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I’m writing this post from St. Louis, where I just spent a lovely weekend visiting with four of my closest friends from college. It was the first time we had all been together in at least five years, so we had a lot of catching up to do. We’re all in our early 30s, and one theme that kept coming up in our conversations was the idea of how different life looks now compared to how we thought it would look when we were fresh-faced 22 year olds, armed with college degrees and a lot of inexperience when it came to dealing with the real world. In some ways life unfolded as we thought it would. Marriage, kids, jobs that actually use the degree we studied for. In other ways, we’ve faced things we never saw coming: divorce, extended singleness, infertility and family illness.
As we talked and remembered and tried to make sense of where we all ended up nine years post-college, I thought about what I would tell my younger self. So if I could travel back to June 2004, here are the three things I would want to tell myself.
1. Everyone “finds themselves” at different points along the journey.
Some people discover who they are (and exude the confidence that comes with that) in high school. For others, it’s college. For me, it was probably a few years after college. I was 25, had what became my dream job writing for a Christian magazine, getting to meet all kinds of interesting people and travel to amazing places in order to tell their stories. I was in my mid-20s and had bought a house, had a thriving community of friends, and met and dated some incredible guys. I graduated college feeling like I would never feel confident in who God had created me to be, unlike my friends who married the summer after college, started dream jobs, and entered the adult world sure of their place in it. But that all came; it just came at a different point on the path God had planned out for me. What I found at 25, others found at 18 or 21, and that’s OK.
2. Sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it.
In my various jobs post-college, I’ve learned the power of presenting yourself in a confident manner, even when I was trembling with fear on the inside. Confidence doesn’t mean overselling yourself in a job interview and coming across as being prideful or a bragger. It simply means knowing your strengths and skill set, and trusting that you can do a good job with what God has given you. And sometimes just showing up and acting like you belong is half the battle. My first big assignment when I got hired at a magazine was flying to LA and interviewing two actresses who were on the Disney channel. I was 23 and scared out of my mind, but I put on my favorite pair of heels, the ones that made me feel brave, and acted like I had done that sort of thing a thousand times. Believing that I could do it was the first step toward actually doing it. And it seems to me that confidence is an attractive quality when it comes to dating (especially blind dates and the online dating scene). Finding your confidence in the Lord and trusting that He has given you the life you have for a purpose is a life skill that will serve anyone well.
3. A delay doesn’t mean no; it just means not yet.
In my 20s figuring out God’s will seemed all-consuming. Where should I live after I graduate? What job path should I pursue? Where should I get plugged in at my church? Should I go out with that guy again? When should I buy a house? Sometimes the answers were crystal clear, and other times they were (and still are) vague and confusing. But just because God doesn’t answer a prayer or reveal the next step when we think He will doesn’t mean He won’t answer. When I failed miserably during one part of a job interview, I thought it was the end of the world. But 18 months later God opened a different door at the same company that was a much better fit and exactly the right job for me. It wasn’t a “no.” It was a “not yet.” So often that’s been a theme in my life, and learning to trust God’s timing and purpose in readying me for the next thing is a lesson I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.
If you’re a few years (or more!) past your college days, what advice would you give your younger self? What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned while you’ve navigated your 20s?
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--I really wish I had met someone at 22 that really spoke to the brokenness I was feeling instead of trying to spiritualize it away. I really just wanted someone to say "Yeah, I totally understand that your whole world feels like a dissapointment right now" and be in that moment with me, instead of just hand-waving at the future. So I guess what I would have wanted to tell to my 22 year old self is that no matter how alone I felt, I wasn't actually alone.
I would have told myself that being in charge of your own destiny and not just sitting back and letting life happen to you is not an assault on the sovereignty of God, that you can be as thankful and greatful and worship God for the wonderful things he allows to happen as a result of active faith as you can be for those things that happen as a result of waiting on God's perfect timing. I wish I had learned that at a much younger age.
I wish I had known earlier that my chosen career field at 22 was a terrible fit for me, and that I wasn't miserable because I wasn't good enough, I was miserable because the job was terrible, soul crushing and awful for me.
I wish I had known that it was OK to do things because I liked them, and not just because it was my duty to do them. I wish I had known that it wasn't my responsibilty to make sure everyone around me made good, uplifting life decisions. I wish I had known that I didn't have to mother people just because they were needy, and that they had a responsibility they needed to fullfill to themselves before I could ever begin to help them.
I wish I had known that I wasn't dating, not because I wasn't patient or godly or good enough, not because the timing wasn't right or I wasn't blessed enough, but simply because I kept people at arms length through religious observance. I wish I had better known how to let people in, how to be authentic about life and faith, how to be vulnerable but still safe. I wish I had started working out sooner. I wish I had taken better care of my body. I wish I knew I was actually quite beautiful, that my standards were actually not at all too high, that I actually _didn't_ suffer from entitled princess syndrome and that my problem was not, in fact, with my appearance or identity, but rather, with the men I had surrounded myself with as a result of staying exclusively in sheltered ministry circles filled predominately with single women.
