Be An Adult and Take Charge of Your Life

Adulting 101

Growing up is hard to do. Pete Hardesty, coauthor of the book Adulting 101, talks with College Talks & More hosts Hanna and Cari about how to successfully transition into adult life. Not only is he an author, but for the past 23 years, he has worked for the Young Life organization. Young Life focuses on adolescents and what matters to them. He helps young people have a chance to succeed in life. He does this by providing mentoring, tutoring, and providing general help with life skills.

I found your book Adulting 101 to be very informative. Some of your tips and ideas I already knew, but most of them have really shed light onto things I could be doing better. Let’s take time to dig deeper into this book and figure out how to adult successfully. Pete, could you please introduce yourself and tell us a little bit more about your educational and professional background?

Pete Hardesty, Author of Adulting 101

My name is Pete Hardesty. I live right outside of Washington, DC. I’m from Baltimore, Maryland. I grew up in Baltimore, and then I went down to University of Virginia for my undergrad work. And then I crammed my three years of grad school into about 17. And I got my Masters of Divinity in 2016.

Why did you and Josh decide to write this book?

We realized that high school or college doesn’t prepare us for the real world, like it should. I worked at James Madison University in Virginia for 13 years. I saw these really bright, really sharp college students that were not prepared. They not ready to enter the real world with real life skills. I saw a guy who was really, really smart not know which was the sending and which was the return address on an envelope. Then another guy came and was writing a check for something, and he didn’t know what went where. I thought, “Wait a second. These are really great kids, and they’re not ready to enter the real world.” Josh and I thought we could add another resource to help students really launch them into success when they enter the real world.

Who is Josh Burnett to you? And how did you collaborate on this?

Josh Burnette, Author of Adulting 101

I met Josh when I was working at James Madison, and he was a student. I was a mentor to him, and he is just one of those rock stars that succeeds in everything he does. He did several things right after college, but now he’s an owner-operator of a Chick-fil-A near Virginia Beach, Virginia. He’s from Chesapeake, Virginia. I got to know him. He volunteered for Young Life while he was in college, mentoring some students at one of the local high schools. That’s how we connected.

Who should consider buying your book and why?

Anyone who is wanting to prepare themselves for the real world. It’s really geared towards seniors in high school, juniors and seniors in college, or 20-somethings. Anyone who’s about to take that leap into working full time. I think there’s some value that we can provide in the book.

I really liked your description of your mentor, Jack. So I’m curious, do you use Jack’s quote, “Have you ever seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul” when you’re speaking to young people that you help? And can you explain what that quote means?

I still use that quote, if you can believe it. I’ve known Jack for a long time, and he actually passed away a few years back. His funeral was one of those ones that had a thousand people at it. He mentored people all over the world and was really a caring individual. I got to meet with him when I was living in Virginia Beach. I met with him every couple of weeks. I think his question kind of has rung true in my mind, and also it’s helped me figure out what does matter to me in this life. And I want to run full steam ahead towards that. You can’t take it all with you when you die.

What are some common mistakes that you see young people making today, and how should someone avoid making these mistakes?

Reflecting on what’s important

I can definitely speak from my own journey and my own experience. I made many, many mistakes. In fact, I wanted to name this book, “Learn From My Mistakes That Almost Derailed My Life”, but the publisher didn’t think that was as catchy as “Adulting“. I think one of the biggest mistakes young people make is not getting a hold on your finances, because money has this kind of grip on our life. When you have a shortage, when you have a scarcity of money, and you have an emergency, it can cause a lot of stress in your life. If you get a flat tire, and you don’t have the money to fix that flat tire, the emotion and stress in your life skyrockets. It causes anxiety. I think the first thing to do is have a ledger, write out all your expenses, and then write out all your assets. Use that ledger to create a budget.

The second biggest mistake young people make is not making decisions around what’s most important to you. You’re not figuring out what your priorities are in life, because so much stuff comes at you really fast when you graduate either high school or college. You go to work in the real world, all this stuff comes at you, and you can go a year and not see friends that are important to you, not see family. You’re not doing the things that are most important to you because of the pace and the noise of your life. Right now, life is so fast and so loud that it can alter and disorient our priorities.

I think a good thing to do is just take an hour at a Starbucks or a Panera. Get a bagel, sit, and just think about what’s most important to you. Reflect on how can you can write those things into your life, into your daily or weekly schedule. If you don’t seize that time, someone else, or something else will seize it for you. If you get those priorities into your schedule, then you’ll actually be doing what’s most important to you. And you’ll be becoming who you want to be.

