Life Transitions in Young Adulthood

Adult ISH host Nyge Turner and YR Media contributor Christian Romo feature Elise Hu, author, journalist, and host of TED Talks Daily, to talk about the opportunities life transitions offer to personal evolution.

Life Transitions in Young Adulthood

What kind of adult do you want to be? How do you evolve into that version of yourself?

Adult ISH host Nyge Turner and YR Media youth co-host presenter Christian Romo feature Elise Hu, author, journalist, and host of TED Talks Daily, in a conversation about the challenging steps she took after high school to become an adult. Elise shares why it’s important to ask for help, the power in finding mentors, and gently reminds us that you always have a chance to evolve.

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Episode Transcript

[YR Music]

NYGE: Welcome to Adult ISH – produced by Y-R Media – and brought to you by Radiotopia from PRX. I’m Nyge Turner. 

CHRISTIAN: And I’m Christian Romo. I’ll be helping out with today’s episode about navigating life transitions, including how to keep some sense of control.

ELISE: Feelings can be really powerful to guide our thinking and then from our thinking, then we can take action. So feeling to thinking, thinking to doing. But the worst mistake that we can make is just jump straight from feeling to doing (laughs). And so, during times of transition and times of confusion and chaos or crisis, I have to remember to actually slow it way down. To slow it way down, to remember to be thoughtful about things. 

CHRISTIAN: That’s Elise Hu, author, journalist, and host of TED Talks Daily – a podcast featuring world-leading thinkers from live events dropping knowledge about tech, entertainment, design, and many other topics. 

Before TED, Elise was a host and reporter at NPR. But she still vividly remembers life right after high school and the challenging steps everyone has to climb to become an adult. Let’s kick it off with a little bit of her bio.

ELISE: I was born in the early 80s, so I’m technically a Millennial or an Elder Millennial. But, I feel like there are folks who are born kind of between ‘76 and ‘84, ‘85 that don’t quite identify with the same cultural milestones as Gen Xers or Gen Y, which are Millennials, and so I like to consider myself a Cusper – kind of toggling in between. Because we were growing up with still the memories and in the shadows of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, which was pretty close to the memories of a lot of our parents. But also, we had the internet, and I had cell phones in high school. So it’s kind of toggling this in-between place, which has also allowed us to kind of not have very strong opinions about our particular generational place. 

NYGE: (Laughs) Right. How has that shaped like, how you related to other generations? 

ELISE: I feel like it’s easier to shift as the culture shifts around us. So it’s not hard for me to kind of keep up with or not feel too left behind as my daughter’s generation, which is, I guess she is the tail end of Z or the beginning of [Generation] Alpha. And, as their generation sort of defines culture in their own way, I’m like, “okay, that’s fine. I can go with that.” You know, I don’t feel very resistant to change in the ways that a lot of I think, Gen Xers and certainly Boomers can be. 

NYGE: Well, I’m curious. How like, what pushback did you feel from older generations as you transitioned into adulthood? 

ELISE: Well, there was always the sense that Millennials lacked direction and didn’t want leadership and needed a lot of instruction in order to get things done. There was also the sense that Millennials, as we were coming into the workforce, didn’t want to work hard. Maybe this is what older generations are constantly saying to younger generations… 

NYGE: (Laughter) Right.

ELISE: But, my issue with that is that we shouldn’t have to work harder with each generation. Like, if we believe that technological advance is making things easier and solving a lot of problems and that the old notion of working – a 40-hour workweek, and five days a week, and over time, and all those things – is outdated. It’s based on the early industrial era when people all worked in factories. Then, we should be working less. We should be working less hard. And so, I just reject this notion of constantly being dismissed or disparaged for not stepping up, when Baby Boomers never got out of the way. And so that was kind of my beef that I saw growing up. 

NYGE: Yeah, definitely. That makes a ton of sense. As the host of TED Talks Daily, you’ve been exposed to a master class of examples of people sharing all kinds of transitions in life. What’s an example of one lesson that really hit home with you? 

