But it's a HELL of a lot more fun than just being shy.

Good luck!
posted by disillusioned at 5:49 AM on August 19, 2007

I think a lot of people have a couple of terrible years after graduating college. College in American is a utopia followed by a terrible crash. In college you probably had nothing but social life since you probably lived in dorms, and now you have a job that takes all the energy out of you. I fell on the other side of the fence than you: I was terrible at my job and while I had a social life, it was a drug-riddled escape from daytime reality. So for me the solution was to quit my job, move to a city with cheap rent and find fulfilling part-time work. It sounds like what you're going through could be described as depression, so I would look for other AskMe threads about depression. Otherwise I just wanted to say that I don't think you're at all alone in your plight. Almost everyone I knew at that age was in a similar situation. And I'm only 29 now, but I feel like a whole different person in comparison to my post-college rut.

On preview: I definitely second the suggestion to live with a roommate.
posted by creasy boy at 5:58 AM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Just say yes.

I seriously recommend that book. It's a great new perspective on things and is a hilarious book. Not a self help book. In essence, stop trying to change the bigger picture and just focus on saying yes to things. The key here is recognising that your default response may have been no, but by saying yes you open yourself up to new things. It's also damn easy to do on the short term, so maybe that will make the bigger things easier.

That being said, I have the same problem. Saying yes made it a little more bearable.
posted by kaydo at 6:08 AM on August 19, 2007

Is it maybe too much of a commitment to have a class (every single week!) or a therapist (every single week!) or to send yourself to the gym (every single day!)?

Try getting an alt-weekly paper (if your city has such a thing) and look through it for just one thing you would be interested in seeing or participating in -- an art show or a concert or a play or a protest... I feel like it can be a big positive step just to get yourself out in the world, even if only in tiny steps.
posted by Jeanne at 6:17 AM on August 19, 2007

If I were you I'd start small. I had the same problem after I graduated...I could never quite motivate myself to take that class, hang out in that bar, or go out and meet a potential SO. But I could bring myself to go pick up that new how-to book, hang out for an hour at Starbucks, and put a profile on an online dating site.

Also, don't see it as failing as an adult. Lots of people have this problem. It's just part of making the transition from a place where everyone has lots in common with you (same age, roughly same intelligence, same goals), to a setting where people are quite different.

Good luck!
posted by christinetheslp at 6:17 AM on August 19, 2007

Everyone's given great advice. If you want a social life, you've got to just put yourself out there. Nobody's gonna come knocking on your apartment door.

From experience, I can tell you that how you feel about a new experience going into it is not a very good predictor of how much you'll enjoy it/benefit from it, and meeting new people is always a little scary, but 90% of people are basically nice and welcoming.

And when in doubt, just be nice. Don't try to be too cool, or put pressure on yourself to be super witty. Just be nice. Nice is cool.

It sounds like you're about 24... dude, you're young, and you have so much time to grow. But start now, no matter how small the step.
posted by mpls2 at 6:40 AM on August 19, 2007

Get a dog. No, really.

A dog pulls you out into the world. Rain or shine, wind or snow, a dog wants to go out. A dog is always interested in you, interested in the larger world (unless the dog is sick), and is always interesting. A dog depends on you, and can be depended upon. A dog doesn't criticize your motivations or leadership skills on any given Sunday, or have hidden agendas that lead to repetitive arguments. And most importantly, a dog helps you find good people to fill your life. Don't take up with anybody your dog doesn't like, and you'll save yourself all kinds of problems early on in life.
posted by paulsc at 6:49 AM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

Oh, and friends that are 5-10 years older than you are gold. They're young enough to relate to, but they have enough years on you to be a true source of wisdom.
posted by mpls2 at 6:51 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have an idea of the things I should do (find a therapist, excercise every day, volunteer, take a class and try to meet people)
Sounds more like an idea of "what everyone thinks you should do." Pfft.
posted by Wolfdog at 6:53 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Everyone crashes their way through life. Literally. Some of us get decent prodding in a given direction thanks to the way our parents raised us; Some of us excel in some areas. For example, you're doing well at work, but so-so with your own personal development.

Ask yourself if you 'Live to Work, or Work to Live"? Right now, you're living to work, and if something goes horribly wrong there, it's likely that it'll impact you emotionally.

You're not emotionally invested in making your life better. You're not getting to the gym, finding new friends, or developing hobbies for one simple reason. It's self destructive. At some level, you don't feel you deserve to be happy. You're totally aware that something is wrong, but you feel the need to punish yourself.