When you talk about budgeting in Adulting 101, why is it so important that a percentage of your pay goes to charity?

I think one of the laws of reality is that we reap what we sow, right? Giving towards charity, or if you’re a person of faith, towards your place of worship (your mosque, your church, your temple, your synagogue) or giving to a charity, releases the grip that money has on our life and our heart. We need that. We need to remind ourselves over and over and over again, that money is a good means to an end, but it’s not the end. That’s why budgeting can help. Giving allows us to put others as a priority, and it allows us to have clear thinking around money. It releases the hold that money has on us. I personally sponsor a child through the Compassion organization.

In your book, you say everyone has a wake that they leave behind, just like the kind that a boat leaves behind. If you had to describe your wake, what would it look like?

We are all leaving a wake behind us

It would be very windy because of a lot of mistakes that I’ve made. There are very few mistakes that you can’t recover from. I think my wake would be a windy place of learning. I think some of the most important things is looking back and learning from our mistakes. A failure can be a success if we learn from it. I also think a good, challenging question is, “If you look behind you, who is following you? Who have you invested into, who have you helped?” Those can be very convicting questions. Another good question is, ” If you close your eyes and image your funeral, what would it look like?” In one sense, it’s a little bit morbid, but it gets you thinking.

We don’t like to think about death, but in another sense, it can be clarifying to who will be there. One of the principles of highly effective people is to begin with the end result in mind. It’s okay to begin with the end result of your life in mind. We don’t know whether that end might come today, tomorrow, or in 50 years, but we’re not in control of that. Let’s try to live every day, seize each day, and live it as best we can. It is good to think about the end and our funeral. Who do we want to be there? What would we want people to say about us? What would we want to be known for? Then take steps to go in that direction. That’s what it means to leave a wake. We’re all leaving a wake. The most important thing in that wake is the people we have shown up for in their life, maybe in crisis times, or maybe just when they needed help. It can be family, it can be friends. Everybody has someone they can positively impact. A lot of times we just need to look around and see who’s around us.

Can you give us some advice on how a young person can communicate professionally and effectively?

Dress more professionally than others in your office

Something that I’ve always shared with my students is don’t give other people the chance to judge you. People are going to judge us, right? I judge people, everybody judges people. Whether we say it or not, we make snap judgements. We have first impressions. Why would you give people a chance to underestimate you, dismiss you, or to judge you? Don’t give other people a chance to say, “They’re 22, they’re 23, they don’t know what they’re doing.” I always say dress a little bit more professional than others in your office. You don’t want to be pushing the boundary the other way. Always dress a little bit better than your boss or whoever you’re around. Most of the students, and most of the people I know that are entering the real world, actually air on the wrong side of being too casual, dressing down, not dressing the part. People will treat you how you dress. If you dress in flip flops and board shorts to an environment that does not support that, you might not be the first person that people look to when they need help with a project.

When it comes to emails, you might have a good relationship with your boss. That’s okay. But when you’re sending an email to a group, or a group in business, you want to get right to the point. Only include the people that are supposed to read it and have a great subject line. You want to be more professional than you think you need to be. Then you can have someone tell you, “Oh, hey, you can lessen that. You can loosen it up.” Take cues from your boss.

What are some of the challenges that you faced transitioning from college to adult life? Is there anything that you would have done differently?

Cooking for yourself

I would have learned a bunch of basic life skills. I would have learned how to cook a couple meals, even when I was in college. Most people have the most discretionary free time that they’ll have in their entire life while they’re in college. So I would learn how to cook a couple meals. I would have made a list of my priorities, such as making a list of the friends and family that I wanted to stay in touch with. I would have started a couple of traditions earlier. I have a couple now, but I would have started them right from college. If you live with a couple of girls or a couple of guys right now, you might want to be friends for life. Set aside some days every year where you dedicate time to get together. I still get together with the seven guys that I lived with my senior year of college. It’s a weekend I look forward to and it’s very life giving. I think one of the other challenges I faced was money. I worked for a non-profit, and my first year salary was $13,500. My monthly rent was $350 or $375. I learned how to live on nothing. I wouldn’t want to go through that again. It was a challenge, and I didn’t really budget. Whatever I had at the end of the month, that’s what I used. Instead of putting money toward the priorities, I just tried to make do with whatever I had.

How do personal and professional relationships play a part in being an adult?