ELISE: Yeah. So, I get to present TED Talks every day, which means I think I watch hundreds of TED Talks each year. And so there’s a lot of TED Talks that stick with me for various reasons. But people often ask me kind of like, “Which ones are your favorite?” “What do you go to?” The most popular TED Talk of all time is the one about education from Sir Ken Robinson – which, if you haven’t seen it, it is a call to teach our kids differently. It says that education is kind of all wrong, if it’s not allowing kids to do what they do best – which is imagine. So that’s an awesome talk. But, the one that I think about all the time is from Dan Gilbert, who I think is a psychologist and a researcher in psychology.

DAN: All of us are walking around with an illusion. An illusion that history, our personal history has just come to an end, that we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives. At every age from 18 to 68 in our data set, people vastly underestimated how much change they would experience over the next 10 years. 

ELISE: This really cracked something open for me because; and I didn’t even realize that we were living in this kind of illusion, this notion that – okay, who I am today, me Elise today, and you, Nygel, today are fully formed. 

NYGE: Right. 

ELISE: You have finally arrived at the person that you’re going to be. And whether I’m happy, whether I’m sad, whether I’m satisfied, whether I’m dissatisfied – all of that I can judge from this vantage point, in this moment. But that’s such a fallacy because if you look at where you are today and your beliefs, your likes, your dislikes, you know all of your different preferences. Think about how different you are than the person that you were 10 years ago. And yet we don’t expect that the person 10 years from now, the person that you’ll be 10 years from now, is going to be as vastly different. And so it just kind of opened my eyes as to the possibility of change. And because of this, you know, if you’re making a decision to get married, right? Or you’re making a decision, some sort of lifetime decision. The person who made that decision could be a stranger to you 10 years from now and doubly a stranger to you 20 years from now. In which case, the person that you married, if they don’t change in the same way, or they don’t grow with you in the same way, this is how you could easily be estranged from the choice that you made 10 years ago or 20 years ago. And so I think it’s a powerful reminder that we are growing and changing constantly, that nothing is fixed, that we’re always dynamic. This gets into my work a little bit. As somebody who writes a lot about bodily autonomy and beauty culture, that our bodies are also not fixed. Right? So a lot of women are always saying like, I want to get my body back. But back to what? Like what fixed point is what you want to get back to? Because is it high school? 

NYGE: (Laughter) Right. 

ELISE: You know, like what is ideal? Because we are never just stopped. Like time has never just stopped. We’re constantly evolving and growing and dynamic. And I think that’s actually something very hopeful. 

NYGE: Yeah. I think, kind of like you said, that every generation has their, like, kind of cultural milestones, like a specific movie that you can look to that defines your generation. I also feel like every generation has like a year or a time period that they look back to as like the golden ages of their, of their generation. And for my generation, everybody always talks about Summer 2016. 

ELISE: Why Summer 2016? Oh, it was the year before. It was the summer before Trump was elected. 

NYGE: Yeah. 

ELISE: So there’s that. 

NYGE: True. 

NYGE: But everybody always points back to that. I remember on Twitter, it was just always this thing where everybody was like, no matter who I talked to, everybody had an amazing Summer 2016. I always felt left out of that. I did not have an amazing Summer 2016. I went through a horrible breakup, and it was the worst summer ever for me. So I always, I mean, it was a horrible breakup for that time period for being like a year or two years out of high school. It wasn’t like, you know, it wasn’t that bad. But I remember at the time, I was just like, “Man, I don’t like this.”

ELISE: Yeah, but but the bottom line is, and what I think is so hopeful and gives us all hope, is that time is really powerful, and it moves forward, and it transforms our preferences, and it can reshape how we think about things. It can alter our personalities. And we know this only when we’re looking back, when we’re looking back at how much we changed from the Nygel you were in 2016. And the Elise I was in 2016. So only when we look back do we realize how much change happens. But I think that gives us hope. Right? That things are fixed, and that if you are having a bad summer, and if you are having a bad time, then it’s not forever.

NYGE: Right.