But today was different. You asked here on Metafilter. So here's a nudge. Just focus on this one thing (and treat it as a work responsibility. Remember, you get thinks done that are important for work.)

Quit fucking around, face your fear and make your appt. for a therapist and keep it. Treat it like it's important, because you need to. Don't stress if it's the wrong therapist - any one (even a lousy one) will take you a step forward.
posted by filmgeek at 7:00 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Alternate entry title "Peel me off this velcro seat and get me moving."?

I read this not as a social question, but as a motivational one. I suffer from the same problem; at work I'm fine, for today's work or tomorrow's, or even preparing for next week's project. But I haven't taken the steps to guarantee that I'll be employable next month when this project is over. I love technical learning opportunities, but I refuse (?!) to sit down with the manuals for what I work on, and fully understand it.

I won't make a doctor's appointment to deal with the (fairly serious, but I'm managing it for not) condition I've been living with.

I dabble around with online dating, but I won't message any of my dozen closest matches, figuring that I'd better get my shit in order before blowing those chances.

I've been calling it a fear of success. I'll do the minimum to get by, but I spent so much of my school career being told I had great potential, that I'm sick of the entire concept of greatness. Perhaps I'm rebelling against all those people who told me that, and attempting to prove them wrong, because how dare they tell me how to live my life?!

Is this anything like your situation, Anonymous?

In small bites, I've learned to deal with it. I still have a fiercely competitive streak, so if I can find someone else who's doing something I'm interested in, I'll go and do it better, just to say I could. That's good for my credentials, bad for friendships. Deadlines are perfect challenges, but only if they're real honest-to-goodness last-chance-in-a-lifetime deadlines.

I also find that 80s movie soundtracks are helpful. For what it's worth.
posted by Myself at 7:02 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Then, during weekends and evenings, it's like someone flips a switch and I turn off

MeFi's (and my) favorite self-help book Feeling Good has a whole chapter on "Do-Nothingism."

One of the example patients is in exactly your position. You can "search inside" the book on amazon for "do-nothingism" and find the chapter.
posted by callmejay at 7:09 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Turn off the internet and TV, if that's part of what you're spending your time on. It's seductively like having a social life. Simple boredom should motivate you at some point.

Join a gym.

Paulsc is right, getting a dog would solve your problems.

Could you become a "regular" somewhere?
posted by salvia at 8:02 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

This sounds a lot like my life in some ways. Sometimes you go through slow periods where nothing really happens. This is okay. You'll probably have periods where things speed up again and when they slow down.

Unfortunately for me and for you, the only solution to not doing things is to start doing things. For some reason sometimes I find the idea of this very unpleasant or distasteful. For example, I sometimes approach the idea of doing my dishes from a real place of terror. But I find when I actually force myself to do it, it is not so bad.

I honestly think some people are wired to motivate themselves and some people need nudges from the outside world. So I agree that getting a dog might be a good way, for example, to force yourself outside (just remember that it is a huge commitment and can cost a lot of money in the long run). Similarly, a roommate, assuming they are cleaner than you, will motivate you to wash the dishes and may drag you along to do things.

I think the other problem might be that since you get a great deal of fulfillment from your job, you don't feel pressure to find satisfaction in other ways. While that is fine right now, it will cause problems in the future, I think (tying your feelings of satisfaction to your job means that you will always be tied to it psychologically). The good thing is there must be some level of dissatisfaction or you wouldn't have posted here.

Nurture that longing to do something in your life. Try to hear its voice. There's probably *something* you want to be doing on top of work, so see if you can't tap into that. Hopefully that will have a chain reaction that spreads into other things like your health and your relationship with other people.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:36 AM on August 19, 2007

I was feeling this way (maybe not to the extent that you are) but a couple of friends and I got together to form a social group for people from our workplace and to organize social events. We haven't had our first one so I don't know how it will turn out, but just getting involved in planning it has made me feel more socially active.

I also joined the local theater group's mailing list (again, haven't been to a meeting or anything yet) so that I can volunteer to swing a hammer or print a program once they get going this fall. I can't sing, dance or act but I figure there must be some way I can make myself useful.
posted by srah at 8:51 AM on August 19, 2007

Echoing Wolfdog, make sure you focus on what you really want to do, and not "what it sounds like you're supposed to be doing". You already are a responsible adult. If you want to create more of a social life, it should be because it brings you satisfaction and enjoyment, not because it meets some societally-approved definition of "What a Good Person Should Do".

