What’s Happening in Your 20’s – Angst and Exploration
We like to romanticize the 20’s as a carefree time, full of friends, freedom, and play. The truth is, while those can be beautiful parts of young adulthood, for many this is a decade filled with angst. Many major life decisions in your 20’s need to be made, and every decision feels weighty.
- What am I going to do with my life?
- Do I have what it takes to be successful?
- Why do I still feel so needy/insecure?
- Should I pursue education – will that really help me get ahead?
- What good did that college degree do when I now can’t find a job?
- How will I pay off all this debt?
- When/where will I find a soulmate?
- Do I want to carry the belief system of my family (i.e. faith, values, priorities) forward into my life?
Not only are you struggling with the inner voices asking these questions, but you are fielding those questions non-stop from people around you, ramping up the pressure to ‘figure out what you are doing with your life.”
Ideally, the 20’s should be a season of exploration. You most likely saw glimpses of your calling as you grew up: an aptitude for math (or not), great people skills, or a desire to boss everyone around. Now is the season where you figure out how to put those characteristics into a life calling. And for most, this involves trial and error.
Imagine if you were watching a child explore a garden. With freedom and delight she runs from place to place discovering the sights, smells, and textures of the garden. First, she skips to the bird bath, splashing her hands in the water. Then a bird at the feeder catches her eye and she stops for a moment to observe. The breeze brings a wafting fragrance from the other side of the garden which she follows to a blooming bush. She leans in to pick a flower and place it behind her ear as she runs to explore further.
Would we say the girl is directionless? Floundering in purpose? No, the purpose IS the exploration and discovery. Exploring is as much about the process as it is the destination. And so it is in discovering your vocation. What can look (and feel) at times like floundering suddenly has a different feel when you see it in the light of exploration.
Here’s one of the most important things to know about exploration in your 20s: You will learn more about what you DON’T want to do with your life in your 20s than what you DO want to do. Vocational exploration in this decade will feel like a bust half of the time, but you are learning critical things about your self – how you are wired, what brings you life, where you want to contribute your skills and energy. No, I can’t do a job that requires that much time on the computer; I need more face-to-face time with people. No, I can’t work for someone who doesn’t value structure and order; I need a job with clear expectations and structures. All those pieces of information guide you toward your calling; they are not wasted.
A few words of advice for those of you in the 20’s…
Give yourself grace. This decade of life is actually quite difficult. It feels weighty because the decisions you are making ARE weighty. You are making choices that impact your future… who you will marry, what will be your field of expertise, what values are you going to live out, what role God will have in your life. As much as previous generations like to tell you to grow up and deal with it (which is true too), you need to hear that you are in a very intense season of formation.
Build a strong support system. One of the tasks of your 20’s is to learn how to create a solid support system in your life. You will need a network of friends and mentors, a community which embodies your aspired values and your faith. This is a decade of expanding the voices in your life from the handful you heard growing up.
Address the obstacles that are keeping you from moving forward. People get stuck for a reason. You may have emotional barriers – fear, anxiety, depression, or addiction. You may be crippled by unrealistic standards for yourself (or placed on you by others). You may have layers of grief that you have not taken time to acknowledge. Unfortunately, obstacles don’t go away on their own. You have to deal with them or they will keep you from living in to who you were made to be. Get counseling. Find a mentor. Open up to a trusted friend. Pursue a faith community. Spend less time with people who are not interested in growing up. This is YOUR life. Take action to address the things that keep you from moving forward.
Stay active in pursuing next steps… It won’t be one step or one choice or one conversation that will suddenly lead to breakthrough and the finding of your purpose in life. Usually our path is only revealed one or two steps at a time. Keep stepping forward. A season in therapy to address an emotional barrier IS a positive step even if you are delivering pizzas to pay the bills. Look more holistically at your discovery process – maybe you are moving towards a committed relationship and addressing fear because of your parent’s divorce. Grappling with your fear of commitment is forward progress. Maybe you have tried a support group, a new church, or new hobby and even though it wasn’t a fit – each attempt is forward progress. Keep making steps. Rarely does our pathway emerge without a bit of wandering.
Expect to cycle in and out of jobs that feel like they are not moving you forward. Discovering your calling in this decade doesn’t mean your parents will fund your exploration (though many are doing so). Just as important as exploration is character formation (remember we are after wholistic development). We develop character by doing things we don’t necessarily want to do but are essential for a responsible life. You have to pay the bills. You have to show up on time for a job. You may have to work on a holiday. You may have to work for someone who you don’t respect. Instead of bouncing around trying to find a better job, try sticking it out for a while. Work on other elements of your life: start exercising, work at developing friendships, mend a relationship, take a class on managing your finances. As other areas in your life strengthen, you will most likely see new doorways open up for you vocationally as well. Health breeds health.
Don’t forget to have FUN! In the midst of the intensity and angst, don’t forget to savor some of the beauty of this season. Enjoy the freedom of this stage of life. Enjoy a new season with your parents where you will see them more as people and less as parents. Enjoy sleeping in (you’ll miss it when you have children). Enjoy your high metabolism while you have it. Explore more than just vocation, discover what you are passionate about— rock climbing, painting pottery, cooking, hiking. Savor your friendships – both new and old. Wrestle with your spiritual questions. Travel if you can. Have fun in spite of your angst!
Because some of you may not yet have the voices you need in your life to flourish, I want to speak a blessing over each 20 something who reads this today…
I bless this decade of your 20’s.
I bless this season of discovery and exploration.
I bless you with new resources to find the support system you need… new friends and mentors, a sustaining relationship with God, a rich community to walk with you.
I bless you with the courage to look inside at the obstacles that are keeping you from moving forward and the people to walk with you as you explore what you find.
I bless your angst to lead you towards a greater revelation about your self, your Creator, and your life purpose.
I bless this decade of your 20’s to build foundational relationships, patterns of health, and joy in the process and not just the destination of becoming who you were made to be.
I bless you with humility to move towards new pathways, but wisdom to know if your path needs to look different than what others are expecting.
In the name of the One who loves you and has a plan for your life more beautiful than you can imagine.
[This is the first post in a six week series exploring what is happening developmentally during each decade. Next week… What’s Happening in Your 30s: Crisis, Momentum, and Going Deep]