ELISE: And that we can also have a lot of hope about how we’re going to change and grow and expand. And that’s why I like to pair the Dan Gilbert talk with another one that was more recent from Shankar Vedantam, who is the host of a podcast called Hidden Brain. He’s a longtime science journalist. And he talks about the same notion. Right? That our future selves are unknowable to us

SHANKAR: Our future cells are also going to have capacities and strengths, and wisdom that we do not possess today. So when we confront opportunities and we hesitate. When I tell myself, “I don’t think I have it in me to quit my job and start my own company.” Or I tell myself, “I don’t have it in me to learn a musical instrument at the age of 52.” Or I tell myself, “I don’t have it in me to look after a disabled child.” What we really should be saying is, “I don’t have the capacity to do those things – today. That doesn’t mean I won’t have the capacity to do those things tomorrow.”

ELISE: Isn’t that nice?

NYGE: Yeah, there’s a ton of, there’s a ton of hope in that. 

ELISE: Yeah. I feel like that whole idea, after spending some time thinking about these TED Talks, is why I started playing tennis. Because I never thought I was very athletic, because of my family. My family is athletic. My dad and my brother especially. And my brother has like a 130-mile-per-hour monster serve. And they were always like, “Ugh, Elise, you look like an octopus getting electrocuted when you play tennis. And it’s so awkward. And you’re so clumsy.” And so, it really shattered my belief that I could actually do things athletic with my body. 

NYGE: Right.

ELISE: But the more I thought about the fact that we have the capacity to change and grow, and this is always – so it’s at 20, it’s at 40, it’s at 90. Then, the more I opened myself up to opportunities or trying things that I had never done before. So, don’t believe that you are “fixed,” and don’t believe the myths about who you are, because who you are is constantly changing. 

NYGE: I kind of feel like you didn’t answer this a little bit already, but given the clips that we’ve heard, how should we think about the, our past and future self? That’s different then the way that we usually do. 

ELISE: The big idea is that your future self is unknowable to you. That you don’t know your future self yet you are going to only understand who you are. In the retrospect, in retrospect, and how you’ve changed in retrospect. But you can’t bet that just because you are this way, today is going to be the same way you are tomorrow. It’s an audacious position, and it’s also a hopeful one. Yeah. It makes me really excited about the future, because things that get me down, like if I fail in some endeavor. It right now, it’s not apparent to me how that failure might actually be directing me towards the path I need to go on. Like, you can only understand that later. 

NYGE: And there is a lot of hope in that as well. But me being perfectly honest, it also is overwhelming because…

ELISE: Yeah!

NYGE: It’s, I mean well, since you’re constantly changing, how do you keep and maintain romantic and even just long-term friendships? 

ELISE: Yeah. Like, does it make us fickle? 

NYGE: Yeah. Just knowing that you’re, that you’re going to change into different people. 

ELISE: Well, I might change my mind. 

NYGE: Yeah. How do you approach that? 

ELISE: I was listening to Adam Grant, who also hosts a podcast for the TED network, and he is a business and behavioral economist at Wharton. And he was talking about the difference between our values and our beliefs. In that, your values are what you think is important, and your beliefs are what you think is true. And so if one of your values is curiosity, then your beliefs can change because what you think is true can change based on new information. But your values stay the same because that is something that is important to the core of who you are. So I think that in the face of this knowledge that we can change our beliefs all the time and change our preferences. Stay true to your values. Because those values can be really core to who you are. And I know for me, growth is one of my values. Curiosity is one of my values. And so if I hold true to that and there are some things about me that are fixed, my values and those haven’t changed. I think they’ve been very helpful and centering as I’ve grown up and gone through various ups and downs. 

[BREAK w/ YR Music]

CHRISTIAN: Now, let’s get back to our conversation with Elise Hu and hear how many of her transitions weren’t just mental or emotional.

