I want to welcome back Julie Lythcott-Haims the New York Times bestselling author of the anti-helicopter parenting manifesto How to Raise an Adult. Julie believes in humans and is deeply interested in what gets in our way. Her TED Talk on the subject has more than 5 million views, and in 2020 she became a regular contributor with CBS This Morning on parenting. Her second book is the critically-acclaimed and award-winning prose poetry memoir Real American, which illustrates her experience as a Black and biracial person in white spaces. Her third book, Your Turn: How to Be an Adult, is out now! Julie is a former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean who holds a BA from Stanford, a JD from Harvard, and an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. Julie serves on several boards for organizations doing meaningful work in the world and is a mother of young adult children.
In this episode, Julie and I discuss the nuances of becoming an adult. When does it happen, after graduation? Your first job? Moving out of your parent’s house? The fact is, becoming an adult is different for everyone. There is no road sign that you pass along the way with “welcome to adulthood” in bright lights. Becoming an adult is a process and a journey. Julie wrote Your Turn: How to Be an Adult for everyone, no matter the circumstance. The inclusivity in this book is commendable. I recommend this book to all parents and most importantly to anyone looking for a guide on how to become an adult.
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Over-parenting makes it hard for kids to grow up into adulthood
- If you are carefully managing your kids’ lives and schedules, try to give them some ownership so that managing their own life won’t seem so daunting as they reach adulthood.
- When we’re managed and curated and care-taken, we develop a learned helplessness
- Often kids that come from a background of being home alone a lot, growing up with less financial stability, etc. are better prepared for adulthood because they have had to learn to thrive at a young age
- One of the antidotes to increased depression and anxiety in young people is them feeling a sense of personal competence
- When we can have a healthy relationship with our kids and give them the increasing autonomy that they require in order to develop competence and confidence, maintain a loving connection, this all builds intrinsic motivation, the kids develop skills, their mental health and wellness are intact or strong, or good
Learning to be an adult is a process
- Adulthood is the phase of life between childhood and death
- It’s not this definitive moment in time where all of the sudden you are an adult and now everything changes
- You have to want to adult
- It takes some energy, curiosity, excitement like anything else you want in life
- You have to have to adult
- When your parents are still taking care of everything for you it makes it tough to ‘have to adult’
Interdependence is important to becoming an adult
- Research shows that we are happier, healthier, and will live longer if we have good, interdependent, mutually cooperative supportive relationships, AKA friendships, AKA partnerships, marriages, family relationships in our lives.
- Humans are key to your survival
Adulthood for special needs
- A young person can define for themselves based on their needs, their capabilities, their circumstances, what adulting is going to look like for them, and we as people who love them and support them in their lives can come alongside them and create what this adulting thing is going to be like for them
- Regardless of our situation, we have as humans this yearning to be able to do things
- Everyone should be able to grow into their own capability regardless of what the various limitations may be. We are all capable of so much and do not want to be over-helped and over-handled.
Learn more about Julie Lythcott-Haims
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Overparenting … 00:09:41
Combating Perfectionism … 00:13:00
You Have To Want To Adult … 00:15:00
Interdependence Is Key To Adulting … 00:22:00
Adulthood For Special Needs … 00:28:47
Moments Of Experiencing Adulthood … 00:34:10
Inclusion … 00:43:30
Episode Wrap up … 00:50:35
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s episode, we’re talking with one of my favorite guests about a topic that should be on our minds as parents, no matter how old our kids are: How to be an adult. If you caught the episode Julie and I did together in fall 2020, you know that we talked about her first book How To Raise An Adult, and all the ways that we can parent to help our children grow into young adults who feel competent, are capable of managing increased levels of independence and the highs and lows that are naturally a part of life. But today, I’m going to turn our attention to young adults themselves and what it takes to actually be an adult, to fend for oneself, to embrace the joys and challenges of independence in life. I think this has never been more important to talk about than it is right now, as this generation of young adults engages in the joyful but also a messy journey of forging their own path in life. I can’t think of anyone better to give all of us some insight and support around this than the amazing Julie Lythcott-Haims, let me tell you a little bit about her. She is the New York Times bestselling author of the anti-helicopter parenting manifesto ‘How to Raise an Adult’. Her TED Talk on that subject has more than 5 million views, and she is a regular contributor with CBS ‘This Morning’ on parenting. Her second book is the critically-acclaimed and award-winning prose poetry memoir ‘Real American’, which illustrates her experience as a Black and biracial person in white spaces, and her brand new book, out right now, ’Your Turn: How to Be an Adult’, is what we’re talking about today.
Julie is a former corporate lawyer and Stanford dean holds a BA from Stanford, a JD from Harvard University, and an MFA in Writing from California College of the Arts. She serves on many boards in organizations doing meaningful work in the world and is a mother of young adult children. Julie, welcome back to the show.
