What are my twenties for? It’s a question of purpose, significance, and direction; rife with tension and anxiety, full of your own expectations and those of parents, churches, employers, friends, and professors.
Your twenties are filled with voices telling you what you should do with your life. Maybe you’ve had to deal with passive-aggressive questions or suggestions from relatives at family gatherings. (Maybe you’re that relative asking twentysomethings the passive-aggressive questions.)
At the same time, much of your world conveys two very different messages: The first is “Live it up!” In other words, you can (and should) have it all. Your twenties exist for you to be free! So wander, live a carefree life, and enjoy your twenties before you’re tied down with a mortgage, a marriage, and a career. Have the most amazing adventures. See as much as you can. Laugh the hardest. And Instagram and Snapchat it all so others can see what an amazing time you’re having.
Alongside this Instagram life is another competing and contradictory message: “Figure it out!” You need to figure out your life as quickly as possible, or you’re failing at adulthood.
This brings a whole other variety of pressure: to get it right…right away.
Live it up, but figure it out. These messages cause twenties to become an in-between land, an already-but-not-yet phase of adulthood. A neutral zone between a fun, carefree childhood and boring adulthood.
Is this all we can expect from this period of life? I don’t think so.
The “Defining Decade”: Hope, Purpose, Meaning
Your twenties are meant to take a decade. You shouldn’t be expected to figure out every aspect of your life during this season. To do so hurries you through decisions that should not be rushed. Nor should your twenties be wasted.
Your twenties should be a decade marked by hope—a time of exponential growth and potential when you can fully live your life and prepare for what’s next with great expectation. This should be an exciting time in your life, and you should be looking forward to all that’s ahead of you.
Yes, there’s another and better way to live your twenties. That way is vocation: a life lived faithfully with God in the many dimensions of life. When we live our lives through the framework of vocation, we may not have it all figured out, but we live with hope, purpose, and meaning.
Hope. English novelist George Meredith wrote, “To hope, and not be impatient, is really to believe.” These are wise words for your twenties. Impatience can ruin some really good years.
The author of Hebrews described hope as an “anchor for the soul” (Heb. 6:19). That’s a powerful image! Hope provides moorings that steady you as you seek your direction in life. It also puts your desires and longings in their proper place. The twenties are filled with ideas, questions, dreams, and expectations that often take time to unfold. Hope sustains you in the meantime.
Purpose. All your hopes and dreams may not be fulfilled in your twenties. Patience will be required in abundance. However, this doesn’t mean this season of your life has no purpose. It is, in fact, intended to be a deeply purposeful time in which many important dimensions of the good life are developed. Your twenties aren’t just a holding room for real life in the future; they are real life.
Meaning. Holocaust survivor and psychologist Viktor Frankl, in his timeless book Man’s Search for Meaning, offered much wisdom for this phase in life, writing that our “main concern is not to gain pleasure or to avoid pain but rather to see a meaning in…life.”
In our search for meaning, we discover the deepest fulfillment in life, regardless of our circumstances. Such meaning is found in both joy and heartache. This is what makes life rich, complex, and sometimes confusing. Frankl argued that our search for meaning may bring inner tension before it brings inner peace. How you respond to that inner tension in your twenties is crucial to your pursuit of a good and faithful life.
If you’re in your twenties, I encourage you to embrace this season with true freedom rather than fear and anxiety.
If you have influence with twentysomethings, I encourage you to equip them with a proper view of vocation; one that is a process of faithful living…not simply a far-off destination.
Annie Dillard once wrote, “How we spend our days is…how we spend our lives.” It’s true. Each of us is shaped by our habits and practices. The twentysomething years matter and are worth not just wandering through but living fully. We are called to lean into our twenties and the following mantras reinforce this concept:
- Be fully present and fully prepared. In your twenties, it’s all too tempting to focus on the future at the expense of what needs to be done now. The best way to lean into your twenties is to embrace the tension of being fully present and fully prepared. In fact, I believe the best way to prepare for your future is to faithfully attend to the responsibilities of the present. Do well with them, and you’re better prepared for whatever is next.
- Actively participate. When things get hard, it’s easy to check out. Leaning into your twenties requires active participation in the dimensions that make up a good life. Live your life with intentionality rather than simply letting life happen. When things get tense at work, don’t check out. When church isn’t connecting, don’t withdraw. When friendships get strained, don’t run. Actively participate in your life with integrity and faith.
- Live implicated. To live implicated in your twenties requires having eyes that truly see what’s happening in and around you, and a heart and mind that recognize your responsibility to be about God’s restorative and redemptive work in the world.
- Embrace freedom, not fear. Adulthood can be a scary place, and fear can too easily dominate. Yet adulthood can also be a freeing place. Embrace the freedom, not the fear.
So, what are my twenties for, anyway? That’s a good question. To explore it is the way of vocation.
Editor’s note: Learn more about faith and vocation in How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work.