It seems to me a lot of people (most?) do just barely enough socializing to get a stable job and get married, and then don't do much socializing at all outside of their family.
posted by dixie flatline at 9:02 AM on August 19, 2007

Remember birthdays, anniversaries and holidays. This is a little thing and only requires a card and/or a phone call. I started to feel more like a adult when I began making a point of remembering and commemorating these events.
posted by pluckysparrow at 9:06 AM on August 19, 2007

Joining a gym changed my life, honestly. I don't talk to people at the gym; I feel better about myself and I magically became more extroverted. I'm not ripped and muscular and sexy by any means, but I'm not chubby anymore. I feel more confident, I look better in clothes, and I have lots more energy. I just started in March, I noticed I looked better in June, and this summer has been amazingly fun. I force myself to do things with people. I force myself to talk to strangers and acquaintances. I joined the Sierra Club and I go hiking with a big group of really great people ever week. So yeah, join a gym.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:17 AM on August 19, 2007

You said you had a problem with signing up for things and then not showing up.

Sign up for a class. The day before, work out exactly how to get there, when you have to leave the house, and so forth. On the day, tell yourself that it's only necessary to go to one session - that if you don't like it for any reason you don't have to go again. If you like, try telling yourself you only have to go to the building with the class in it, and that if you don't want to go in it's OK to just come home.

If you're worried about making a fool of yourself, or worried that the people in the class won't like you, remind yourself that if you don't like it you can always leave, and you don't need to ever see those people again if you don't want to.

Try signing up for something that you can go to straight from work. Once you've got home and sat down it's twice as hard to get up and do something!
posted by emilyw at 9:25 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

I felt this way for years, and recently came to the realisation that it was because I felt I had no control over my life at all -- my permanent 9-5 job influenced every single other area of my life. The act of quitting that job in favour of temping was the key to loosening the grip that work had on me. Starting the day I gave notice I had more creativity and motivation than I can ever remember having. I could do things I fancied again -- and even things I didn't want to do (like cleaning). I still work 9-5 but my job(s) don't rule my life. I forget about them when I walk out the door, to my REAL life.

This may not be the answer for you, but maybe there's something in it for you.
posted by loiseau at 9:32 AM on August 19, 2007

dixie flatline has helpfully decoded my typically overterse comment and said exactly what I meant.
posted by Wolfdog at 10:07 AM on August 19, 2007

If you can only do one thing, do the dishes.

If you can find some tolerably intelligent talk radio to listen to while doing the dishes, so much the better.

Living amongst a pile of dirty dishes is a very strong demotivator for you personally, and a strong disincentive to invite anybody over.
posted by flabdablet at 10:18 AM on August 19, 2007

While I agree with much of the above, if you love your work, are there social opportunities related to your job that you're not taking advantage of? Or can you organize some office nights out at baseball games etc? Personally, though I choose not to, I could pretty much spend every night at some industry meeting or golf dinner or class or lecture series, or drinking with colleagues.

When I moved to the country I live in now, the only people I knew were through work - I went drinking with them and to their houses, met their friends who needed help moving/another person for their football team/an extra for a camping trip, and it kind of snowballed from there.
posted by jamesonandwater at 10:36 AM on August 19, 2007

Amending my earlier post, and adding to Srah's theater point, it's a good idea to find some local group you can get involved in. Find a cause you believe in, be it a political group or an environmental thing or whatever. Having obligations will help you get out on a regular basis. Meeting like-minded people in the group might be good for your social life, too.

Or (I'm listening to the radio) perhaps you just need some Powdermilk biscuits. They give shy persons the strength to get up and do what needs to be done. And heavens, they're tasty.
posted by Myself at 10:37 AM on August 19, 2007

It does sound like you're caught up in thinking in terms of "what I should do" rather than sussing out what you actually want to do, and doing that instead.

As others have said, you should make sure this isn't depression. Read other posts here and see if they resonate.

This is the sentence in your question that most stands out to me: It's like I'm waiting for someone to come tell me what to do.

What I've realized lately is that I do much better if I change my attitude from one of rebelling against authority ("People think I should do this, but I'm not going to because I don't like being told what to do!") to one where I am the only person who makes choices about what my life is like.

