When I think about leaving home for the first time, I have a specific memory in mind.
I was heading off to my first year of college, standing on the edge of Boston Common on a particularly sunny and cool late-August morning. I’d just hugged my parents goodbye and turned around to wave at them, catching a glimpse of them both sniffling.
If my parents were feeling conflicting emotions at that moment, it was nothing compared to what I was going through. I was excited and terrified in equal parts. I felt like a bird who’d just leaped out of the nest and had to start flapping, or else… SPLAT.
You’ll go through something like this at some point, too, though your leap from the nest may look very different.
Perhaps you left your childhood home at a younger age or graduated from high school and stuck around for a while. Maybe your first move away from home was to college or to an apartment in a city (or another country altogether).
Whatever it looks like, it can be a tough transition. There will be awkward stumbles, moments of exhilarating adventure, and tough lessons you aren’t expecting.
But, there are some things you can do as you’re preparing (or just after) you’ve left home for the first time to make this transition easier.
Here are some of my best suggestions from a bird who’s taken the leap and learned how to fly (pretty well, anyway).
College isn’t the only option
I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.
—Jimmy Dean, singer and entrepreneur
Going to college is kind of like a half-step to adulthood. You have much more freedom and independence, but you’re still in a relatively safe and supportive environment.
You have access to resources like professors, counselors, and peer groups, and you can experiment with different classes and activities without too many consequences. If you’ve signed up for room and board, then your housing and food are all taken care of as well.
But college isn’t for everyone, and it’s not the only option. There are plenty of alternatives to college that can lead to a fulfilling and successful life. Maybe you want to go straight into the workforce, or maybe you want to travel and explore the world. Maybe you want to start your own business or pursue a creative passion.
Whatever path you choose, it’s important to remember that there’s no one “right” way to do things. You don’t have to follow the same path as your friends or parents. You can carve your own path based on your own interests, passions, and goals.
Invest in your friendships now
Making friends as an adult is just as nerve-wracking as it was in school. Rejection still stings. And no matter how cool or successful you are, you still want people to like you.
In your 20s, you’re surrounded by people going through similar experiences, whether that’s college, a first job, or a new city. You have opportunities to meet new people through work, classes, clubs, and social events.
But as you get older, people start to settle into relationships, have kids, and move away. It gets harder to make new friends, and the friendships you do have require more effort to maintain.
That’s why it’s so important to invest in your friendships now so your besties will stick around. Of course, you will naturally lose touch with some of the friends you make in your 20s. But being a good friend to your social circle now means those who vibe with you will still be there when you’re older, no matter how your lives change.
What exactly does it mean to be a good friend? Be there for them when they need someone to talk to, be honest with your own feelings, and be mindful of their needs and wants. Make time for them (even when you’re busy), and be thoughtful. And when you inevitably have those challenging moments in your friendship, persevere, apologize, and make the relationship stronger as a result.
Use this time to experiment with who you are
Always be a first-rate version of yourself, instead of a second-rate version of somebody else.
—Judy Garland, actress and singer
There is no better time for experimentation than your early twenties. But before I dig into that, let me give a huge caveat:
Experimenting and trying new things is all well and good, as long as you do everything with love and respect for yourself and others involved. This means keeping yourself and those you encounter safe from harm as best you can—that’s your responsibility as an adult and a human on this earth.
If we’re clear, then please take my advice and experiment like a mad scientist after leaving home.
Try new hobbies.
Interact with people from different backgrounds and age groups.
Eat weird foods.
Sample different career opportunities.
Explore the world around you (as much as your budget allows).
Every time you try something new, you’re giving yourself the chance to discover a passion you never knew you had or learn something new about yourself.
And that will go a long way toward preventing a quarter-life crisis, which can sneak up on you when you get into your twenties and begin to wonder who you are and what your purpose is in life.
I promise you, experimenting now will make a quarter-life crisis much easier to avoid. You’ll learn what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want—and it will guide you through this decade toward a life that brings you joy. But only if you can shake off your fear and walk new paths.
Lean into being a grown-up sooner rather than later
In youth we learn; in age we understand.
—Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach, psychological novelist
I’m a firm believer that adults who stay playful and maintain a sense of humor as they get older live happier lives.
But you can still maintain your sparkle and learn how to adult at the same time. Leaning into the intimidating (and often boring) parts of adulthood may not feel natural at first. But the sooner you start doing it, the easier and faster you’ll progress in this stage of your life.
Leaving home requires a big change in your mindset. You’re not living at home anymore, and even if it’s not always fun, you need to learn how to take care of yourself. You can get ahead of your peers if you actively start building skills like cooking healthy and delicious meals, keeping your space clean, paying bills, and hunting for jobs.
Get good at these things so you can focus your energy sooner on the more fun parts of thriving on your own.
Unlock the power of patience
Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.
Patience is one of the hardest things to master in your twenties, but it’s SO important. This is because so much of your twenties is about laying the groundwork for what’s to come.
In a similar vein, patient people who are easygoing tend to be more flexible, adaptable, and open-minded. They’re able to go with the flow and adjust to changing circumstances. This can be particularly useful in the workplace, where priorities and projects can shift quickly.
Of course, being patient and easygoing doesn’t mean you should let others take advantage of you or that you should never speak up for yourself. It simply means that you approach situations with a calm, relaxed demeanor and a willingness to adapt and adjust as needed.
Budget your money, even if you don’t have much right now
The goal isn’t more money. The goal is living life on your terms.
—Chris Brogan, author and marketing consultant
As someone who worked throughout college, I empathize with the cashflow struggles that many people face shortly after leaving home. For years, my bank account hovered around zero, and a lot of stress and anxiety came with that.
Fortunately, I eventually overcame my finance-phobia, but delaying it for so many years makes me cringe. What would my financial situation be like now if I’d had more courage to think about money earlier on?
Don’t make the same mistake. Use this budget template for starters, and check out the other resources as well.
Work on developing some of these valuable soft skills
Soft skills get little respect but they will make or break your career.
—Peggy Klaus, author and leadership expert
As you build your career path, you’ll naturally pick up skills for your job through school, training, or work experience. However, there are essential soft skills that can increase your value as an employee and help you land a higher-paying role.
Though you will learn many of these soft skills naturally throughout your life, you can speed things up by researching them (see resources below), seeking feedback from your colleagues and supervisors, taking on new responsibilities, or completing training courses or seminars—you get the idea.
Above all else, treat yourself with gentle respect
Self-care is not a waste of time. Self-care makes your use of time more sustainable.
—Jackie Viramontez, author and relationship expert
My final tip is perhaps the most important because, without it, you won’t be able to achieve anything else on this list.
Throughout your life, but especially in moments of transition like the one you’re in now, it’s crucial to be kind to yourself. Love yourself first so you can keep moving forward without burning out or harming yourself. Focus on progress, not perfection, and remember that mistakes and setbacks are a natural part of the learning process.
Learn how to practice mindfulness so that you can find the calm space to reflect on your path and choices—this is vital to growing up and maintaining peace.
Be kind and gentle to yourself and take the time you need to spread your wings and start soaring.