Dr. Nicole, thank you so much for having me back to be with you and your amazing community.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I have been so looking forward to this conversation because I’ve been waiting for this book to be out ever since we first started talking about it and it was on my radar as a parent who now has young adult children myself, and as a professional who does a lot of work clinically with young adults. I really do mean it when I say that I don’t think there has been a more important time to be talking about these things. So let’s start with this, you wrote previously about how to raise an adult. We talked about that in our previous episode, but now you’re focusing on this idea of how to be an adult. I would like to start with why you think this book and this whole topic is so needed at this time.
Well, a group of folks called millennials, whom I love, began saying quite some time ago: “I’m scared to adult, I don’t know how to adult, I don’t want to adult.” And I found myself worrying and caring and pondering this notion of: Why does an entire set of humans feel inadequate at the task of simply being beyond their childhood years. What is going on? How did this come about, and most importantly, how can we, who are a little older and farther down the path shine a light that is warm and welcoming in their faces and say “Come on! Yes, you can. Yes, it’s terrifying, but it’s also joyful. And you’ve got to. It’s your turn.” So it’s really born out of compassion for any young adult who has got this sense of “I can’t, I don’t want to, it’s terrifying”. I’m just trying to illuminate the path and make it a little bit easier.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That stance of compassion, I think is unfortunately quite unique when we’re talking about this topic of people launching into their adult years. There tends to be this sort of framing of it as a “What’s wrong with you? Just grow up and do it! We all had to do it and you need to do it. Stop being a baby!” Really, a lack of compassion, I find, in how we are approaching this and thinking about this with young people.
Sadly very true. The baby boomer is known for a lot of things, including tremendous judgment about everybody else. I’m a member of Gen X, nobody even knows what Gen X is because we’re so small. I do try to tackle this right up front in the book. I think for any young person, and let’s define the expected audience of this book as 18-34, but it’s really 18 to whenever you feel like, “Okay, I’m an adult.” Right off the bat, I’m saying things like, “Look, I’m not an authority. I’m just someone older and farther down the path. Throughout the book, I sprinkle acknowledgments, that who am I, as somebody who has been a part of the generation that messed this world up, to tell you to try to make this world better or to tell you how to live your life? So I’m in this space of trying to be that older person who gets the audacity of older people critiquing the younger generation. I do this particularly around mental health, frankly. The whole chapter that has to do with self-care, which is not just about mental health, but I definitely go there, really opens with this: Look, let me frame how far we’ve come when it comes to recognizing the situations, whether mental health or learning challenges, that we possess as humans, we have come a long way. It used to be barbaric and brutal, and to some extent, in some places, it still is. But we have come some distance, and yet, we are nowhere near understanding. So there are so many older people saying, “What’s wrong with this generation! Why can’t they just pull up their big boy shorts and….”, right? It really reveals the older generation’s complete and utter lack of not just compassion, but of understanding of how things have changed, whether it’s around mental health or frankly, the economy.
That’s another chapter, talking about managing your money, where I say, look, your grandfather may be saying “Get a job! What is it with you!”. He doesn’t understand the extent to which minimum wage does not support you anymore, the extent to which student loans have completely outpaced people’s incomes. There are macroeconomic changes, let alone the great recession, let alone the pandemic, right? A lot has changed since grandpa or great grandpa held the job that he got at 20 until he was 65 and retired with a full pension. So I’m really trying to say, yeah, there is a lot that the older folks don’t get, and let’s just toss that to the side. This isn’t about them, this is about you. I’m trying to write a book that is very relevant for you at this moment.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And I think you really do a wonderful job throughout the book of striking that tone or that balance between understanding and compassion and “Here are the things that have changed, and this is different.” And at the same time, with accountability, resilience, competence, you can do this. And I think that — boy, I will say as a parent now for many years of teens and now young adults in my own home, it’s a tricky balance, I think, as a parent to have as our kids get to these ages and they’re trying to move forward in their life to strike that balance of compassion and that piece of it, but also the “You can do this” and we’ve got expectations and that balance is hard, but wanting kids to feel that. To feel understood and also to feel like somebody is saying “You can do this. We know you can do this.”
Yeah. And Dr. Nicole, this is where we’re kind of dovetailing with some of the themes in my first book, How To Raise An Adult. When we’re overparenting, we are dragging our kid down the path of their life or pushing them from behind up the path of their life whereas, as you know, the more healthy psychological distance is sort of shoulder to shoulder, I’m next to you, I’m right there but I’m not trying to lead or push or drive or manage your life because it is your life. So it is this careful balance of “Yeah, it’s hard, and you can. There is a lot you have to learn, but I’m confident you will.” It isn’t about perfection, it’s about learning and growing. It isn’t just about your grades or your achievements. Your character, how you are with humans will turn out to be the greatest measure of your own joy and the joy you can create for others and your own longevity, frankly, right? So there is a lot of push and pull in the book. I think one of the implicit messages is we as adults have to be able to hold these seemingly contradictory concepts in our minds, all at once. That’s what adulting includes, right? There are no guarantees. It isn’t about perfection. Frankly, the biggest takeaway is “Just keep going.” The final chapter is called Keep Going, because at the end of the day, it’s like, yup, stuff will happen, keep going. Yup, this is hard, keep going. Yup, you did amazing! Keep going. Yup, yup, yup: Keep going.