It sounds like a little thing, but I have noticed that I feel so much better when I live my life in terms of being proactive and deciding what I'm going to do instead of feeling like I'm being forced into things. You're doing great with your job, but do you really feel like you're doing it because you want to, or because your bosses expect that of you? You might get the same results either way, but for me there has been a profound difference in realizing that I actually do choose my decisions...I don't have to rebel against imagined authority. Basically, it's learning to own your decisions. The key is to make decisions for yourself in the first place. I hope what I'm saying makes sense.

Is it possible that you're more of an introvert than an extrovert? If you're not sure, read this article and see if it resonates with you. I agree with the author that we live in an extroverts' world; once I realized that I wasn't dysfunctional but rather strongly introverted, I became much more comfortable with myself and my choices about how to live my life.

People are telling you "just go do x everyday" - for me, that advice would not be helpful. I'd have to start much smaller. My first step when I'm feeling like you are is to do my dishes. Seriously. I put on a cd, and that helps me not have to think about it so much. Once I've finished doing this, I always feel SO much better. I think it's because I've taken action on something, and I've made the decision to take care of myself by doing so. Maybe you could start just by doing that. Eventually you might feel so good about having a clean(er) kitchen that you decide you want to clean more of your apartment. It is likely that simply doing this will make a tremendous difference in how you're feeling about your non-work life.

As a confirmed introvert, I would not choose to get a roommate just to push myself into doing more. Sure, it might help, but it also might backfire. My time alone is critically necessary for me - is this true for you? Or do you get energized when you're around others? Really consider how having a roommate would change your life before you go ahead with that.

The dog idea is great, if you like dogs and can find a place to live where they're allowed. If I could get a dog, I'd do it in a second. You do need to realize how much work they are, however. If you're an introvert, I think that having to get out with your dog a couple of times a day would be a great way to interact with people without having to do something that feels unnatural for you. A cat could help, too, though not in the same ways as a dog. If you're not allowed pets where you live (and don't want to move), maybe you could check into volunteering with an organization that helps animals. In the past, I have walked dogs at a no-kill shelter. The great part was that there were no requirements as to required schedule; I could show up anytime they were open, choose a dog, and walk it for as long as I wanted. Or not.

Depending on where you live, consider just going to a bookstore or coffee shop to read and hang out. You can make small talk with the employees or other customers, or just be around other people without feeling any obligation to talk to them. Sometimes just getting out and being around other people can help. Go to the library, farmer's market, grocery store, or a record store.

If you're not introverted, these ideas may not work for you. If you are, these ideas might help - take it easy on yourself for now; don't beat yourself up because you're not doing what you think you "should." Realize that it takes time to become a true adult...some people never make it that far. The fact that you have self-awareness about your life is a very good sign.
posted by splendid animal at 11:45 AM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

If you're worried about making a fool of yourself, or worried that the people in the class won't like you, remind yourself that if you don't like it you can always leave, and you don't need to ever see those people again if you don't want to.

FWIW, I've taken several outside-of-school classes, and people there are always pretty friendly and easygoing. You've got to find something you're really interested in, though... don't just take a pottery or yoga class because it's the first thing people mention or the first thing you see in the catalog, or whatever. It's easier to flake out on a commitment if it's not something you actually want to do.
posted by Many bubbles at 11:46 AM on August 19, 2007

One more thought - do you cook your own meals, or do you eat out/eat convenience foods a lot? I didn't know anything about cooking coming out of college (I can't figure out what on earth I ate back then). Later on, I started reading cookbooks (thank you, public library!), and started a file of recipes I liked. Nothing fancy, but the process of finding a recipe that sounds good, searching out the ingredients, preparing the food, and then enjoying it has added a lot to my life. I don't always do this, but when I do it definitely helps me feel proactive about my life.

Also, a lot of times I take a photo of what I've made prior to eating...sounds silly, but it's fun to look back and see all the stuff I've cooked for myself.

