"Here are a few thoughts on being twenty-five-ish, some that I knew, because smart older people gave me good advice, and some that I really wish I had known, that those smart older people probably did tell me, and that I lost track of along the way.
I know that age is, of course, one of the most arbitrary ways of measuring a person. I have friends in their sixties who continually teach me about discovery and possibility, and friends in their young twenties who are as crotchety and set in their ways as Archie Bunker. Age, like numbers on a scale and letters on a report card, tells us very little of who we are. You decide every year exactly how young and how old you want to be.
When you’re twenty-five-ish, you’re old enough to know what kind of music you love, regardless of what your last boyfriend or roommate always used to play. You know how to walk in heels, how to tie a necktie, how to give a good toast at a wedding, and how to make something for dinner. You don’t have to think much about skin care, home ownership, or your retirement plan.
Your life can look a lot of different ways when you’re twenty-five: single, dating, engaged, married. You are working in dream jobs, pay-the-bills jobs, and downright horrible jobs. You are young enough to believe that anything is possible, and you are old enough to make that belief a reality.
Now is the time to figure out what kind of work you love to do. What are you good at? What makes you feel alive? What do you dream about? You can go back to school now, switch directions entirely. You can work for almost nothing, or live in another country, or volunteer long hours for something that moves you. There will be a time when finances and schedules make this a little trickier, so do it now. Try it, apply for it, get up and do it.
When I was twenty-five, I was in my third job in as many years—all in the same area at a church, but the responsibilities were different each time. I was frustrated at the end of the third year, because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do next. I didn’t feel like I’d found my place yet. I met with my boss, who was in his fifties. I told him how anxious I was about finding the one perfect job for me, and quick. He asked me how old I was, and when I told him I was twenty-five, he told me that I couldn’t complain to him about finding the right job until I was thirty-two. In his opinion, it takes about ten years after college to find the right fit, and anyone who finds it earlier than that is just plain lucky.
So use every bit of your ten years: try things, take classes, start over. One of my oldest friends, Jenny, got a degree in child psychology from Harvard, and has worked for years at a bunch of fancy companies as a client account manager. A few years ago, she finally realized that what she’s always loved is helping to heal people through massage. Now after work and on weekends, she’s the world’s best-educated massage therapist, building up her clientele with every passing month, and happier than she’s ever been.
My dear friend Rachel has been a makeup artist since she was eighteen, and after ten years, she decided that what she really wants to be is a therapist. So she’s doing it now, getting her bachelor’s degree, making plans for her master’s, doing makeup all the while to pay for school. That’s what this time is for, to figure those things out.
Now is also the time to get serious about relationships. And “serious” might mean walking away from the ones that don’t give you everything you need. Some of the most life-shaping decisions you make in this season will be about walking away from good-enough, in search of can’t-live-without. One of the only truly devastating mistakes you can make in this season is staying with the wrong person even though you know he or she is the wrong person. It’s not fair to that person, and it’s not fair to you.
My friend Chrissie and her boyfriend were together for ten years, since college. He’s a great guy, but throughout their relationship, several people had told Chrissie that they observed a fundamental mismatch. They didn’t fit together like puzzle pieces. They didn’t fit together at all. But she stayed, out of love and hope and commitment, and then he proposed. And they just couldn’t get the wedding planned. They couldn’t agree on where or when or how many people, so they stopped planning for a while. In the meantime, she went to South Africa with a group from our church to work with AIDS orphans, and while she was there, she felt alive and full of purpose for the first time in years. When she returned, her fiancé wasn’t all that interested in hearing about it.
All the things her friends had been saying for years clicked into place, and a few weeks later, she gave back the ring. She’s literally like a new person these days, full of bright energy, hope, clarity. And those things are worth a whole lot more than a diamond from the wrong man, even if he’s a really good man, like this one was.
Twenty-five is also a great time to start counseling, if you haven’t already, and it might be a good round two of counseling if it’s been awhile. You might have just enough space from your parents to start digging around your childhood a little bit. Unravel the knots that keep you from living a healthy whole life, and do it now, before any more time passes.