I think when we’ve over-parented, if a young adult has been raised with too much of that dragging down the path or pushing from behind, it does feel that the velocity that they’re used to having propel them or push them isn’t there anymore. And that can be part of why they’re stuck: They’re like, “Wait a minute, I’m not ready to be an adult.” That can in part be because they were over-handled. We as parents have to own that and acknowledge that and work with our young adults to detach ourselves slowly and appropriately so they are not completely lost and bewildered and frightened. This is where frankly kids who grew up in tougher family circumstances, maybe they were a poor family, maybe a single parent not home very much because they had to work two and three jobs to make ends meet, maybe that young person because of that experience grew up with a strength and a sense of “I can and I must and I will and I’ll handle it and I’ll keep going”, maybe that kid got those messages earlier simply because they had to. This is where a childhood that was cushy and everything was handled and managed may have not set that young person up to really take the reins of their own life in adulthood, whereas somebody who was less privileged, less well served is in many beautiful ways more capable of adulting at a younger age.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think that’s so true, and as you’re talking about some of what happens for some kids of feeling like this thing called adulthood is looming in front of me, and literally, this idea or this feeling like the floor is going to drop out from underneath them, like “I’m going to be expected to do this all of a sudden.” When we think about it and how you frame it in the book is really more this framing of adulthood and adulting as a process, a journey. It’s not a thing that you wake up on your 18th birthday or on the day that you graduate from college or on the day that you have your first shot or whatever it is, and you go “Okay, now officially, I’m an adult and I have to know it all and figure it all out on my own.” You reframe that really well as a process and a journey that we are all still on. I mean I’m in my mid-40’s and I am still on a journey of figuring out this adulting thing and forging this path. It’s not this definitive moment in time where it’s like, okay, we’re an adult and now everything changes, and I think that way of framing it, I’m thinking about it both for ourselves as parents and also for our young adult kids, is really so helpful.
I appreciate that you said that, and I think that you’re absolutely spot-on, which is why I try to combat perfectionism early on in chapter 3. There is no one moment when you can say, “Aha, I’m an adult”, although, as we will discuss, there are some moments that help us, clue us into “Well, maybe I might be!”, but yes, the notion that it is forever and ever a journey, not a place you arrive at and then you’re just there. Adulting, as I describe it is being. It is being a human. And frankly, I have a very blunt description of adult, the definition of adulthood. I say when people ask, “Well what exactly is adulting or adulthood?” I say adulting is the phase of life between childhood and death. Hopefully, a vast number of decades when we are well and capable of being in charge of our own life with all of the missteps and pitfalls and “oops!” and “ugh” that come but also that “Wow! Yes, yay! Look at me! I’m so happy! Look what we’re doing, I feel good!” It is a recognition that okay, I am no longer a dog on someone’s leash being paraded around through my childhood. I’m a free-standing human and it’s terrifying but also amazing. So I’m trying to demystify adulting a bit by saying “Look, it’s just a phase of life, it’s a set of years. There isn’t a magic to it.” But I’m also drilling into the fact that most of the books I could find on this subject, and I read — this whole top shelf over there is adulting-related stuff that other people have written. Sort of “10 tips/100 tips/468 tips”.
Great, we need the tips: How do I iron a shirt, how do I change a tire, how do I file my taxes, all of those how-to’s, yes. Learning those things is a component of adulting. I call that “Learning how”. But the two other components that I think are missed by a lot of books and videos about adulting are: You have to want to adult and, this one is really tricky, you have to have to adult. And this second piece here — so you have to want to, have to, and learn how. Learn how is covered in a lot of books, as well as my own, but my book is also getting at these two prongs. And having to adult gets at privilege. There are a lot of folks who are privileged enough financially, in terms of what their family’s safety net is, who don’t necessarily have to adult, meaning someone’s always there to make sure it’s all handled. And you know? That sounds good and loving, and yet, as a psychologist, you know when we’re managed and curated and care-taken, we develop a learned helplessness. We develop this malaise that psychologically we know, “I’m not really in charge of my own life, this doesn’t feel very good.” It doesn’t matter how much money you have. If someone else is always there to handle when things go wrong or remind you just so you don’t forget or take care of business for you, you’re basically not living. You’re not being. So for those who are in that rarefied, privileged place. This is the sort of Schitt’s Creek, a television show that’s just won some awards at the Golden Globe. You’ve got this really wealthy family, and you’ve got these young adults kind of sorting out, like, “Okay, who am I and what am I actually capable of doing?” And often, the more privileged among us have the harder time of really putting it in gear and being in the driver seat of their own life because they’re overmanned by well-meaning other people.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. I think that that’s so true. I see that play out all the time in my practice and I really have come to firmly believe that one of the antidotes to all of the increase that we see in things like depression and anxiety in young people is them feeling a sense of personal competence that regardless of other external factors and things going on when young people do not within themselves feel a sense of capability, they do not feel like they have any control, and that even if they did, they wouldn’t have the first clue what to do with that, that is a sure route down a path of feeling depressed and feeling really anxious about everything in life, including what it would look like to move forward as your own adult in the world.
