Last week, I found myself looking forward to another birthday and thinking about the last decade of my life. It’s hard to believe my 20s are now a thing of my past and the next big decade I’ll hit is 40. Yikes, that’s scary. But in the midst of thinking about how old I’m starting to feel, I began to reflect on some of the things I learned in my 20s. If I could go back and give my college-aged self some advice, these are the things I would say.
1. Seek God first – and don’t ever lose your passion for this. If you are earnestly seeking God and His will for your life, ask Him to never let you lose sight of that desire to walk by faith. If you find yourself lacking in this area, go to God and ask for a fresh perspective on what He would have you do in your life: today, tomorrow, next year and for the next five years. Then ask the Lord to help you walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel.
Some say your character is essentially formed by the time you’re in your mid-20s. When I was in college and my early-20s, this always made me think carefully about the kind of habits I was forming, the way I spent my time, and the kind of thoughts and attitudes I was allowing myself to form. Think carefully about the direction you’d like to go in life (spiritually, vocationally and relationally) and the implications of your choices now.
2. Find a job that is sustainable and can provide well for you for the next five to 10 years without saddling you with a lot of (possibly life-long) debt. I seriously considered grad school as I was finishing up my college degree — and for several years thereafter. My dad wisely recommended that before I choose to spend more time and money pursuing another degree, I make absolutely certain that was the direction I wanted to go in. His point wasn’t to discourage me from more education; it was to encourage me to make sure I absolutely needed that next degree to do something I enjoyed.
I quickly found out that grad school wasn’t only unnecessary for me, it also had the potential to lock me into a career and financial state that would have been more detrimental for my long-term goals. So don’t spend your 20s in grad school, racking up debt and losing your 20s to studying, unless you are absolutely certain that’s where you want to go.
3. Travel – get out and see God’s creation, appreciate other cultures that He is sustaining. Travel has not only given me a better appreciation for my very privileged life here in the States, it’s also given me a more global mindset when it comes to God’s church and what evangelism and missions should look like.
4. Stop going to Starbucks and stop eating out. Learn to cook and save money. Give generously. Yes, that probably sounds harsh. But how many $7 coffee drinks can you buy before you stop justifying a very expensive habit by calling it “fellowship”? I’m not saying all coffee and eating out is bad — just think carefully about the percentage of your budget you’re spending in areas that are here today, gone tomorrow.
As much as I enjoyed all of my coffee dates and dinners out, looking back, I wish I would have taken even a fraction of that money and put it away in savings. For those of you who don’t think a few dollars here and there make that much of a difference, I’d encourage you to record all of your coffee and eat-outs for a week; then multiply that out over the course of a year. My guess is that if you’re anything like me, that occasional (daily?) “splurge” could add up to thousands of dollars over the course of a few years.
5. Workout and appreciate the body you have. Chances are, it may be the best physical version of yourself that you’ll ever have. In your 30s, you will find your metabolism slowing to a rate you didn’t think was possible. Marriage may give you more than the “freshman 15” you gained in college. And if you’re a woman, pregnancy will change your body in scary ways that make you wonder why you ever disliked your pre-pregnant body. It’s easy (especially for women) to think about all the ways you’d like to change your body; for a moment, stop and appreciate what you have.