I wish that it hadn't taken a tearful call to my Mom to realize that I no longer knew who I was or what I liked because I spent so much of my time dedicating myself to other people's wants and needs. I wish I had stopped and taken a breath long enough to know that I wasn't losing my identity in Christ, but in servitude. I wish I had known that God values those unique and wonderful things that make us inviduals and his plan for his people aren't cookie cutter drones of people who all live exactly the same as one another.
--I guess I would suggest enjoying your 20's and not stressing out about not finding the right guy when all your friends are getting married and having lovely babies. Remembering God has created us each unique in who we are and out life journeys will not be same as the next person. Also serve you church and community learn to be others minded rather being selfish its a great thing.
--1) God's has his hand in your constant moving around, but it isn't wrong to long for a place to settle down. When you do find a home, it will mean so much more.
2) There are women out there who are interested in you just for you. The ones who are after what you can provide/do for them are simply the wrong women for you to be spending time with, no matter how attractive they are.
3) It'll take a couple years, but trust me, being debt free is sexy.
4) Your motorcycle isn't actually that sexy.
5) Take time to invest in the friends you make. When you're settling into a new place, it's good to still have people willing to check in on you.
--I wish I'd known at 22 that godly femininity wasn't defined by sweet shyness, but rather by being "clothed in strength and dignity" (Proverbs 31). I wish I'd known that I really didn't have most of the answers, just cause I want to Bible College (lol).I wish I'd been able to be confident in God's calling to graduate school, rather than going in fear and trembling. I wish I'd have realized it was ok for this homeschooled, Bible-college-educated girl to experience culture shock, to be homesick, to not have the answers. And I really wish I would have realized just how much God cared for me in all of that.
--I wish I'd known that the early 20s, before you "find yourself", are a source of struggle for almost EVERYONE. I wish I'd known that the dissatisfaction and confusion I felt was completely normal and that it would get better.
I had no idea that life could get sooooo much better once I grew up somewhat and became confident within myself.
--1) Seek relationship with God, and that comes through focusing on, seeking, worshiping, releasing things to and hearing from Him, not merely by doing the things you think He wants you to.
2) Find a spiritual father or two to walk with and learn from.
3) Invest in people - give them time, encouragement, hugs, service and gifts (read The Five Love Languages to find out why) and listen to them - be more concerned with hearing them than speaking what you want to say. (P.S. You need to put more thought into what you say anyway.)
That's what I whish I had heard and done, but that's me. :-)
--I think the best thing I would tell a younger version of myself is that God's will is sovereign and that I would just have to accept it. I had decided that I was going to get married at age 22 and was going to have children at 24. I had decided when I was going to buy a house and where I would live and what type of church I was going to. The problem is that I left God and his will completely out of the equation.
Now I work at a job that I didn't train for but it has become a perfect fit. My wife is different than what I expected, but she is way better than anything I could have imagined. Also, never in a million years would I see myself as a Sunday school teacher to young children, but that is my primary church ministry. God's will superseded my will, and that is a good thing.
Also, I wish I knew that life is precious and too short. I never realized so many people can die in their twenties. One person I knew died of stomach cancer, three were victims of car accidents, one was murdered and another committed suicide. You think those things don't happen to people in their prime but it does. I've realized that if I am alive, that is a gift from God. If the sun rose today that is because there is a God who loves us. I don't take the little things for granted any more.
The last thing I wish I knew is that sin has serious consequences, though it may take time for those consequences to come around. Don't feel frustrated when you see people sin and seem to get away with it because it will catch up with them. Maybe it will take 5 or 10 years, but it will come. People never get away with anything in the long run, so repent as soon as you can.
--I'm 24, but I just finished grad school, so I'm only now experiencing the floundering feeling of being a post-grad who doesn't know what's ahead.
Really loved this article as well as the comments. Very encouraging to me right now!
-- I would tell myself that friendships are important, and that it might be up to me to maintain them. After college, a lot of my friends moved away, and I didn't keep in touch with them like I should have.
-- I would tell myself not to be afraid to move out of my family's home. I waited for 4 years after grad school to do that. And yes, I had a full-time job that whole time. I could have afforded it. But every time I thought about moving out, I came up with excuses for why I should stay at home. Moving out last year was the best thing I've done in a long time. It forced me to grow up and realize that I can take care of myself if I have to...and still being single at age 30, it's looking like I might have to for a long time yet.
-- I would tell myself that I'm a person worth getting to know. That people might actually like me if I gave them a chance to get to know me.
--It's July 4, so I'd go back and tell myself "You know every way you imagine America getting worse? Yeah, that pretty much happens. Hey relax, you can't change it. No one will listen to you when you try to warn them. Just kick back and enjoy the decline. It is entertaining."
--Very encouraging article and most helpful comments. Thank you! 22 and taking some mental notes to get me through the next couple years :P
--Boy, I'm not 22 anymore but I could use some of that "fake it till you make it" attitude. The fact that I voice my lack of confidence to my boss and coworkers has caused no end of trouble at work, my first job. I say I'm worried about something so I get scolded for not being more competent, and since I get scolded I lose confidence even more...it's not a good cycle for anybody. Maybe if I had more interest in my work, instead of a "check-in-the-box" attitude, I'd be more motivated to become competent...that's my fault. My 1-year contract is ending soon and I have to look for something new but I don't think I have many new skills/accomplishments to show for my first "real" job. Ah well><
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