That’s exactly right. So here is where we get how it’s all intertwined and contained. When we can have a healthy relationship with our kids and give them the increasing autonomy that they require in order to develop competence and confidence, maintain a loving connection, this all builds intrinsic motivation, the kids develop skills, their mental health and wellness are intact or strong, or good. These are the things I wish someone had taught me when my kids were in my arms, coming home from the hospital. I was a parent who thought, “Let me handle, fix and manage everything because I love this precious being so much.” I didn’t yet know the stuff I would learn, which would allow me to write How To Raise An Adult. I didn’t know that when my kids were young, so I have spent so much time in their later years trying to do the overparenting patterns that have robbed them of having the agency they need in order to make their way, of having the resilience they need in order to be stronger for the next thing that comes. So I just want to remind your listeners that whatever authority I have, being the author of books, I am very much a parent in this, trying to take my own advice. I can read, I know what’s right, I know what we’re supposed to do by putting it into practice in my own life is a whole other set of challenges, and I’m actively at it. I just want folks to know, I’m in this with you.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I think that’s so powerful because so often, we feel alone in that as parents, right? Particularly if we’re struggling with this, and we feel like everybody else has it together. It’s like no, even the people who are writing books about it, we’re in it. We’re doing it, we’re messing up just as much as we’re getting it right, and we’re learning as we go along. So I appreciate you making that point, and I do think it makes the book and the things you talk about even more real and relevant because you are a parent in the midst of it. You’re not just some random person who has never parented or doesn’t have young adult kids who is talking about this. There is the piece of it too that’s coming from, man, you are in this! And boy, does that give us a different perspective.
You know, one of the stories that’s coming to mind — so the structure of this book, for listeners to know, it’s sort of this genre mash-up. It’s built as self-help, and it’s pretty much self-help, there are a lot of practical tips you can take out of every chapter, but there is also a lot of memoir, meaning my personal narrative, stories from my life about things I have done and maybe done not as well as I might have, or I learned a big lesson from. I put that in there to be of use. The third component are stories of other humans, close to three dozen other people I put in this book to try to illuminate what adulting looks like. There is no one path, no one way. So what I’m getting to is one of the stories I tell on myself in this book relates to my son, who is 21, his name is Sawyer, I have his permission to share this, he’s in the book. He had an anxiety and ADHD diagnosis as a kid, and my husband and I realize now, or came to realize, probably two years ago, that we had not paid enough attention to that kid’s struggles because he seemed fine, he seemed to be so successful, getting the right grades if you will, and it wasn’t until two years into college when things started to really spiral for him, that we really read up on anxiety and on ADHD. And he came home from college at the end of sophomore year and saw the stack of books that my husband and I had been passing back and forth to each other and flagging relevant pages, and our son looked at me and said, “Mom, I saw the books.” And my heart just sank for a moment. I worried that he would feel judged or pathologized by the fact that we were now studying up on the diagnoses he’s had. And instead, he put his hand on my shoulder and gazed into my eyes and looked at me with a smile and said, “Thank you for taking an interest in understanding who I am.” And I put that in there as a way — first of all, I talk about anxiety and I talk about depression. I talk about all kinds of issues that folks have. In this book, I normalize them, I don’t relegate them to an asterisk. It’s not like “Hey, one in two 18 year olds has a diagnosis. Let’s just put that” something else grandpa doesn’t understand, right? I put that there to say: If you need to flag this page and have someone else read it — Dear reader, in other words, if you reader can relate to my son, flag this page and show your parents. This might be a topic for discussion. So I’m being vulnerable. What parent wants to say “Look how terribly failing I was at seeing my son for who he was?” And yet, I put it in these pages because I know I’m not alone, and I know plenty of other parents need to know. I want any kid who is struggling with a parent who doesn’t quite see them to see an example of me as a way forward.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that. One of the things that is making me think, as we were talking about this reframing of what it means to adult, to be an adult, one of the things that you talk about is that yes, adulthood, adulting is about independence, but there is also this interdependence. There is this sort of idea, I think, that a lot of us had when we were at that age, and that I know a lot of young people feel, that adulting means that I am on my own. I have to have it all figured out. I need to be able to do it. With some things, that may be true. But as you really point out, relationships are critical. This idea that you may be legally the age of an adult or at a phase in your life where you are living independently, doing more things on your own, but we never lose a need to have other people in our lives and to benefit from the guidance and the support of other people, and I think that’s something that often gets missed.
