5 min read

Adulting: The Fundamentals

Adulting: The Fundamentals

“Get it together, dude.”

“Ugh, I hate my job.”

“I have no idea what to do next.”

“I feel like such a loser.”

We’ve all been there.

Life can be hard, unfair, challenging. But no matter what life brings my way, I want to be always learning, growing, and getting better. I want to get the most out of my life and assume you do, too.

Whenever I’ve thought something like the above, it’s always come from a place of deep frustration. I’ve wanted and needed an answer. I knew something was off, but was stuck as to how to move forward.

In my experience, the real problem is usually that I’ve stopped taking care of the fundamentals. Part of the foundation of my life is out of whack.

So I start in the wrong place, putting the cart before the horse. I address the symptoms but not the causes.

Oh, you too? Glad I’m not the only one.

After many trips through this, loads of reading, endless bouts of overthinking  and obsessing and finally getting myself sorted out, I’ve come up with my list of fundamentals. This is my starting point, the checklist I run through when I feel lost, unclear, frustrated, or like I’m off track. It’s been very effective, so I’m sharing this for two reasons:

  1. as a resource to come back to when I feel lost, unclear, or like something is off.
  2. knowing this earlier would’ve helped me a LOT, so I want this available as a resource for others (especially frustrated twenty-somethings or recent grads)

The fundamentals

Here are my “fundamentals of adulting”:

  1. Develop a growth mindset
  2. Learn how to install habits in your life
  3. Develop sound personal finance practices
  4. Build meaningful work and a career you love
  5. Learn to create and sustain meaningful relationships

The order of operations is important here.

We’re deliberately starting in the inner world and building toward the outer world. By the time we get to an explicit focus on career or relationships, we’ll have developed a life foundation that can support us in going anywhere we want to go.

Creating the foundation doesn’t mean that you’re done with any of the fundamentals. Fundamentals are never finished. Expect to revisit them again and again and again.

With the fundamentals in place, life is likely to be pretty damn good. If a fundamental is out, things will likely go sideways within a short period of time. I check in on each area rapid fire and usually find a smoke trail: how is my mindset? How ’bout my habits? Do I have my finances in order? Am I engaging with my career from a craftsman mindset, and enjoying the process? Am I investing in my relationships and social life?

Get the fundamental principles right, and choose whatever details you want. Have whatever career you want, whatever kinds of relationships you want, and whatever habits serve you. But build them on top of a strong foundation.

There are countless books, articles, podcasts, etc. out there for each fundamental. The most useful thing I can do is to point you to the resources that I’ve found most helpful and return to again and again (all are books unless noted otherwise).

Let’s begin.

Step 1: Develop a growth mindset

This is the skeleton key that unlocks all other doors. A growth mindset makes all else possible.

I’ve recently started asking people, “what’s the most important idea you know?” This is my answer to that question.

If you take nothing else from this, please please please read the book Mindset. That goes quintuple if you’re a parent, teacher, coach, or interact with kids in any way.

Resources for developing a growth mindset

Step 2: Learn how to install habits in your life

As Aristotle said, we are what we repeatedly do. Habits are the second skeleton key, after a growth mindset.

Installing habits in your life is a critical skill that can be developed. Learn how and you will make everything that follows better. This is a meta-skill that makes it easier to have whatever else I want in my life: health, relationships, hobbies, etc.

We each can identify what we “should” be doing, the habits that would really serve us. Most of the time, we can’t figure out how to get ourselves to do them. Here are the resources I’ve found most helpful in getting myself to do what I want to do.

Resources for developing good habits

Step 3: Develop sound personal finance practices

There are few better or faster ways to mess up your life than to take on lots of debt. Debt is literally one of the oldest forms of slavery. If you owe, you are not free.

Money is not everything, and it is important. Money is powerful. Money is the great facilitator. Developing sound personal finance practices will give you the practical resources and ability to do and create what you want in your life, and not be trapped.

Resources for developing sound personal finance practices

Step 4: Find your way to meaningful work

If the previous steps are in order, by now you have a VERY solid foundation for your life. From this foundation, you can go out and be effective in the world and create the life that you want.

From a strong foundation, you can build satisfying work and satisfying relationships, which are likely to occupy the bulk of your focus day-to-day.

Resources for finding meaningful work

Step 5: Learn to create and sustain meaningful relationships

I’ve put this one last on purpose, which will probably ruffle some feathers. I think you have to put your oxygen mask on first as an adult. Without the previous steps as a foundation, I think anyone will struggle to have the kinds of mutually satisfying relationships that really lead to an extraordinary quality of life. Relationships are about shared growth, exploration, and mutual exchange of value. If I don’t have my own life together, it’s hard to bring lots of value to others.

To be clear, I’m not saying shun other people and be antisocial. I’m just saying that getting your own life in order first will set you up to bring value to all your relationships and make them that much more mutually satisfying.

Resources for creating and sustaining meaningful relationships

The prescription (tl;dr)

Read these books, in this order, and do what they say:

  1. Mindset
  2. Grit
  3. The Power of Habit
  4. I Will Teach You To Be Rich
  5. So Good They Can’t Ignore You
  6. Daring Greatly

If you did that, congratulations! You’ve got the fundamentals covered and have set yourself up powerfully. Go make the most of your life. Enjoy the ride!