Adulting 101 – Life Skills for College & Beyond

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Looking back to graduating high school over 10 years ago, I barely even recognize myself. Even looking back to when I graduated college or more recently, medical school, I’ve changed so much that I feel like a completely different person. I like to think I’ve come a long way. We’ll cover some of the strategies and insights I’ve learned in being an effective adult.

 

1 | Understand None of Us Have it Figured Out

First, let’s take a deep breath. There isn’t a magical age at which everything makes sense, or when it all clicks and you’ve finally got it all figured out. After becoming a doctor, I have become more acutely aware, not less, of how much I do not know.

I was disappointed when I learned this as well. When I was 18, I would look at those 10-15 years older than me and think “wow, life is going to be so much different when I’m their age.” And now that I’m one of those people, I can say many things have in fact changed – my personality, my fears, my strengths, my weaknesses, my maturity — that last one is actually debatable — but many things have remained the same.

At the end of the day, we’re all just improvising and figuring life out as we go along, so don’t let that discourage you. You’ll grow more comfortable with the uncertainty and more confident in navigating it, but the uncertainty will always remain.

 

2 | Question Assumptions & Learn to Think for Yourself

That being said, there are certain skills and mindsets that will make the transition to adulthood much smoother. This first skill is a meta-skill of sorts, meaning it will help you pick up other skills. That skill is learning. If there is one thing I hope you take away from this YouTube channel and our website, it’s learning how to learn.

And while I’ve covered all the best and scientifically proven methods of learning more effectively, including the study tricks and strategies that saved me in medical school, that isn’t enough. You must also learn to think for yourself and question your own assumptions.

They say you’re the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. I say you’re the average of all your inputs. Choose wisely the people you spend time with, but also the books you read, the TV shows you watch, and the news articles and political slants you expose yourself to. It’s natural to associate yourself with people and ideas that you agree with. But this is a dangerous path, and will foster close-mindedness, intolerance, and stunt your own maturity and development.

Practicing open-mindedness means not becoming emotionally reactive when someone has a differing viewpoint. It means reading broadly, and expanding your perspective beyond your current comfort zone. Don’t just expose yourself to what you know and agree with.

 

3 | Time Management is a Requirement, Not a Luxury

Each of us only has 24 hours in a day. On one hand, it’s a discouraging truth, as there’s so much more I wish I could do if I only had more time. On the other hand, that’s incredibly inspiring, as every human who has ever lived and done great things had the same 24 hours that you do.

That doesn’t mean to work as hard as you can in those 24 hours. That’s not a good idea, which I learned the hard way. Life is a marathon, not a sprint. People often use this phrase to justify not working too hard, but it cuts both ways. As a marathon, you don’t want to burn yourself out by working too hard and ignoring healthy habits. But as a marathon, you also must put in consistent and calculated effort, as being lazy or undisciplined will be harder to make up for later.

There are a few videos on the channel and blog posts on the website that cover every skill you need in order to manage your time better than even a CEO. In the grand scheme of things, don’t forget to prioritize sleep, exercise, proper nutrition, productivity, and fun. Each of these elements in a balance is critical for long term success and sustainability.

 

4 | Regularly Reflect & Tweak Your Systems

Your systems are perfectly designed to produce the results they get. If you don’t like the results, then you have to tweak the systems. Or as James Clear says, you don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.

No matter how hard you work to optimize your systems, there will always be ways to improve them. Regularly reflect and alter your systems, which alters your habits, which ultimately alters your life trajectory.

In your experimentation, familiarize yourself with tools to integrate into your system. I’ve played around with task managers and landed on Things3 as my app of choice. I’ve chosen Google Calendar which syncs to Apple Calendar on my devices, and I use Evernote to organize most of the content and information in my life. I use HabitShare to track the progress of new habits I’m working to implement.

These may not be the best for you, and that’s fine. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try out different systems to see what is best for you. After years of experimentation, I now live by my calendar. For most people, that level of structure is overkill. But when I travel, I don’t plan ahead and let things unfold spontaneously. For some, that’s not structured enough.

 

5 | Embrace Your Fears

My biggest and most transformational periods in my life came after enduring extreme challenges. When you hit rock bottom, you can only go up, and there’s something beautiful and liberating in that. But we don’t have to wait for fecal matter to hit the fan in order to experience growth and transformation.

By simply walking toward your fears, rather than running away, you will open up a new reality for yourself. For me, public speaking was a significant obstacle. I worked towards improving that, and while it was scary, it also bolstered my confidence, and now I even enjoy public speaking. And I never thought I would say that.

 

6 | Self-Compassion is Not Weakness

My own growth was catapulted once I became more comfortable in my own skin. It’s easy to love your strengths, but learning to accept your weaknesses with compassion is truly powerful. I used to believe that because of Crohn’s disease, I needed to prove something, or that something was broken within me. That had its utility, as it pushed me to accomplish more than I ever thought possible. But at a certain point, it no longer worked for me, and started holding me back, as I soon found myself with workaholic tendencies.

I talk about how a relationship lead me to this breakthrough on my personal Instagram.

 

7 | Explore Scientific Spirituality

Spirituality gets a bad rap. You have religion on one extreme, and science on the other. But spirituality can live in the middle, be entirely scientific, not based on false realities, and yet profoundly powerful in allowing us to lead more effective lives.

I’m not suggesting you need to believe in anything mystical. If you haven’t explored secular meditation and mindfulness, I highly suggest you check out Waking Up by Sam Harris. Link in the description below. It’s one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and it’s entirely scientific, without any mysticism or woo-woo that often permeates the world of spirituality.

You go to the gym to train your body. Why would you not train your mind?

 

8 | Take Responsibility – For Everything in Your Life

Two excellent books, The Subtle Art by Mark Manson, and Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink, both touch on the importance of taking responsibility for everything in your life. Taking responsibility for something doesn’t make it your fault. But taking responsibility allows you to take action, learn, and ultimately benefit from any situation.

When I was the passenger in a violent car accident, it wasn’t my fault that the other driver ran a red, but it was my responsibility to handle the aftermath. Responsibility allows for action and learning. Failure to take responsibility leads to inaction.

If you enjoyed this post, check out my weekly newsletter. In it, I share insights and tips once per week, in addition to helpful tools, resources, articles, and study music. If I’m launching new projects, like my upcoming podcast, or meeting up with fans, like on my trip to Asia, then the newsletter is where you’ll hear about it. Visit medschoolinsiders.com/newsletter to sign up.

Thank you all so much for reading, and happy adulting. Are there any tips that you think I missed? Let me know down in the comments if you have any adulting 101 tips of your own.

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