ELISE: Yeah, I feel like the transition points in my life tended to involve a move, like a geographical move. And so they were clearly-defined transitions. For example, I was born and raised in Saint Louis, Missouri, in a very lily-white suburb that I’m really glad I got out of. I love Missouri, and I love St. Louisans, but I felt as though I was constantly part of an out-group or just even isolated because there were so few people of color. And so, moving away from Saint Louis into Texas at the start of my ninth-grade year was really big for me, and I think that opened up a whole different world and different possibility for me. And then, I ended up going back to Missouri for college to study at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, and following that time in college, we had this something we call the “Lost Summer.” It’s sort of like your summer of 2016 Nygel, the great summer, except for you personally. 

NYGE: (Laughter) 

ELISE: But yeah, we have this “Lost Summer.” It was a summer after college graduation and before any of us had to get real jobs. And this really lives on in a lot of me and my journo grad friends’ minds. Because it was this platonic ideal in which we were adults, we were like fully grown adults. We were all like 21 or 22, and everything was ahead of us. It was nothing but possibility, nothing but open road ahead of us, but no actual responsibilities. It was just a weekend all the time for an entire summer. So that was a big, really meaningful time, I think, in terms of just bonding and developing friendships. I ended up getting my first job in Waco, Texas – where I was making minimum wage, so I think less than $17,000 a year, and had to live on that. And then I got burglarized when I was living in Waco. So I had to deal with a whole bunch of tribulation in the first years of adulting. And I think that it changed me in that, now I have a really loose, or I have this understanding of the ephemerality of things like physical objects, clothes or golf clubs or musical instruments because those were the things that got stolen from my apartment. So now I have this mindset of thinking, “Gosh, the most important things about who we are and our connections to one another are actually not material objects. They’re not things that a burglar could steal from you.” And then another big one. I worked as a TV reporter for several years, and then I left television news and got engaged the same year – 2009, I think, to start the Texas Tribune, which is a nonprofit digital news start-up in which I was employee number three and my journalist fiance was employee number two. So this is the first time that, and I think we were the only couple that was hired by that organization. We had to like, buy trash cans for the office because that’s how new it was. And like how all-hands-on-deck it was to start something from scratch. And I liked starting from scratch so much. And that feeling of energy and electricity of it so much that I feel as though I’ve always been chasing that in my career, this, this notion of newness and innovation. And so after I got hired away from Texas to go to D.C. to work for NPR, what I was doing at NPR was a startup within an institution. I was doing this whole new state government reporting project, so we were starting something new again. And then I had this opportunity to leave and move to Seoul and open a bureau for NPR, which was starting from scratch and so bureaucratic and all the visas and getting residency and just the business licenses and the lawyers to just open up business in another country whose language I didn’t speak. Now I still barely speak it, but it was so challenging. But also, it felt similar to starting in the Texas Tribune, where you’re just traversing new ground and doing something for the very first time. And that I think all these kinds of transitions have shaped me and helped build a kind of resilience in me too. Not only that I might lose things to burglary in Waco, Texas, but also that there is always so much possibility. So if things do get torn down, that you can start again. And that, I think, is a real through-line to a lot of my career and my life. 

NYGE: Yeah, definitely. So, rewinding a little bit, something that we’ve been talking a lot about this season too is just making that transition into adulthood and managing the emotions. And, all of the big things that come with that, all of those huge changes that come with that. So for your transition between college and landing your first job, how did you manage all those changes and challenges from that transition? 

