I’m writing this post from St. Louis, where I just spent a lovely weekend visiting with four of my closest friends from college. It was the first time we had all been together in at least five years, so we had a lot of catching up to do. We’re all in our early 30s, and one theme that kept coming up in our conversations was the idea of how different life looks now compared to how we thought it would look when we were fresh-faced 22 year olds, armed with college degrees and a lot of inexperience when it came to dealing with the real world. In some ways life unfolded as we thought it would. Marriage, kids, jobs that actually use the degree we studied for. In other ways, we’ve faced things we never saw coming: divorce, extended singleness, infertility and family illness.
As we talked and remembered and tried to make sense of where we all ended up nine years post-college, I thought about what I would tell my younger self. So if I could travel back to June 2004, here are the three things I would want to tell myself.
1. Everyone “finds themselves” at different points along the journey.
Some people discover who they are (and exude the confidence that comes with that) in high school. For others, it’s college. For me, it was probably a few years after college. I was 25, had what became my dream job writing for a Christian magazine, getting to meet all kinds of interesting people and travel to amazing places in order to tell their stories. I was in my mid-20s and had bought a house, had a thriving community of friends, and met and dated some incredible guys. I graduated college feeling like I would never feel confident in who God had created me to be, unlike my friends who married the summer after college, started dream jobs, and entered the adult world sure of their place in it. But that all came; it just came at a different point on the path God had planned out for me. What I found at 25, others found at 18 or 21, and that’s OK.
2. Sometimes you just have to fake it till you make it.
In my various jobs post-college, I’ve learned the power of presenting yourself in a confident manner, even when I was trembling with fear on the inside. Confidence doesn’t mean overselling yourself in a job interview and coming across as being prideful or a bragger. It simply means knowing your strengths and skill set, and trusting that you can do a good job with what God has given you. And sometimes just showing up and acting like you belong is half the battle. My first big assignment when I got hired at a magazine was flying to LA and interviewing two actresses who were on the Disney channel. I was 23 and scared out of my mind, but I put on my favorite pair of heels, the ones that made me feel brave, and acted like I had done that sort of thing a thousand times. Believing that I could do it was the first step toward actually doing it. And it seems to me that confidence is an attractive quality when it comes to dating (especially blind dates and the online dating scene). Finding your confidence in the Lord and trusting that He has given you the life you have for a purpose is a life skill that will serve anyone well.
3. A delay doesn’t mean no; it just means not yet.
In my 20s figuring out God’s will seemed all-consuming. Where should I live after I graduate? What job path should I pursue? Where should I get plugged in at my church? Should I go out with that guy again? When should I buy a house? Sometimes the answers were crystal clear, and other times they were (and still are) vague and confusing. But just because God doesn’t answer a prayer or reveal the next step when we think He will doesn’t mean He won’t answer. When I failed miserably during one part of a job interview, I thought it was the end of the world. But 18 months later God opened a different door at the same company that was a much better fit and exactly the right job for me. It wasn’t a “no.” It was a “not yet.” So often that’s been a theme in my life, and learning to trust God’s timing and purpose in readying me for the next thing is a lesson I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning.
If you’re a few years (or more!) past your college days, what advice would you give your younger self? What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learned while you’ve navigated your 20s?