Dr Perpetua Neo

Send this to your young adult kids: The school of #adulting

[This DrP article was first published on Next Evolution Performance]

The adults had it all together, I thought. I assumed it’d be a magical biological switch, and that one day, my life would be put together. As a millennial, #adulting is something we throw about, almost as a lament about the rude shock of what it’s like to grow up. And then, as a young psychologist, what I learnt is that nobody has it together, unless we make an effort to. So regardless of your age, there are plenty of #adulting lessons we can all pick up.

1. Learn to take care of your brain

Hands up those of you who have ever tried to trick yourself you’re happy, shift into Think Positive! mode, and recited a zillion mantras, even when life was realistically bleak.

Whilst I advocate not being a Debbie Downer, what’s even more important is not bypassing biology.

This means, know what it’s like to be human. You’ll have good days, bad days and everything in-between. Many of them will feel boring, and you’ll reach for your phone or something else to distract yourself. You’ll judge yourself for having negative feelings, and then you’ll wonder why you are the only person.

Newsflash: We are wired to feel angry, sad, depressed, bored, frustrated, etcetera. The whole gamut of the darker side of the rainbow of emotions, but still beautiful. These feelings are intel. They tell us what’s not right with the situation, and what needs to change externally and/or internally. Once we accept our humanness, rather than expecting ourselves to be like Spock, it is a major relief that frees up loads of energy.

And one major thing we can do internally, is to learn to take care of our brains.

The fear centre hijacks the moment it believes there’s a threat. Even if there is no such threat. To get your higher wiser brain online, first acknowledge what’s going on for you. Don’t lie to yourself. And don’t judge yourself for being human. Then, slowly shuffle your feet on the ground, the way you see animals do. That’s how you get back into your body, away from the tornado that is your brain. Then, take three deep breaths. Make sure that when you breathe in, you fill your body with air; and when you breathe out, you empty your body of air. 

That’s all you need to do. No need for 2 hour daily meditations.

And you know you’re doing it right when your attention is so focused on it that you don’t have any resources to think.

How’s that for mastering biology?

2. Learn to take care of your money

I remember feeling aghast when people told me they were in debt, but were still haemorrhaging money dyeing their hair and eyelash extensions, or on expensive nights out. 

Was there something wrong with me, I wondered. 

Years later, I know there’s nothing wrong with me. 

Financial expert Ramit Sethi says that these days, we need to reconceptualise the class system as the trapped class, treadmill class and freedom class. 

It doesn’t matter how much you earn; if you’re always running on the treadmill with no freedom to take time or resources out, or if your life is a house of cards stacked upon the prospect of your next paycheck, then chances are, you’re always worried about your finances. You’re burning energy with that anxiety.

When it comes to money, simplistically, there are two sides of the coin. Making more money, and saving money.

As the student who always had the least allowance historically, and had to also live abroad for my postgraduate life, this is a topic close to my heart. I’ve done pretty well for myself, learning both bits of the equation.

Let’s start with saving money. This is not about monk-ish asceticism or denial. This is about figuring out what matters to you— that’s what you spend on. And that’s what you continue spending on, as your financial fitness grows. It’s always been important for me to buy books, keep learning and eat well. Today, I can whip up a delicious meal myself or happily spend EUR$500 on a beautiful meal.

Then there’s all the other things that don’t quite matter. Those are the things I schedule half a day every two years or when I’ve moved to consolidate— get the most value-for-money plans, ruthlessly negotiate down the bills, and then live happily even after. Whilst knowing I have at least two years of emergency funds; emergency being living at the same standards I do today. Meaning, if I wanted to buy a Shanghai Tang dress or Gianvitto Rossi shoes, I could. Easily.

But there’s a limit to how much saving can help you. I wouldn’t have today if not the resourcefulness since my student days. It’s about finding parallel income streams and monetising them. I’ve consulted, tutored and coached since my teenage years. These have taught me the fundamentals of taking care of my business, money and my mind. They have also taught me that whatever phase we are in the economic cycle, I have plenty of skills and resilience that will see me through.

3. Learn to brand yourself

Whenever people tell me things like “Having a smooth introduction for yourself is sleazy’, I wince. I’ve heard things like they’d rather be awkward and fumbling, because that equates to authenticity.


That equates to not knowing yourself, not being confident in who you are, and not having skills to carry conversations of varying topics without second- or third-guessing yourself very micro-second.

I get it, many of us have our identities tied to our job.

That’s why when we lose our jobs, it’s almost as though our world comes crumbling down.

But we are alot more than that. Beyond the roles that we play in life, primarily in our relationships.

I like what George Bernard Shaw says— life isn’t about finding yourself, it’s about creating yourself. If you don’t do that, then someone will write that story and craft that identity for you. That’s scary.

So think about the multitudes that you are. Beyond your job or your relationship roles. 

Consider what you’re passionate about, and what gives you meaning. 

Because fundamentally, you’re the sun in the centre of that solar system.

You contain multitudes, so step up to them.

4. Learn boundaries

Too many of us don’t know how to say no.

Even worse, we don’t know we have permission to say no. 

I once read this quote, when your heart says no and your mouth says yes, that’s when you get sick.

Way too true.

Many of us think it’s a matter of politeness. Or that if we understand why someone acts in a terrible way, then it’s okay. They’re excused. Sure, empathy is a great thing. But what happens is that we forget to have empathy for ourselves.

Or many of us mistakenly believe that to assert boundaries means we are ungracious and ugly.


We can have graceful boundaries.

You’re allowed to simply say you don’t want to do something. 

You can choose to supplement it with reasons, or not. 

And you can choose to offer an alternative. 

End things off with, “What do you think?”— this invites dialogue.

Because if you know how to have boundaries, you know how to spot toxic people. And in that, you spare yourself alot of anguish in your life. 

5. Learn how to entertain (& be with yourself)

One of the biggest things that causes depression and anxiety to persist is the inability to be with oneself.

It’s so easy to medicate ourselves with all sorts of distractions— from work to drinks to . . anything. And the longer this persists, the more helpless we think we are. We don’t know how to sit with our thoughts. They paralyse us.

Newsflash: Thoughts often come from nowhere, and into the same elusive ether they return to. It’s when we believe we need to grab hold of each of them that we fall into the slippery rabbit hole. That is one of the things I wish we’d been taught in school. 

And of course, there are demons in our past and our heads that exist.

When they haunt us during particularly troubling times, we’d do anything to get rid of them. But when we feel a tad better, we pretend they don’t exist. You’re not alone. That’s something mental health professionals are trained to do. Personally, it’s alot better making my demons work for me, than being haunted by them.

It’s not enough to know what to do with others. Many feel disappointed, as though their day has evaporated, when plans are cancelled. Don’t wait till that’s happened to wonder “What can I do”. Start having a list now. Of the things you’ve always wanted to learn, or to hone, or the things you’ve always wanted to do. And during that deflated feeling when plans are cancelled, you have something to do. Rather than fall into that crappy feeling of dejectedness.

Learn to take yourself out. To be by yourself. To enjoy yourself.

That’ll make you a lot more incandescent when you’re with company.

If you’ve read this till the end, which of the above #adulting lessons will you commit to? Drop us a comment or an email! Keen on #adulting yourself? Sign up for your free Chemistry Call here.