This week marks a new milestone in my life. As of yesterday, I am officially old.
Yes, I celebrated my 30th birthday this week in the most 30-year-old way possible — going to bed at 9:30, finding gray hairs and waking up sore for no discernible reason.
I’m really aging quite gracefully.
It’s hard to believe how quickly time passes these days, and now that I’m here on my deathbed (… am I being too dramatic?), it’s impossible not to reflect a little on the biggest lessons I’ve learned over these fleeting years of my old-man life (OK, I’ll stop now).
You can find all kinds of listicles and blog posts online about things you “should” accomplish before turning 30, but sometimes we don’t have a ton of control over our biggest and most important ambitions. If you want a career and a family, I hope you’re able to take strides toward those goals in your teens and 20s, but sometimes things happen outside of your control. Meeting a spouse or starting a family isn’t really something you should force, and the same is sometimes true with a good career. Even if you are skilled and work super hard, sometimes those big breaks don’t come and you’re stuck longer than you anticipated in an entry-level position.
That’s OK. God has your future in his hands, and He is trustworthy, even if His timing is different than ours.
But, if you are currently in your 20s, here are three things I recommend working on. And good news, you do have some control over these goals. Get to work on these now before getting your senior citizen discount coffee at McDonald’s (that starts at 30, right?).
1. Get to know yourself.
Over the last handful of years, I’ve taken just about all of those personality-type quizzes. While some of them are a little silly, I have to admit that it has helped me to know that I am a harmonizer/INFJ/Enneagram 1.
As my college philosophy professor often said, we are all “blind to our own blindness.” When you grow up in your skin and your mind, it can be very difficult to see and understand why you do the things you do. For me, after categorizing myself and doing some reading and research, I could easily see my strengths and weaknesses. And it’s been super helpful to understand them through an objective, outside perspective. By becoming aware of my potential pitfalls, I’m able to make better decisions that lead to a healthier and more balanced life.
If you haven’t taken any of these quizzes recently, I recommend giving it a shot. Do a Google search for the Myers-Briggs, take a free quizz and spend some time reading about your results. I think you’ll be glad you did.
2. Find and develop hobbies.
My high school and college years were pretty fun. I had tough days and bullies and insecurities and self-doubts like every other teenager, but overall I have fond memories of those years. I was almost always around friends, and we were often doing fun (silly) things.
When you get all-in on a career and especially when you start having a family, free time and “disposable income” (what does that even mean?) are increasingly rare. When you have to be at work at 8 a.m. and have a utility bill due on Thursday, it can seem downright impossible to find time to hangout with friends and play Xbox or get ice cream at Sonic or buy a bunch of random movies at Target.
At least for me, I found I had to be intentional about giving myself a break and finding time to do fun things, or else it would never happen (typical Perfectionist, right, Enneagram friends?). Even if fun comes more natural for you, I think your 20s and 30s are a really good time to hone in on hobbies and interests you can develop outside of work. Take an art class. Sign up for a 10K. Find a YouTube channel with free yoga or karate or Zumba lessons. Find an ultimate Frisbee league in your town. Buy a nice camera. Do something that interests you and gives you something to look forward to that is more productive than binging everything on Netflix, Hulu and Amazon. If you stick with it, things like that might even become a “side hustle” where you can make a bit more of that mysterious “disposable income” — or at least help you with that utility bill due Thursday.
3. Do something bigger than you.
As I mentioned, as fun as high school and college years can be, they can also be very hard. Peers in that stage of life can be brutal, and it can be easy to feel isolated, alone and left out. When you’re in “survival mode” in the crazy jungle of high school, it can be hard to think of anyone other than yourself. I’m not saying that’s the “right” way to live, but I understand and remember what it felt like to focus on myself so much in attempts to fit in and simply plow through those years.
In your 20s, hopefully some of that insecurity and craziness has passed and you’re able to really focus outside yourself. As you get involved in serious relationships and especially when you get married, you quickly learn that you just can’t focus on yourself all the time. You have to sacrifice if you want to stay in that relationship. And when you have kids? Forget about it. Your life is now in the (sticky) hands of a tiny human who needs you to give her Cheerios and change her diaper.
Outside of family and relationships, it’s also important to get involved in your church, find a charity or nonprofit you believe in, go on a mission trip or really anything that gets your focus off of you and outside your zip code. When you get a healthier and more accurate understanding of the big world around you, you’re able to live with gratitude and perspective. When you understand that all people have the same basic needs — regardless of their age, gender, location, political leaning, etc. — you tend to live with more grace and more understanding.
Even if your budget and your calendar are full, find time to give. Tithe first, and then give to a ministry or organization you care about. Help out at your church, even if it’s only once a month. Volunteer to watch a friend’s kids so they can go on a date. Mow your neighbor’s lawn. Pay for someone’s drink at Starbucks. We would all be wise to do anything that pulls the focus off ourselves and directs it to the world in need around us.
As weird as it is to enter a new decade, most days I’m OK with who and where I am. I know myself better than I ever have. My skills are becoming more refined, and I’m slowly learning what it looks like to be a good husband and father. Wherever you are today, I hope you can embrace yourself, too (except maybe not literally — that would be kind of weird).
Stay humble, work hard and do your best to follow God’s plan for your life and I think you’ll be just fine — gray hairs, dad bod and all.