Yeah. I’m instantly thinking of Jeff, one of my profilees in the book. Jeff is a white male conservative Christian military guy, and he is in my book in the chapter on how to take good care of yourself, because he is dealing with bipolar disorder. He comes to mind because he so beautifully illustrates and articulates “I’m trying to walk through this life with people who will support me.” I’m just going to try to find his quote as I riff on this. Hold on, I’m going to find it. He says, “I have so much to be thankful for and I continue to count my blessings. Part of me still wishes that I could go back to my twenties and live without this disorder. However, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. This is the proverbial thorn in my side or head in my case. It’s there to remind me that I am human and fallible. Bipolar disorder reminds me that I wasn’t designed to live alone. That African proverb comes to mind: If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. I want to go far, and I’ve sought out and surrounded myself with people who choose to walk with me.” And then completely outside of the context of a mental health challenge or a significant difficulty, there is the story of Ashley, a young African-American queer woman who was raised by a single mom in Florida. Mom died shortly after Ashley graduated college, and Ashley was effectively alone in the world. She had friends, she had people she went to school with, but in terms of that safety net, who do you call when — she learned how to develop a sense of belonging to different communities. She joined a group of young folks who have lost parents, called “The Dinner Table”, it’s an organization that just brings those folks together in different cities so they can have dinner events and also talk about their grief. She learned how to meet people who could be roommates and work through conflicts with those roommates because her MO had been, “I’ll move out if we have a conflict”, instead of “I’ll push through the conflict and reach greater understanding and compromise”. Ashley is in the chapter called Start Talking to Strangers. Humans are key to your survival because as you articulated in forming this question, as it turns out, we are a social species. Research shows that we are happier, healthier and will live longer if we have good, interdependent, mutually cooperative supportive relationships, AKA friendships, AKA partnerships, marriages, family relationships in our lives. So it’s this balance of yeah, you need to be independent enough, as independent as you can to make your own way, be responsible for yourself so others aren’t having to kind of allocate their resources to take care of you beyond what feels good, but cooperative and interdependent enough that you get all the juice and yumminess of human interaction and so that you can be there for others.
Definitely, it is a both/and. Jeff actually speaks to this as a military guy. He talks about that imperative of the rugged individualist American, that it’s all on you, and how lonely that can feel when you’re suffering or when you’re struggling or when you’re sad or lonely. So very much a theme of the book. Humans are key to your survival.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Well, and I think that this is particularly important as I think about our listener community. Some of these parents are raising children who have pretty significant challenges. If we define adulthood or adulting or this idea of independence in a very narrow box of “You are totally supporting yourself with money that you earn yourself, you are managing every part of your life, that is a really struggle for these parents and these young people then who may not fit in that box of their that being what their adulthood or their adulting experience is going to be. What I love with so many pieces that you focus on in this book, but particularly this relationship issue is that we can define an individual, a young person can define for themselves based on their needs, their capabilities, their circumstances, what that is going to look like for them, and we as people who love them and support them in their lives can come alongside them and create what this adulting thing is going to be like for them, and that it may not be the same for everybody, but everyone can still move into the space of life and be on this journey, even though it might look different. Does that make sense?
Absolutely. And something that comes to mind right away is the extent to which older Gen Z’s and millennial have developed group living, group supporting pods, family connections that are about bartering, about “I will bring this if you will bring that.” This notion of what we even define as work in the olden days, it was “You will get a job and you will support yourself.” I am very clear in this book that barring significant challenges, you ought to be able to support yourself, but that doesn’t mean you can’t cooperate with other humans to make that happen, that you can’t engage in mutually beneficial and supportive behaviors so that you together are making it. I think for each of us, regardless of our situation — I use the word situation to describe anything that may challenge us, whether it’s a learning difference or mental health challenge or some kind of disease or disability, I just call it the situation. Regardless of our situation, we have as humans this yearning to be able to do things. Think about the satisfaction you feel when you’ve just gone to your microwave or your stove and you’ve scoured it and cleaned, it’s a mess and it’s disgusting, but you did it and you feel satisfied. I accomplished that. If somebody else came in, and was like, “Oh hey.” The offer of help is always appreciated, but often, we want to say, “You know what? Thanks so much, but I’m good. I’ve got this.” It can feel that our life is being micromanaged if someone is always there who is like, “Well let me just handle this with you or for you. I actually put a story in the book, I retell an episode from The Good Doctor, which is a wonderful television show about Dr. Shaun Murphy who is on the autism spectrum and there he is, he’s got a patient who is also autistic. Parents are not autistic, they don’t trust the doctor, they’re over-managing and over-handling their own kid, and I put this story in the book because over the course of the episode, the whole purpose of the episode is to demonstrate the growth trajectory of these parents who come to realize what their kid is capable of and that they don’t have to automatically turn off the lights, they should ask him “Are the lights okay? Would you like me to turn them off?” As opposed to just assuming, assuming, assuming. Another way in which we can overly encroach upon somebody’s desire, that innate human desire to do things is if a child has, say, type 1 diabetes and we think, “We’ll I’ve got to manage their monitoring” — and yes you do when they’re little because they can’t. But at some point, they can, and they must. Nowadays, we have devices which allow us to monitor everything. But just 15 years ago, this device didn’t exist, and people still lived with type 1 diabetes. We were able to live with these diseases and challenges without all the technology monitoring it for us. Let’s never decide “It’s my job to monitor this other person’s health and wellness because they’ll never be able to monitor it themselves.” No. What we need to be doing is always encouraging that person to grow and be more capable. We want everyone to be growing into their own capability regardless of what the various limitations may be. We are all capable of so much and do not want to be over-helped and over-handled. We want to be loved as we are and seen as being capable. We all hunger for that.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s so true, and this is making me think about something that you write about, I think it’s fairly early on in the book where you tell the story of when you had this “I know I am an adult” moment. Now to frame this, we talked about adulthood is not this defined moment in time, but to your point about giving young people — each person having the opportunity to have the experience of independence, of being in control, of recognizing that “Whoa, I need to manage this because no one else is going to”. In that spirit, we all, I think can think back to those ages and realize, a moment in time where we realize, “Oh, it is me. I am in this. I am being an adult now”, and I’d love for you to just share about that story because I think that really resonates and I think it will make all of our listeners think back to that time for themselves too.
