Is this really why I went to college and got my degree?
It’s likely you’ve asked yourself that question many times. Or, if graduation is still looming ahead, you will ask it at some point in the future. A college education used to be the golden ticket that promised prosperity. But one scroll through your Facebook newsfeed is enough to show there aren’t enough dream jobs to go around and not everyone meets their soul mate in college.
Many twentysomethings have found themselves moving back in with their parents, sharing overcrowded apartments with friends, or even working their pre-graduation jobs just to get by. Along with career setbacks, a growing number of twentysomethings remain unexpectedly single long after they’d imagined they’d be settled down. It’s disappointing, frustrating, and disheartening. On your best days you see it as temporary; on your worst days you envision all of your dreams going up in smoke. Most days you settle somewhere in between as you wonder what your life will be like a year from now.
Voicing your fears about the future and your unhappiness with the present doesn’t always go over well in Christian circles. Well intentioned mentors and parents often offer little more insight than an unsolicited (and unappreciated) “Trust God” without validating how confusing it can be to navigate the terrain of life just out of college. Many of us who grew up pursuing the American Dream are now living an American Nightmare.
So what are we to do?
The most solid piece of advice I’ve uncovered in my own process of life not panning out like I always dreamed is actually surprising.
1. Give yourself permission to grieve
There is nothing wrong with putting a name to your disappointment and allowing yourself to actuallyfeel the pain and frustration that comes with living a life that doesn’t look like the one you pictured in your head. Whether your current situation is merely a delay or a permanent setback doesn’t really matter. Disappointment is still disappointment even if it won’t last forever and you should allow yourself some time to come to terms with it.
Some Christians balk at grief like it’s unspiritual. But the pages of the psalms are filled with descriptive words that poured from the pen of a man who was a disappointed twentysomething at the time he did some of his best writing.
David was anointed as the next king of Israel while he was a young teen, but he didn’t reach his throne until the age of 30. During the in between years he spent much of his time running for his life and hiding in caves. His reality definitely didn’t look like he thought it would.
Psalm 142 is believed to have been written during that time. In this psalm, David wrote about crying out to the Lord and lifting up his voice for mercy. He spoke of pouring out his complaint before God and telling Him his trouble. He even proclaimed he had been brought very low and wanted God to rescue him from his prison.
It is good and right to cry out to the Lord and voice your complaints to Him. Remind Him of your heavy student loan debt. Tell Him you are lonely. Ask for His help and provision. Acknowledge that He still watches over you even when He seems to linger in bringing you the deliverance you long for. Consider writing out your prayers like David did.
Allowing yourself to grieve will lighten your load and will free you to find joy in the midst of your disappointing circumstances. It will also unite your heart to God’s and remind you that you aren’t alone.
While grieving is healthy, there comes a point where you will discover you are ready to move on from feeling low even if your circumstances haven’t changed. It’s then that you are ready to shift your perspective and view your situation through a new lens.
2. Seek opportunities to grow in humility and character
Moving back in with your parents, working at a job for which you are overqualified, or not having a date to your best friend’s wedding can all be humiliating things. But if we’re not careful, humiliation also brings a sense of shame and embarrassment with it. It sends us into hiding. Instead of being honest with our friends, distant relatives, or colleagues about the lessons we are learning in a less than ideal situation, we often find ourselves lying or vainly puffing ourselves up in order to feel better about ourselves.
Seeking humility instead of humiliation is a simple shift that can change not only your perspective but also the character you are building, and thus who you are for a lifetime.
John 13 tells of Jesus washing His disciples’ feet. Scrubbing the dusty, dirty, feet of a bunch of sweaty men was the job of a slave or servant, or so it seemed. In an act that surprised even His own disciples Jesus knelt down and assumed a position that was definitely beneath Him.
His attitude was one of humility. Instead of focusing on how overqualified He was, or why this should have never happened, or how unfair it all seemed, He quietly got the job done and served others. In doing so He showed us that we shouldn’t evaluate our role in a situation based on whether or not it’s beneath us. Sometimes our less-than moments become opportunities to imitate Christ and grow in character.
With your feelings honestly acknowledged through grief, and your character being stretched through humility, you are finally ready to begin enjoying your life—even if it doesn’t look like the version you always wanted.
3. Embrace the beauty of and
It is likely life will eventually bring you the career with a 401k, a spouse, a mortgage, children, and numerous other blessings you can only dream about now. But with each of those blessings also comes a loss of a little bit more of your freedom and a higher price tag on life. It’s not that the trade won’t be worth it. But it will still be a trade.
Enjoy the freedom that comes with a more flexible job, plenty of time to spend with friends, and the ability not to worry about spilling pasta sauce on the carpet in your apartment (because it’s not reallyyour carpet). 🙂 Find creative ways to travel, go out on Friday nights, and connect in community through your local church. Do things now that you might not be able to do when life looks like you’ve always wanted it to.
View life like a sponge and wring every last drop out of this season. Honestly and authentically shed your tears but don’t forget to embrace the laughter. In this moment your life consists of both badand good. Acknowledge the bad and dance with the good.
If you can learn to embrace the beauty of and in this season of life, you will set yourself up to succeed in the future. The truth is, even the ideal version of your life contains both bad and good. You just can’t see it yet because you aren’t there. Contentment comes not from living a perfect life; it comes instead from embracing a life of and.
The apostle Paul, writing while from prison (talk about a nightmare), said it best in Philippians 4:11-13; “I have learned to be content regardless of the circumstances . . . I can do all things through Christ.”
Surviving a season of life that looks nothing like you imagined might be the most painful thing you will ever have to do. Acknowledging this will not make it easy but it will make it easier for you to confront the challenge and come out victorious on the other side. Every disappointment is an opportunity to embrace courage. It’s a chance for you to grow—an invitation to become a far greater person than you ever dreamed you could be.
In the end, it’s really who you can become that’s the real dream worth pursuing. Imagine the boldest, strongest, and most spiritually mature version of yourself emerging from your current disappointments. That’s a dream that a lingering recession, a depressed job market, and a crazy ex-boyfriend can’t ever take away from you.
Your dreams are still up for grabs. Go get them.