In her book Bittersweet, Shauna Niequist wrote a chapter called 25. It's one of my favorite essays of hers and I recently told a friend to reread those words. My friend read it and then said, "That was wonderful. I feel like you could write a chapter or blog post like that and I'd love it. Anything you write like that, I love." This is for her and for anyone else who is trying to figure out this season of life.
This whole "growing up" thing is so much trickier than most of us expected. Contrary to popular belief, you don't just graduate from college and automatically fall into the perfect job, find the love of your life in the next one to three years and then start having children a year and a half after getting married. The truth is there is no magic formula for happiness, no blueprint with seven easy steps to follow. Life is messy and beautiful, unpredictable and exciting. I've been in the real world for seven years now and I'm still figuring it out day by day, year by year.
I'm learning as I go and there are some things I wish I would have been told years ago. Partly because I didn't figure them out for awhile, and partly because they're just good truths I need to be reminded of. Maybe you need to hear some of these words wherever you are right now.
Do you remember how often you were asked "Where are you going to college? What are you majoring in?" when you were finishing High School and starting the next chapter of your life? After hearing that so often it makes sense when we believe that our major, and then our career, will be the thing that defines us. We believe if you choose to work in nursing, social work, physical therapy, business or marketing then that is where you will find your identity. You are your job.
But I'm learning that your career doesn't have to be all that you do. I'm a teacher but I'm also a camp counselor, a Young Life leader, a writer, a runner, an artist, a friend. I'm so much more than a teacher. There's freedom in not having to fit into just one box.
Your job doesn't define you, but it's still important because of the huge amount of time you spend there every week. One of my best friends has been in her first job for nearly two years now. She hates it. It seemed like a perfect opportunity at first, but she soon realized a desk job, even at a phenomenal company, was not as great as she had imagined. Now she's thinking about going back to school to pursue a career that she's always wanted. It's risky and scary to leave a salary. So much would be up in the air and life would be unpredictable. But what if she could be going to a job that she loves? Could that be a trade worth making?
Another friend of mine has been out in the real world for three years and has had at least five different jobs. She has moved a few times, lived with her parents for awhile and is planning her next great adventure. After working at a ranch and saving up money she's going to travel abroad in a country she has always wanted to visit. When she talks about the places she has been and the places she wants to go her eyes light up. Her enthusiasm is contagious and you're tempted to pack a bag and go along with her. Her life is far from typical, others might call it irresponsible or unconventional, but right now it's exactly what she wants. She feels like everyone else is settling down but she just can't bring herself to do that yet. Eventually she'll put down roots, but for now I think she's doing just fine. There will probably be decades of a more traditional life for her, so I think embracing this season of nomadic travel is exactly what she needs to do.
Wherever you go, I think one of the most important things you should do is find your tribe. Life is better when you're walking with people. Different than college or HS, you're no longer surrounded by people in the same stage of life as you who conveniently join the same club or team or study group or sorority. You have to put in the time and energy to find your people and then invest in them. For me that looks like my Young Life family--the leaders, the kids and their families. They've made this community feel like home. It took me awhile to feel like I really belonged here, like I really mattered to other people and they needed me. Now it's hard to imagine going anywhere else. My YL girls invite me to their volleyball games, families ask me to come over for dinner at their house, and my girls ask me for advice. These have become my people.
Some of your tribes will live far away. I'm afraid that never gets easier. I've got friends spread across the country now and if we're lucky we see each other once a year. I'm so thankful for the friends that call or text to see how I'm doing, that will randomly send me a letter in the mail or plan a trip to come and visit. Some people are only meant to be in your life for a season, but the great friends of your life will always be there. If you both put in the effort and remind each other that you care. One of my very best friends from college lives in South America. I haven't seen her since we graduated but we'll cross paths in Michigan over Thanksgiving Break. I can't wait to see her in person and to catch up like we haven't missed a beat.
As you're figuring out what your life is going to look like, what you're going to be about, I think you have to take opportunities. Some of the best experiences I've had in the last few years came about because I simply said yes. I said yes and took a day off of school to attend the Storyline conference in Chicago and learned from some of my favorite authors. I said yes and traveled to Colorado with two counselors to surprise our best friend. I said yes and went to Mexico with a Young Life family to build a house. I said yes and became a chaperone for my school's annual field trip to Washington DC. I said yes and started leading a 7th grade bible study that later led to the start of Young Life in this community. Saying yes has incredible potential.
And while I wholly support saying yes, I also am a huge fan of saying no. I say no to committees that I'm not passionate about-- don't fill up your calendar just to fill up your calendar. I say no to relationships that have become draining. I say no to spending my time doing things I really don't like just because everyone else is doing them. I say no to worrying about how much I weigh or the gray hairs that have started showing up because I really don't care. I say no to the things that aren't going to make my life better.
Your faith will probably change a lot during these years. During college you might have decided you were too busy for church or maybe you were part of a faith community that was dramatically different from the one you grew up in. Maybe you didn't really know God till now and you're not sure what to do next. My friends have been teaching me that while there is only one true God, there's not only one way to love him well. I used to think that getting to know God was all about reading my bible and praying. I thought if I didn't do those two things that I was doing a bad job of being a Christian. Now I think that while those are excellent ways to grow in my faith, there are so many other things I can do too. Journal to God, listen to music, copy down scripture, read Christian books and blogs, listen to scripture read aloud in a Bible app, serve others, lead or be part of a small group, sacrifice your time, sacrifice your money, forgive. Investing in your faith will build the foundation for everything else in your life.
My sister used to have a huge sign on her wall that read, "The best is yet to come." I've always believed those words and they feel especially true right now. I feel like I'm living a better, more authentic life today than I was ten years ago. I'm continually learning more about myself, my people and what I want out of life. When you believe that the best is yet to come you can't help but have hope in all of that potential. You might not be able to plan out every step of your life, but you can trust that things will get better from here. I'm confident that God can bring good from any situation and that he has great plans for your life and for mine. Things will be okay. The best is yet to come.
I hope, that no matter where life has taken you, that you can be proud of yourself. At the end of the day, you should be able to be confident that you're who you want to be. No one else can fix that or take it away. It's up to you. Are you the kind of person you'd want to be friends with? Are you who you hoped you would be when you were a kid? I hope that your character, your integrity and your heart are what you've hoped they would become. If not, it's never too late start. We can do hard things and you can still become that person. If each our lives is telling a story to the people around us then I hope that you're writing one that you'd want to read. Growing up is so different than what I expected, but this season of life is the best one yet.