I love it. Thanks for the invitation to share. This would be, as I describe the book as a genre mashup, so this is decidedly a section of memoir where we really go into deep, detailed storytelling about a situation in my life, hoping that the lessons embedded in it will be of use to readers. So I had just graduated from law school, I am 26 years old, I think. I’m married. My amazing life partner Dan and I had gotten married a couple of years earlier, and now that I’ve finished law school back East, we are moving back to California which is where we went to college and where we met. I’m going to be a lawyer at a law firm, and my law firm is spending money to move me, I have that as a benefit, as a perk. And so the big moving van comes and they load up all of our stuff from our apartment, and it’s going to take the van a good week to drive across the country. They’ve got our stuff and they’re going to pick up other stuff, they’re going to have 4 or 5 families’ things in this immense truck. So we decide to go and just spend that week with my folks, and we’re at their house when I check my voicemail, remember back in those days? “Let me check the voicemail and see if…” Sure enough, there was a message from the moving company. So we’re about to have dinner, mom’s about to put dinner on the table, but I saw, you know what, let me just check this and see what they want. They’re 3 hours behind, they’re in California. So I call them and learn that there has been a fire in our moving truck. So some stranger tells me, “Julie, I’m sorry to let you know this, but there was a fire in the truck.” And my heart just feels like it stops because Dr Nicole, we’re newlyweds. Our love letters to each other are in that truck. Our furniture from Crate and Barrel that we got as a wedding gift is in that truck. Everything we have materially is in that truck except for the suitcases we’ve got with us at my parents’ house. So it just feels devastating. So I listen, I ask questions, I am told what to do. We don’t know the extent of the damage, we won’t know until the truck makes its way to Oakland, California. The fire happened somewhere in Texas or Oklahoma. Somebody dropped a cigarette in the truck, basically, as far as we could tell. So I get this terrifying news. It did feel pretty scary. And I hang up and we’re about to have dinner. It’s my mom, dad, and my husband and I and I look at the room and I say, “That was Bekins. Turns out there was a fire in our moving truck and we have to call this number in a few days and we will be told where to go when we arrive in California to go through our belongings.” And my husband Dan came, he looked at me and came and gave me a big hug and we looked at each other. My parents hugged us and expressed words of compassion, but there was nothing in my parents eyes or body language or actual language that suggested they thought it was on them to handle this. And there was nothing — I say in the book, I wanted someone else to just jump in and handle it, but then I say this, literally in the book, “I wanted someone else to handle this, but wait, not, the truth is I didn’t.” I wanted in that moment, and I swear in the book and I won’t swear on your podcast, but I basically say “I realized this is some ‘stuff’” insert swear word, “and this is our ‘stuff’ and we’re going to deal with it as best we can.” And that fire in the moving van turned out to be my “I know I’m adulting moment.” I was already a graduate of law school, I had a job as a lawyer, I had gotten married, I had the trappings of adult life, but the heap of responsibility of having to figure out my way out with my husband of a difficult, challenging situation became the moment I knew, you know what? I’ve got this. And we may not handle it perfectly, but we are going to figure this out. You could almost hear the soundtrack of like “dum ta-ra-ra! They’re going to figure it out!” And we all year for that.
So my point in the book, and I circle back to it in the very end, you’re going to have your adulting moment if you haven’t already. It’s coming. For some people, it’s “Oh my gosh, we’re having the baby sooner than we thought we are going to, and now we are going to, and wow, the baby will grow up fast because it’s a baby!” But for some people it’s “Let’s get a dog and be completely responsible for this living thing.” There are a myriad of ways, there are infinite descriptions of that “Aha, I’m an adult now” moment. But when it happens, as you endure the terror and the fear and the shame or whatever it is, you get to the other side, you’re like “Okay, I’m in. I’m good. Next.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Such a powerful story. I so appreciate your vulnerability on so many levels in the book and sharing so many intimate stories of your own experience. That struck me in that moment, reading that and then even just hearing you retell it now. Yes this isn’t about these artificially moments of walking across the stage for graduation or getting married or even going and enlisting in the military or getting your voting registration cart and all these things that we sort of talked about like the trappings of adulthood, like these are the markers and time of it. This is about, on a very visceral level, recognizing that “Man, it’s me. It is on me. It is about me and I am doing this one way or another” and just that really powerful feeling that you say so well, if it hasn’t come yet, it’s coming for kids. I sat with so many young adults when they have that moment, man that’s a powerful thing for them to experience that and then to come in. I get the honor of them sharing those things and boy, it’s a powerful thing.
