21 to 28: Got Grit…its down to You!

During the previous teenage stage the task was learning to become emancipated. However, the grit stage is about being emancipated. This is the stage where the young adult is responsible for their actions, making and grabbing a hold of opportunities.  It is the stage where a person is required to commit to themselves, their passion and their path. Folks who have generally done well in the previous three developmental stages are excited to get their life going.  Of course, there are some anxieties and apprehensions.  But in general, the person is well-prepared and ready to go.

A short while ago, a young man 21 yrs old whom I had known since he was in 1st grade, contacted me and ask if he could stop by and I could give him some names of some good counselors.  He noted that he was taking some time from his university studies because things were just not working out.  A few days later he stopped by for the list of counselors.  I invited him to sit with me a few moments in the back yard and the noted ethical boundaries in which I could not be his counselor but gave him a list of local folks that were well respected.  However over the course of about 45 minutes I presented the gardening metaphor, a basic outline of developmental tasks but focusing on the 21-28 grit time frame and then finished with a brief introduction of the essential life skills of breathing, mindfulness and decision making.  He never did share what specific troubling issues he was having...nor did I need or want to hear about them due to ethical parameters.  A few months later, I ran into his mother (a family friend) who said, "I don't know what you told him, but whatever it was he came home a completely different person."  She proceeded to tell me that he had immediately went and found a great summer internship position in a far off large city with a prestigious agency, had made his own travel and housing arrangements and was now returning to the university as a senior to finish his degree.  

There are a few unfinished items to complete during the grit stage of development.  An influential item is that of the completion of the frontal lobe and executive functioning.  Young women come into full capacity around age 25 or 26.  For young men full capacity of their executive functioning finishes around 27 or 28 years old.  So how might this affect their life? During this time, young men and women are often finishing college, entering into the full-time job or career, developing significant relationships.  This is where they are required to take full responsibility for paying their bills, being a responsible employee and taking care of all the other tasks of daily living; such as, groceries, laundry, cooking, cleaning, paying bills and taking care of their toys.  It is quite the task of setting up their household, negotiating relationships, activities and working.  Generally, there is the excitement of career, learning and doing well at work.  Moreover, there is also playing hard, being adventurous, going out and staying up late at night.

This is a relative new experience of being responsible for household, job, playtime, and relationships.  For some this can be an overwhelming and rather anxious endeavor.   For others the opportunity of independent responsibility is pursued with gusto…but perhaps unaware of the full obligations that are required.  There is a lot on the plate.  The general recommendation is to take some time to grow in to these responsibilities and activities.  That is to get established a new job or on your career path, enjoy playing hard and continue to learn about yourself and meet new people. This is the stage to enjoy and get comfortable with yourself, who you are, do your passions and really committing to your path.  The underlying challenge is to establish your structure and routine that works for you.  Its about finding a balance between work, play, relationships and time for yourself.  This will take self-discipline, i.e., the responsibility for setting and following a routine that will allow you to accomplish your passions and goals.

After you have taken some time to come to know yourself and are comfortable and established; then and only then, you should consider the added responsibility of navigating an intimate significant relationship and/or children.  You will need your full capacity of executive functioning and to have gotten some of your youthful YaYa’s, shenanigans and adventures out of the way before committing to a significant relationship and starting a family.

To the young women:  Give yourself a chance to get established in a career, to live on your own, to have supportive girlfriends, to travel, have adventures and develop your own interest and passions. This is your time.  It is your time between leaving the family of your childhood and before starting your own family.  It is so very important to find and become yourself.  It is also important to understand the following advice to young men.

To the young men:  Give yourself a chance to become established in a career to live on your own to hang out with the buds, develop your passions and interest and get your wild oats dealt with.  Guys, are a little delayed in the relationship arena, have testosterone driven issues that borders on recklessness and endangering activities.  In reality, guys are just not ready to be responsible mates/husbands/dads before the age of 27-28 at the earliest.  So give yourself a chance and take the opportunity to be adventurous and somewhat reckless…get your YaYa’s out before you choose to settle down with a mate and family.  And it is important to understand the above advice to young women.  They need the space to grow into themselves.  You need them to be a fully functioning and willing so that they can be a complementary partner a relationship...they have much to teach you.

During this time, there are many opportunities for adventuring into relationships with a potential significant other.  However, it is important to figure out a partner that share interests, have similar values and goals. Moreover, that you can work together, trust, complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses and help the other to grow and mature.  Nevertheless, the requirement to figure out the relationship or partnership thing is you have to have a good understanding of who you are!  This is the stage to become you and really understand your wants, needs, passions and dreams.

Frequent in emergency department consultations, I meet with a young woman or a young man or even a couple in their early-mid 20’s and things are just not working out how they imagined.  In many instances this is because the timing is off and the above development of each person is not quite finished.   This stage is for an individual to come into their own being, to be adventurous and establish themselves as a person within their society, community and culture.  Very few individuals are truly ready to be responsible mates or partners, let alone become parents before their mid-late 20’s.  I often plead that they take some time for themselves.  If there are parents around during these consultations, they are often nodding their heads and have personal stories to share how their life might have been different if they had waited until their late 20’s or early 30’s before becoming married or having babies.

To Parents:  Parents are still needed...at times.  However, its still lending an empathetic ear and you might be asked for some advice.  What...my kid is asking for abit of help or advice?  It often involves specific issues of how to handle a situation at work, a relationship or how to do a brake job on their car, fix a leaky faucet, prepare a tax return or lease application for an apartment.  This is the time to give some advice and perhaps notes from your experience but in a calm and measured manner.  Basically the sequence is:  1) Empathetic listening, 2) Offering other views, strategies or thoughts/explanations of the situation and perhaps suggesting specific solutions, 3) Be reassuring, remind them that they are smart, that they have done well in the past and they are still learning.  Remember you are their rock; you have more experience and skills.  They are asking to tap into some of your experience and skills.  Parents, you are passing along experience and skills they need...but your kid still wants to do it themselves.

During the 20’s this is the time to establish yourself and to become adept at navigating your social, vocational and recreational relationships and environment. This is really the first time that you are on your own as an individual.  You need to learn to interact and integrate into your chosen community.  This is where you become known in your community.  What kind of reputation you establish with your employer, friends and potential mates.  When you were a teenager there were allowances made due to your immaturity.  However, now that you are an adult, your reputation or image within your community becomes more accountable.  This is the stage where your decisions and actions tend to lead you in a direction for the remainder of your life.  Therefore, it is important to give yourself the opportunity to find out who you truly are, your passions and what your path is to become.

The 7-year developmental spectrum continues into old age.  The rest is an adventure…so I will not spoil it for you.  In my work, the first 28 years are the critical foundation, that if establish, will weather all kinds of challenges and tragedies.  However, more importantly, this foundation will lead to a life that is full of adventure, passions and will be more awesome than your wildest imaginations.

Peace, Love and Light!

Tim