I haven't done this yet, but you might consider taking a cooking class of some kind. I love the idea that I get multiple benefits out of learning more about cooking...not only is it a hobby, something to immerse myself in and something that gets me out (buying ingredients, looking at cookbooks at the library/bookstore, browsing kitchen gadgets at the store), but it also takes care of something I need to do anyway (i.e., eat!). Not to mention that it's usually far healthier and less expensive than subsisting on pizza delivery and Hot Pockets (nothing wrong with these occasionally, mind you - just not as a steady diet).
posted by splendid animal at 12:10 PM on August 19, 2007

One of the best decisions I made after college was to move into a shared house with 6 extremely extroverted strangers that I found on Craigslist. There were always so many things going on that it was hard not to go out.
posted by orlick at 12:22 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

if you're gainfully employed, supporting yourself and not wanted by the police, that's 99% of responsible adulthood right there.
posted by bruce at 1:30 PM on August 19, 2007 [2 favorites]

check to see where your time is going. if it's going into zombie activities like tv or web browsing, make an effort to get away from those things. swear off media for a week and see if it doesn't make you feel like doing something else.
posted by DarkForest at 2:01 PM on August 19, 2007

Jamesonandwater's suggestions sound good to me, because it sounds like you are successful at work and may feel more comfortable/confident attending events for a professional association in your field. It can be hard to mingle at those things for shy types or if you're just out of practice, but just going and hanging out and saying hi to people seated next to me usually gets me a few interesting conversations, business cards or invitations to other events.
posted by PY at 2:18 PM on August 19, 2007

I just noticed that you say you do have work-related social relationships, so I guess the advice is more of a starting step, to meet new people outside of the daily job, ease into socializing and eventually move to non-work settings.
posted by PY at 2:23 PM on August 19, 2007

Could it be clinical depression? Talk to your doctor.
posted by francesca too at 4:30 PM on August 19, 2007

Jesus, you are me 2 years ago. The one difference is how I see things as an introvert -- I've really learned to embrace the time I have alone. For example, this weekend, I was by myself the entire time, but I don't at all feel sorry that I wasn't doing something else.

What did I do instead? I cleaned my apartment, wrote a question on MeFi, downloaded 5 or 6 albums online, went swimming and put a hold on 3 books at the library, online. But it felt like I did everything I wanted to do. Why?

Because the albums were for testing some new speakers that I had been planning on purchasing for over 6 months, and just now finally had the money to buy them. But I probably spent another 3 or 4 weekends researching them online previously. So it was pretty rewarding to finally have them. And the music sounded great.

And the books? Well they have been on my list of things to read for a long time. So, it'll be great to pick them up sometime later this week as a treat.

And the swimming? Well, I have actually gotten so much better at it since I started. Just over 6 months ago, I couldn't swim more than 5 laps without taking a huge break, then giving up. Now I can swim a mile or so, on a good day which feels awesome.

And cleaning my apartment? Well, I had wanted to reward myself for finishing a huge project at work, but the dishes were in the way. So I washed them, and then made some awesome burritos. Then had some blueberries. And a beer too while I watched some tapes of the Tour de France that I had recorded earlier on a computer that I built to record things.

Yes, and some people might think this is a boring weekend. But I in fact did everything that I wanted to do, so I don't expect anyone to feel sorry for me. In fact, I was alone the entire time, but through the years of being introverted, I've found out how to reward myself and do things that I love.

What's crazy, is that people now actually want to hang out with me. But sometimes I'd rather just be alone. So I don't all all feel bad about telling people that I'm busy.

So my advice is, just pick one thing that is rewarding to you and go all out with it. If this is not possible, then, as others have suggested, you might have depression. So, that is something in itself that you will need to throw your energies at. But, if you can do this one thing and do it well, it will give you confidence to do other things. But it doesn't really matter what those things are, as long as YOU enjoy them. Don't at all worry about what you should be doing, because YOU get to decide. And pretty soon, you'll surround yourself with those activities and life will be pretty great.
posted by |n$eCur3 at 10:14 PM on August 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

adult children anonymous?
posted by Gregamell at 10:17 AM on August 20, 2007

You are not succeeding in any of things you are trying to do because you are doing what you think you should be doing, not what you really want to do.

Stop worrying about being a "responsible" adult.

Seriously. You have a job and you are supporting yourself, that is enough responsibility for right now.

Your twenties are for finding yourself and taking risks. If you like your job, go for it! Be as successful as you can.

After that, decide on one thing that you really WANT to change about yourself and devote yourself to achieving that. Don't putz around with a bunch of different things that you think adults should know how to do.

Whatever you do, don't try to look down the road to much. Yeah, save some money, work on friendships, etc, but don't stay up at night worrying about what kind of fourty-year-old you are going to make if you can't even keep your dishes clean at 26.

Responsibility will come in time, and there will be no going back. One day you will wake up and realize that you know how to take care of yourself. Right around that time you will wish that you spent more of your twenties having fun, and less time worrying.
posted by lisaici at 9:11 PM on August 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

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