Thank you for saying that. I think about Levi, who is one of the people I profiled early in the first chapter, second chapter, “Tag, you’re it: The terror of fending for yourself”, and Levi grew up in Sacramento. He was my Lyft driver, that’s how I know him.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love it.
He drove us when our car broke down. But he said to me, on the long drive home on this Lyft, he said “Julie, I was told I was out at 18. My parents were not going to be there for me after I was 18, I got that message. My mother was poor for most of my life, father was well-off but no child support. A bad situation.” And Levi describes what it was like when he was in an apartment of his own for the first time. His own meaning he was paying the rent, sharing with roommates, and he describes, “I’m lying there in my bed, staring at my ceiling, going to bed, and I think, ‘Wow, I’m really doing it’,” and it felt so good to him to be like, “Hey, wait, I am. I am paying this rent, I do have a job, I am making my way.” There is another person who comes to mind, Amira, who is in the book under the “How To Cope When The You Know What Hits The Fan”, she got a cancer diagnosis on her 25th birthday. She had two dear friends die in a fiery car crash on her 17th birthday. Her birthday has just been a marker of sorrow and she talks about how when you get cancer when you’re 25, you’re like, “This isn’t supposed to be happening.” And of course, none of us ever wants to get cancer. And the younger the person is, the more tragic, somehow, the diagnosis seems. And here she is now, a few years in the healthy zone saying, “You know what? Look how much I’ve learned. Like that was a real adulting moment for me. It came sooner than anyone would have expected, or certainly I never would have asked for it. But look at the clarity I got about what matters and what doesn’t, about how to be compassionate to others and how awful it feels when people aren’t.” Often, these moments that try us, that terrify us for a bit turn out to be these moments of incredible clarity. It’s like the world just gets into sharp focus and the colors are brighter. The way forward is clearer. We know, “Oh, no no no, that does not matter, this is what matters.” So I’m constantly trying to sprinkle through all of these different experiences a glimpse of the myriad of possibilities that life holds with the dominant theme of “And if this happens to you, you will get through it and you will be fine. In fact, better than fine. You will learn from it, therefore you will be stronger.”
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And you do weave so many wonderful life stories and anecdotes from real people’s lives throughout. I don’t want to wrap up our interview without touching on something that comes out of all of those stories, which is the incredible diversity of people and experiences that you cover in the book, and one of the things I really appreciate is that you have a commitment to inclusion that is at the end of the book and also as you’ve been out there starting to promote and talk about the book, you’ve made it clear: This is a really important component of this. So I’d love for you to touch on that.
I appreciate that so much. For listeners who don’t know, I’m a black and bi-racial queer woman, I’m accustomed to reading non-fiction that purports to be for everybody but whose examples largely fall or emanate from a narrow band of the human community, so it’s examples of white folks or straight folks or middle class or upper middle class people, and I always chafe when I read books that purport to teach us all something when the examples don’t seem to be very inclusive, or seem to ignore a whole group of people. When the language itself is just “He, he, he” instead of figuring out how to include all, or when the language seems to refer to only neurotypical people or only people who are straight or only people who have gone to college. There are just so many ways in which we as authors make assumptions in our narrative about who our readers are or about what matters to our readers. So in this book, there definitely is an offering for all humans who might hear me say this, “I’m helping you with adulting”, and respond: “I need that.” I want everybody to feel that I had them in mind when I wrote this book.
So in terms of my own language and the stories I include, I’ve got people from across the gender spectrum, people from many different races, people from the 5 major world religions, poor people, working class people, middle class, upper middle class, wealthy, highly educated, hardly educated, neurodivergent, neurodiverse, neurotypical, people who were raised in foster care, people who have dealt with infertility, people who are close to their families, people who are estranged from their families and so on and so on. I’ve just tried. I’ve got dog owners in here, and boy, dog owners are special — I learned a lot about dogs and I don’t have a dog, in writing this book. And people from all over the country, so I’m just trying to show: Look at the beautiful, rich, complex tapestry of the human experience. Let me try to acknowledge as much of it as I can: I forgot to say, trans folks, genderqueer folks, I try to do that to show the broad sweep of difference and to help readers say, “Wow, totally different walk of life for me, and yet I relate. Wow, we’re not that different.” I think at a political level, what I’m about is: Many of us say “All lives matter” many of us know all lives don’t matter equally in this country, and what I’m trying to do is take those who have historically been marginalized, literally not on the page but in the margins, I’m trying to put their stories on these pages alongside stories — there are plenty of straight, white people in this book. I’m trying to put everyone’s stories in there in order to actively be about and ensure that all lives do matter. We need to be talking about the lives that we often don’t pay attention to, and look at the beautiful stories embedded. I mean think about the story of Jamie, who grew up in California, the child of parents who immigrated from Mexico, who were not very educated, but went on to build a landscaping business for themselves, and Jamie learned the hard way at 9, he was sent back to Mexico to work his grandfather’s peanut farm and earn enough money to fly back home or take a bus, and boy, did he learn humility, perspective and work ethic. I’m delighted that the story of a latino male who was the child of immigrants from Mexico, to have his story in these pages as a way to illuminate the complexity of his story. He is not a stereotype, there is no one who is a stereotype in this book. I’m trying to see people fully as they are, honor them as they are, and what a privilege and a challenge it is to listen to other humans and try to report their story accurately and with integrity, and fingers-crossed, I hope I have done that.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
It’s so beautiful to see the representation of such an incredible cross-section of people, and I think that that’s so important when we think about who this book was really written for. The people that you’re hoping to really reach are in a generation where they are much more aware of and identifying as and thinking about things in a very different way than our generation and our parents’ generation. I think that that really just helps in terms of resonating with the people who this is geared towards, for them to see themselves on these pages and to think, “Ah, this isn’t just somebody way older than me who is stuck in the dark ages who doesn’t get it. I can see myself and my friends and people that I know here.” So I think that’s a really important piece too.
