When I was 10 years old, I wanted to be a gymnast. At 15 years old, I wanted to be a journalist. At 20 years old, I wanted to be a teacher. And at 25 years old, I just wanted to be happy…

At almost 30 years old – on the verge of yet another major career change and international move with my husband, the goal is … to at least be able to finally afford buying a real couch for my living room – one of those L-shaped sectionals that I could just sink into after a long day of work.

At the age of 29, I am now on the tail-end of a stage in life called “Emerging Adulthood,” but I definitely don’t have it all figured out.

The subject of “Emerging Adulthood” is what Counseling intern Hannah Trible described during In-Service Training she conducted in early February at the Maxine Platzer Women’s Center. During Trible’s presentation, as the current Communications Assistant at the Women’s Center, I found myself completely identifying with the following traits of the “quarter-life crisis.”

Psychology Researcher Jeffrey Arnett’s Five Characteristics:

  1. Identity Explorations: Who am I? Love, work and worldview?
  2. Feeling In-between: Am I an adult? In some ways, yes; in some ways, no.
  3. Self-Focus: Figuring myself out is my job right now. I want to do it before I’m responsible for anyone else.
  4. Instability: Dealing with the ever-changing “Plan.”
  5. Possibilities/Optimism: Greatest variety of opportunities, high hopes for the future.

The presentation was a concise summary of Trible’s ongoing research for her capstone project in her Master’s program in Counseling at James Madison University, which she will complete this May. The basis of the presentation was the definition of the term “Emerging Adulthood” in Arnett’s words:

“A new theory of development from the late teens through twenties, with a focus on ages 18-25 [or 18-29]. Emerging adulthood is distinguished by relative independence from social roles and from normative expectations [known as ‘Role Moratorium’]. Having left the dependency of childhood and adolescence, and having not yet entered the enduring responsibilities that are normative in adulthood, emerging adults often explore a variety of possible life directions in love, work and worldviews.”

In Trible’s project, she has focused on studying the developmental needs of emerging adults, asking “how can we as counselors, or peers, or parents or co-workers, support and facilitate that development both by understanding it and finding ways to offer tools to emerging adults so they can feel successful during this period of time that can be pretty uncertain and kind of scary.”

Trible became interested in this topic when her classes at JMU touched upon a phase of life that she currently found herself.

“It was fascinating to learn that there was a name for it and a theory developing around it and that it fits with my experience. The biggest thing is to kind of normalize the excitement but also anxiety of it. To realize, ‘No wonder this is a difficult time.’”

Trible, herself, was not sure what she wanted to pursue as a career when she was in undergrad at U.Va. In her fourth year as an English and Anthropology major, she realized that she wanted to learn “how to listen to people in a way that is helpful.” So close to the completion of her degree, she decided to finish and return to grad school three years later to study Counseling.

At JMU, she was grateful to have found a program that addressed “the full person,” with faculty dedicated to helping students find themselves as people, not just learning how to be a counselor. Trible called her time at JMU a “transformative experience.”

“[…So much of the experience is] Who are you in the room? What are you bringing? What are your potential hang-ups? It’s hard to help someone else sort through their stuff if your stuff is all mixed in with the relationship, so the program has been a really great learning experience.”

Trible found herself at the Women’s Center after meeting Counseling Services Director Charlotte Chapman at the Virginia Counselors Association conference. She had seen Chapman and Women’s Center Trauma Counselor Margaret Edwards present on Motivational Interviewing. Impressed with the presentation, Trible spoke with the director of her Master’s program who said the Women’s Center was a possibility for her internship in her final year.

“[…] It’s been really amazing to be here – I love the environment,” Trible said of the Women’s Center. “Working with trauma has been brand-new to me, and it has become a lens that I will carry with me as a counselor. It’s shaping who I am as a beginning counselor to see what trauma looks like and what we can do about it. It’s been great to be here.”

In November of 2014, Chapman and Trible presented Motivational Interviewing with the Emerging Adult at the VCA conference.

After earning funding from Grace Episcopal Church in Red Hill, VA, Trible has expanded her research during the 2014-2015 school year by creating a pilot program called “The Something Potluck.” Part of her capstone project for her Master’s is a proposal to say this group or format could work to support the developmental needs of the emerging adulthood.

Each month, Trible invites a group of around 12-14 people in their 20s or 30s, for a potluck dinner. After about an hour, to begin the discussion, she poses a question that’s relevant to the topic of the month. Everyone writes answers on notecards (omitting names) and throws them into a bowl in the middle of the room. Group members take turns passing around the bowl and picking out a card to read aloud.

“[…] You hear a lot of repeated themes, so you don’t know who said what exactly but you know that you’re not the only one who feels this particular way […] It’s a way to start the conversation that feels deep and genuine.”

After reading the answers, there is open discussion and reflection. At some point, Trible offers a bit of research to continue the conversation. The group closes with the same Q&A format at the beginning using the notecards but the closing question is always “What are you taking away from today, and/or, how do you want to apply something from today to your life until we meet again?”

Trible has found members for the group through referral and through mutual friends. She seeks participation from those who are at least a year or two out from college graduation, or who didn’t take a traditional college or career path (e.g. no formal education after high school, part- or full-time community college or those who took time off before college or before finding a job after college). In her work, she has noted that most current college students already have support networks, so that this group would serve that kind of “in-between” community.

Before each meeting starts, she gathers basic demographics like age, race and occupation, as well as asks participants to sign a release form that indicates the discussion may contribute to her research. The form gives permission for Trible to write about what’s on the notecards in her capstone project. All information is shared anonymously so there are no names mentioned in her research. If someone doesn’t want to sign the form, he or she is welcome to stay, and the card is then taken out of the pile before the end of the night.

Each month is a different, timely theme:

  • September: Introduction to “Emerging Adulthood: Playing Grown-up”
  • October: “The Urban Tribe” – friends that turn into family for this period of time between when leaving family and creating your own
  • November: “Family Matters” – What’s your relationship with your family as you are becoming more of an adult? What’s your role in your family now?
  • January: “Choices”
  • February: “Love, Etc.” – love, relationships, singlehood, divorce, etc.

Trible reassures that one does not need to go to all sessions, but that it does help to create a sense of community and a development of an overall theme over time.

Her vision is that the group might continue to expand and grow so that she would be leading groups different days of the week, or even training group leaders who would then go on to create their own “Something Potluck.” Trible hopes to continue working with emerging adults and would like to remain in the Charlottesville area for her residency, after graduation and finishing her internship at the Women’s Center.

“[…] The takeaway point of this research and ‘The Something Potluck’ is about supporting people during a really ambiguous time of life, which is both really exciting and scary. My big goal is encouraging emerging adults to feel like they’re doing a good job because it can be hard to feel successful when there is so much change, so much ambiguity and so much choice. Just being able to master being in a state of uncertainty is, in itself, a success. Providing support and encouragement to emerging adults is a big part of what this work is about.”

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If interested in participating in Trible’s next “Something Potluck” group on Feb. 26, please email her at hbt2d@virginia.edu

Story by Agnes Filipowski

Photo by Fareine Suarez

Image is a screen grab from Hannah Trible’s presentation