Stroll with Nicole

Adulthood’s elusive instruction manual

It’s time to learn to take chances in life, says Nicole Law.

Here in Singapore, preparation for important national examinations involves the use of a ‘10 Years Series’, a collection of past exam papers which aim to prepare candidates for the upcoming test. 

By carefully going through the style of previous questions and content, one can gain a greater sense of confidence when approaching the examination. This points us towards a deeper life lesson, namely that armed with an instruction manual, we are better prepared for the various challenges we are presented with in life. Alas, as a friend recently remarked: “There is no instruction manual for adulthood, it seems.” I couldn’t agree more. 

No one seems to be able to pin down the precise moment one steps over the threshold into adulthood. Some posit it’s the first time you get your tax bill! Others say it’s the time you buy your own home. Still others say it’s when you get your first stable job. 

There is some truth in all of these milestones. They represent the assumption of greater responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for those around us. It means going home a little earlier on weekdays to help out or forgoing an invitation for a night out to listen to a friend’s problems. 

Responsibility arrives earlier in life for some of us, who must take on greater burdens to care for others, including our family. Others experience responsibility when they start to cook and clean up after themselves and, yes, head to the supermarket! 

Beyond what some of us would term ‘life skills’, adulthood invokes more than just a sense of survival. It also involves being responsible for one’s words and actions.

Maybe when we were younger, we may have burned bridges or reacted explosively when things didn’t go our way. We may look back sometimes at our younger years and regret things we said or did. Now in adulthood, we move in a more considered fashion. 

We have learned the delicate art of letting go, of accepting missed opportunities, of fading friendships and even, our past selves. There are things in our lives we need to relinquish in order to move forward. The recklessness is replaced with a steady current which surges forward, a type of stability we start to desire as the years pass by. 

Often when faced with new situations for which there is no clear answer, I find myself wishing there was a  ‘10 Years Series’ for adult life, a safety blanket I could fall back on, a source I could go to for certain answers. A flip of the page might turn up a similar situation I could model my response or approach on. Maybe if I got lucky, I might even find an exact match for my current dilemma! 

Of course, that is wishful thinking on my part. The complexities of the situations we encounter everyday render the idea of an instruction manual of little use. How do we know what to say to a friend stuck in an abusive relationship? How do we know how to handle a sensitive situation at work with grace? 

There are infinite possibilities and permutations of what the next few minutes, days or weeks can look like. I think I speak for many who feel this sense of “I’m unprepared and I don’t know if I’m doing this right”. The fixation with doing things the ‘right way’ is steeped in the belief that there are only X numbers of outcomes that are socially acceptable. 

We fear taking a risky detour because we don’t have a reference point. We don’t have someone who’s gone before us and trodden that specific path.

Breaking new ground is understandably frightening. It pretty much sums up adulthood for most of us.

We come to realise that living and loving involves very few precise instructions, and rather a lot of broad brush strokes. 

Not knowing the exact measurements and specifications can trigger anxiety in those of us who relish the idea of control. Yet, I’ve come to learn (sometimes the hard way) that we lose nothing by taking a chance. Yes, it may turn out messy but the joy of living and ‘adulting’ lies precisely in going forth with the confidence that for every mistake or mishap along the way, there is a lot more life still ahead. 

Right now, maybe the one thing we can do is throw away our ‘10 Years Series’ and start creating a life we are proud of.

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Nicole Law is a writer for Adamah Media, who writes a column entitled 'Stroll with Nicole'. She is an educator based in sunny Singapore. Her calling is not only to mould young minds, but also to nourish souls through her faith-based podcast. She has a soft spot for burnt cheesecake, Dean Martin and swing dance. When she’s not engaging with her listeners, she’s planning new conversations for her podcast - she believes in the power of conversations and the beauty of our relationships.

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