Your relationships are some of the biggest parts of being an adult. We are our relationships. If you think of our days in thirds, usually a third of our day is work, a third of our day is sleep, and then a third is the rest of everything we’re going to do. Those professional relationships are so important, and the personal ones, of course, are adulting. If you were in school, and now you’re in the work world, you might have moved to a new city. You might not have any friends. Now you have to learn how to make new friends, whether professional or personal. Life looks different, and you have less spare time. When you were at college, it was easier to make friends. You meet people when you eat, at your dorm, or at the rec center. But now you’re in a cubicle, or in a small office, for nine hours a day and only know two or three people. How do you meet someone? If you move to a new city, those relationships are such an important, vital part of learning how to be in real life.

One of your mentors said we should hold a crown above other people’s heads and let them grow into it. Can you explain this a little bit farther and tell us what it means?

This has become one of my life mottoes. I try to make it a life theme. One of my mentors named Pat would say, “We hold a crown above other people’s heads and let them grow up into it.” It means we dream for other people. We see their potential, and that’s kind of holding that crown above their heads, and then helping them grow up into it. Everybody has great potential inside of them. I’ve tried to make it a life principle to help release that potential, to help them become who they’re meant to be. This can be mentoring people. This can be in your family. A lot of times it just takes someone believing in someone else. It really does work.

Young Life Organization

Can you tell us a little bit about young life and how were you first introduced to that organization?

I got introduced to Young Life as a freshman in high school. It was where I found faith a couple of years later. It wasn’t immediate, but a couple years later, I had an experience with God. The organization has had a tremendous influence on me. I volunteered with Young Life during college at a local middle school. It’s been my career ever since college, they can’t get rid of me. I’ve been working for them for 23 years. The most important thing from Young Life has been these incredible friendships I’ve made. I’m really grateful to Young Life for what my life has turned out to be.

What is the weirdest thing you have every eaten?

Person holding a scorpion

I’ve eaten a lot of weird things, but the weirdest is a scorpion. I was in China, outside of Beijing. I was at a street fair, and it has some crazy food. They were serving bats, rodents, and scorpions on a stick. The scorpions were alive, and they would flash fry them. Then you eat them. I thought I might not ever get to eat a scorpion again, so I thought, “Let’s do this.” It actually wasn’t terrible. It tasted like burnt popcorn.

Why did it take you so long to complete your Master’s in Divinity degree?

It’s because I had a full time job while I was completing my degree. I was chipping away at it, doing two or three classes a year instead of going full time. I’ve often wondered if I would do it differently now that I’ve completed my degree, some days I would, some days I wouldn’t.

I read the book Wonder, and in it, Augie says that everyone deserves a standing ovation. Have you ever gotten a standing ovation?

I agree with Augie that everyone deserve a standing ovation. I’ve gotten a couple in my life. We have a lot of camps in Young Life, and I’ve gotten the privilege to speak at some of them. There’s usually about 500 kids a week at a camp. I gave a couple going away speeches when I was leaving Virginia Beach (I had worked there for 7 years) and Harrisonburg (I had worked there for 13 years). And after each going away speech, I got a standing ovation. They sure make you feel encouraged. That’s for sure.

Are you and Josh planning on writing another book together?


Yes, we are writing a follow up book to Adulting 101, and I think it will be titled “Adulting 101 Book 2.” It’s in the editing phase right now. The first book Adulting 101 is about adulting on the outside. Our new book will be about adulting on the inside. It’s about knowing yourself, knowing others, leading yourself, and leading others. It’s about social media, technology, and how much of them we allow into our lives. The last half of the book, which I am really excited about, is about mental health. We have two chapters each on anxiety, loneliness, and depression. We include a backstory for each and explain what anxiety, loneliness, and depression means. We incorporate strategies on how to battle mental health issues and how to combat them. We recruited a team of five therapists and counselors from across the country, and they all contributed to those chapters. The book should be released April 2021.

What other advice would you give young people on transitioning from college to the real world?

Don’t compare yourself to other people. Comparison is a death trap. People tend to compare themselves to others on social media. Social media is image curation, it’s usually not the truth. One of your friends will seem to have the best job, the best friends, and they seem to step right into this great life. Remember, they’re only posting the best posts and images. They’re not posting on a Friday night when they are lonely.

Entry level job

Also, your first job is not your forever job. It’s not your last job. You might need to do a job that you don’t absolutely love after graduation. Entry level jobs are just that – entry level. It’s OK to work your way up. I would say, “Work so, so, so hard.” Hard work solves a multitude of problems and challenges. You can do it. Millions and millions of people have done it before you. A lot of them might not have the support system you have. You can make it through some of these challenges and obstacles, because so many people have done it before and paved the way.

Please support the author, Pete Hardesty, by purchasing his book Adulting 101.

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