ELISE: I called friends and family a lot. I rely on asking for help. And the older I get, the more I realize that that might be my superpower. That asking for help is so crucial because humans are wired for belonging, and we need each other, and we are all connected to one another in a big giant web. But capitalism and competition can often alienate us from one another or isolate us from one another such that it feels as though we’re looking over our shoulders or in competition. But instead, if you resist that notion that we’re in some sort of race because none of us are going to win that, and just remember that instead we’re actually in a web and in a network, and we need each other. Then hopefully, it helps remind us that we can ask for help and that people near us are often struggling with the same thing. I really regret not reaching out, for example, and finding solidarity with other people of color when I was constantly outnumbered in my early newsrooms. Right? Because I was feeling I was getting kind of the micro-aggression or getting confused with the other Asian girl and things like that, which were great opportunities for actually befriending the other folks that were confronting the same things, and so asking for help forging those friendships, that’s what got me through. You have to learn how to trust people and know that you’re not on your own. You know that people are often really willing to be there for you. I remember I often kind of looked to mentors. I wanted to have people who had already been through things or people who were really great writers. I would try and learn from them and try and befriend them, and I think that’s really important. And I and so many of my mentors are the reason why I’ve done so many of the things that I’ve gotten to do and had the privilege to start, but something that we shouldn’t overlook is reaching out to your peers and seeing your peers and your successors as mentors, too. So I think that’s what really got me through. If there’s anything that I really want to impart on any podcast that I’m on or in any conversation that I have, it’s that we are all works in progress. 

NYGE: Right. 

ELISE: Another big life transition was obviously the pandemic year. You know, too. That was huge. And it was like, so destabilizing and rocked all of us in various ways. But that was the year I decided to break up with my husband, too, and split up and begin the process of divorce. And so we were Zoom schooling our kids and trying to nest. And “nesting” is this idea that, like, the kids don’t move from house to house.

NYGE: Yeah. 

ELISE: The parents come in and out of it. So it was so wild. Like, no school. No, like daycare. You’re having to parent all day. You’re still trying to work. And then me and my ex-husband, like, didn’t have a permanent home. And, so it was really crazy. But, I also think that it was such a fruitful period. Now, looking back, because we can only understand ourselves in retrospect. But, you know, you just have to take it one day at a time. Feelings can be really powerful to guide our thinking. And then from our thinking, then we can take action. So feeling to thinking, thinking to doing. But the worst mistake that we can make is just jump straight from feeling to doing. 

NYGE: Right. 

ELISE: And so during times of transition and times of confusion and chaos or crisis, I have to remember to actually slow it way down, to slow it way down, to remember to be thoughtful about things. 

[YR Music]

CHRISTIAN: Again, that’s Elise Hu. Author, journalist, and host of TED Talks Daily. You can find her on Instagram @EliseWho and we’ll have links to her website and the TED Talks Daily episodes you heard Elise talk about at our show page: YR.Media/Adult-ISH, that’s YR.Media/Adult-ISH.

Change is inevitable, but that also means it creates new opportunities for each of us. The choices we make today, tell us who we are in this moment, but not necessarily who we’ll become in the future. 

As for me, I’m planning to give my past self the gift of compassion, give my present self the gift of patience, and give my future self the gift of possibilities. 

[YR Music]

NYGE: Adult ISH is produced by YR Media, a national network of young artists and journalists creating content for this generation.

Our show is produced by Fredia Lucas, Dominique French, and by me: your boy, Nyge Turner.

Our Engineer is James Riley, and our Audio Engineering Fellow is Christian Romo.

CHRISTIAN: YR’s Director of Podcasting is Sam Choo.

YR’s Senior Director of Podcasting and Partnerships is Rebecca Martin.

NYGE: Our interns are Menelik Ransom and Jalen Black.

Original music for this episode created by these young musicians at YR: Christian Romo, Anders Knutstad, Noah Holt, Jacob Armenta, Chaz Whitley, Michael Diaz, Sean Luciano Galarza, and David Lawrence. Music direction by Oliver “Kuya” Rodriguez and Maya Drexler. 

CHRISTIAN: Creative direction by Pedro Vega Jr. Designs by Jess Smolinski, Marjerrie Masicat, and Brigido Bautista. Project management by Eli Arbreton. Special thanks to Kathy Chaney and Kyra Kyles.

NYGE: Adult ISH is a proud member of Radiotopia from PRX, a network of independent creator-owned, listener-supported podcasts. Discover audio with vision at

And if you haven’t reviewed our show on Spotify or Apple Podcasts, please be sure to do so. Five stars is much-appreciated.

You can follow us on all the socials at @YRAdultISH. And on that note, we’ll see y’all later.

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