Twenty-five is the perfect time to get involved in a church that you love, no matter how different it is from the one you were a part of growing up. Be patient and prayerful, and decide that you’re going to be a person who grows, who seeks your own faith, who lives with intention. Set your alarm on Sunday mornings, no matter how late you were out on Saturday night. It will be dreadful at first, and then after a few weeks, you’ll find that you like it, that the pattern of it fills up something inside you.
Try different kinds of communities, different sizes and denominations and traditions. My friend Monica grew up in a community church in Northern California, and now she’s an elder at a Lutheran church in Reno because she appreciates the history and structure of this new context. Our friends Kelly and Amy grew up in nondenominational churches, and now have spent a number of years as passionate volunteers at the Presbyterian church in their neighborhood.
I know that most people need a season of space, a time to take a step back and evaluate the spiritual context of their youth. I didn’t go to church for a long season in college, and that space and freedom was so important for me. It gave me the perspective I needed to find my own faith. But it’s very easy for a season of space to turn into several years without any kind of spiritual groundedness. It’s easy to wake up several years from now and find yourself unable to locate that precious, faith-filled part of your heart and history, because it slowly disintegrated over months and years. Don’t do that. Do whatever you have to do to connect with God in a way that feels authentic and truthful to you. Do it now, so that you don’t regret the person you become, little by little, over time, without it.
This is the thing: when you start to hit twenty-eight or thirty, everything starts to divide, and you can see very clearly two kinds of people: on one side, people who have used their twenties to learn and grow, to find God and themselves and their deep dreams, people who know what works and what doesn’t, who have pushed through to become real live adults.
And then there’s the other kind, who are hanging on to college, or high school even, with all their might. They’ve stayed in jobs they hate because they’re too scared to get another one. They’ve stayed with men or women who are good but not great because they don’t want to be lonely. They mean to find a church, they mean to develop honest, intimate friendships, they mean to stop drinking like life is one big frat party. But they don’t do those things, so they live in kind of an extended adolescence, no closer to adulthood than they were when they graduated college.
Don’t be like that. Don’t get stuck. Move, travel, take a class, take a risk. Walk away, try something new. There is a season for wildness and a season for settledness, and this is neither. This season is about becoming. Don’t lose yourself at happy hour, but don’t lose yourself on the corporate ladder either.
Stop every once in a while and go out to coffee or climb in bed with your journal. Ask yourself some good questions like, Am I proud of the life I’m living? What have I tried this month? What have I learned about God this year? What parts of my childhood faith am I leaving behind, and what parts am I choosing to keep with me for this leg of the journey? Do the people I’m spending time with give me life, or make me feel small? Is there any brokenness in my life that’s keeping me from moving forward?
These years will pass much more quickly than you think they will. You will go to lots of weddings, and my advice, of course, is to dance your pants off at every single one. I hope you go to very few funerals. You’ll watch TV and run on the treadmill and go on dates, some of them great and some of them terrible. Time will pass, and all of a sudden, things will begin to feel a little more serious. You won’t be old, of course. But you will want to have some things figured out, and the most important things only get figured out if you dive into them now.
For a while in my early twenties I felt like I woke up a different person every day, and was constantly confused about which one, if any, was the real me. I feel more and more like myself with each passing year, for better and for worse, and you’ll find that, too. Every year, you will trade a little of your perfect skin and your ability to look great without exercising for wisdom and peace and groundedness, and every year the trade will be worth it. I promise.
Now is your time. Become, believe, try. Walk closely with people you love, and with other people who believe that God is very good and life is a grand adventure. Don’t spend time with people who make you feel like less than you are. Don’t get stuck in the past, and don’t try to fast-forward yourself into a future you haven’t yet earned. Give today all the love and intensity and courage you can, and keep traveling honestly along life’s path."
Taken from Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist. Copyright © 2010.