Congratulations! Now you will be thrown out into the wide world to learn how to be an adult. Don’t be scared; it’s just the ride. You’re on a ride. It will go up and down, thrill and scare you, but in the end, when you die, it’s all just been the ride.
Your last teen years and your twenties will be interesting, to say the least. You’ll make a lot of bad choices, which is totally normal, natural, and a healthy part of growing up. Don’t be too afraid of making bad choices. If you try not to hurt anyone, use birth control always, prevent STDs, go to the doctor when you need to, and stay away from hard drugs (no one tries crack, meth, or heroin just once), you’ll probably be just fine. Don’t get me wrong; use your best judgment as often as you can. Just remember that everyone is imperfect and we all mess up sometimes. Nothing great has ever been accomplished through guilt or shame.
Your brain will stop changing and will be fully developed around age 25 if you’re a woman and age 27 if you’re a man, so you’ve still got a lot of personal growth and change coming. You’re not fully an adult yet.
For now, your job in your personal development is to figure out what you like and don’t like, what makes you happy, and how to feel better when you feel bad. A note though: don’t turn to alcohol to make your problems go away. If you do this often, you will become dependent and eventually have to give it up for good. Addiction is real and will really mess up your relationships and your life. If you only drink when you feel okay, you may be able to use alcohol successfully for the rest of your life.
There is no universal purpose or meaning to life. Everyone has to decide on their own what they want the purpose of their life to be. I decided that the purpose of my life is to learn, love people, and spread knowledge about mental illness. I get to decide, because my life is mine alone, and I’m the one who has to live it.
One of the ways everyone can make their life more meaningful is through practicing mindfulness. The internet will have better explanations of mindfulness than I can fit in a post, but the idea is bringing yourself fully into the present moment through various techniques, actions, or thought processes. When you get into the moment, it’s beautiful. The more you can get there, the happier you’ll be. There have been clinical studies on the effectiveness of mindfulness on mental health.
As far as giving your specific life meaning, I suggest you write about your feelings often. Try to pay attention to what basic things make you happy and find a way to form a life around them. If you really like plants, go work at a nursery and build a garden at home, or get a job in a local park. If you like walking around outside, get a job as a letter deliverer. If you like babies, go work at a daycare. If you like cooking, be a cook. You don’t have to be a doctor or lawyer or business executive to be happy. You don’t have to be rich to be happy, although it is much better for your health to have enough money to live with shelter, food, and amenities like cell phones and the internet. If you don’t know what makes you happy, that’s absolutely fine, and pretty normal. Your brain isn’t fully cooked yet. By 25–27 you’ll start to have a more clear idea of who you are and what is important to you.
For now, you’re just barely walking out into the adult world. All the adults around you have done this before. When you were in high school, it was natural to think that the adults like your parents just didn’t get it, and maybe they didn’t. But now you will need them to help smooth your way. If you need advice, talk to someone at least ten years older than you. If you don’t trust their advice, try again with a different adult.
I hope you have a wonderful life full of meaning. Keep an eye out for anything that makes you feel good. Pick a purpose for now; you can change it later. If you don’t know what to pick, borrow someone else’s purpose. You are welcome to borrow mine and choose “love and learning” as the temporary purpose of your life. Or choose “kindness”, “spreading joy”, or “helping others”.
It’s just a ride.
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