Absolutely. I think they demand it, and they have the right to demand it. Gen Z and younger millennial grew up with an appreciate, not just a tolerance or an understanding that people are different, but really knowing, know every human has their identity and identities and they’re all valid, they’re all of equal worth and so yeah, I wouldn’t dare frankly write a book for this generation that didn’t go some length to be as inclusive as possible, regardless of 2020 and the various aha moments a lot of Americans, and particularly white Americans had about the importance of inclusion or caring about black lives. This generation of readers for whom I’ve been trying to write this book for four years would demand of any author, and rightfully so that we be inclusive. So I do hope they open it and go “Whoa. Yeah. Thank you.” That’s certainly what I’m aiming for.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And on that note, as we wrap up and tell people where they can get the book, I have a question for you, in this book we’re talking mostly to an audience of parents and even professionals right now and I am highly recommending that everyone listening read the book, but we probably have parents thinking: “Okay, my young adult child would benefit from this book.” What’s your recommendation as the author for how we get this book in the hands of a loved one in our lives or in our practices or in our school setting who can benefit from it?
That’s a great question. The book is so new, I’m not sure I have the right answer to that question. I’m curious myself as to how this will play out because the book is written in a narrative directly to the young adult. I try to sit right there next to them on the page, and yet I know their parents who are more likely to be familiar with my work are perhaps the ones who are going to pick up the book first, and I’m very grateful for that. Look, as with anything as parents, if we try to give our kids too much advice, they might tune us out, right? We know when we want to have that tough conversation about the birds and the bees or about what’s going on, we might have to get in the car and just drive and they’re in the passenger seat, and we just talk to the windshield and hope they are listening. There is a little bit of a passivity that works, that allows the kid to not feel imposed upon, so with a book, I think if you happen to be living together, podding up during the pandemic, if you have the book, leave it out on the counter. It might just speak to them, based on the cover and the title. OR you can say, “You know what? I heard this lady and she talked about how sometimes we parents are holding our young adults back, and I saw a little bit of myself in that, so I got this back. And frankly, I think you might love it.” It’s sort of this passive recommendation. That’s what I would urge. Or you could buy it and give it to your kid for high school graduation, college graduation. At some point, young adults themselves will have started reading this, and of course, my hope is that they will see themselves in it and pass it on to each other.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Awesome, my thoughts exactly about how to put it out there. But definitely for all of you listening, get your own copy, read it, read it, read it. I cannot recommend it highly enough, it’s out right now, Julie, let’s make sure everybody knows where they can get it.
Absolutely, thank you. So the book is available wherever books are sold. It is in all formats. If you like the sound of my voice, I recorded the audiobook. I’m supporting my local independent bookstore, I urge you to get it there. If you want to do it online, there is a wonderful outlet called bookshop.org that grew very popular during the pandemic, it’s an online competitor to the big behemoth who shall not be named, and they give a portion of their proceeds to independent booksellers, which is so important in these times. Just to follow me broadly, if I may say, my website is julielythcotthaims.com, that’s my name, all of my social handles, which means Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and perhaps Tiktok, we’re exploring that, all my social handles are jlythcotthaims. So please follow me on whatever platform is your platform of choice. Join the conversation. I’m actually developing a membership club. If you really ‘groc’ with me and want to get into this space of the gooey vulnerability, learning, sharing with one another, being open as we try to grow, you can join that group and grow with me further.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Awesome, and we’ll make sure that we have all those links with the show notes so people can easily access them. Julie, can’t thank you enough for not only taking several years of your life to research and write this book that is so needed, but also for taking time today to talk with us about it, really thank you so much.
Well, I have such respect for you and your community. I am grateful for anyone who has decided to give us a listen. Big picture, Dr. Nicole, I root for humans. I am actually rooting for all of us to make it, and my work is about trying to do my small part to make it so. That’s the place from which this bok emanates.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Love it. Love it. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And thanks to all of you, as always, for being here. We will catch you back here next week for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show.