Something New and Good: Good-bye 20’s


I’m turning 30 at the end of this month. Officially out of my 20’s.

No longer can I assertively talk about fashion, music, or technology with absolute certainty that what I am saying is current and hip. No longer can I wear whatever I want to and assume I will come off as “young and carefree.” No longer can I decide willy nilly when to wear sunblock, concealer, and whether or not to take off my makeup at night.

I’m entering a decade that will likely include the advent of wrinkles, dress codes, and age-appropriateness.

Before I greet my 30’s, I’d like to look back at my 20’s and give them a proper reflection.

It was a great decade. Lewis entered the scene. I lived in London. It was actually in 2004 that I got my first passport, at 20 years old. I’ve been to 26 countries since then, many of them multiple times. And I enjoyed them greatly. I learned a lot. I grew a lot. God was faithful.

Amersterdam. Age 23.
Amersterdam. Age 23.

However, in addition to all the fun and joy, I have to look back on the tumult of the decade as well. Being in your 20s is synonymous with crises. Identity crises. Job crises. Relationship crises. Nothing is settled, everything is new and confusing. Nothing is as I had thought it would be. Including me.

There are a few things about myself that I would like to see change in the next decade.

In my 20’s I have been…

In a hurry. Before graduating college, life was a series of  movie trailers and soundbites.  Two and a half years of undergrad. One and a half years of angst-ridden living at home and answering phones for a summer camp. One year of grad school. One year of nannying while grappling with the fact that it was 2008 and my job prospects were actually worse with a masters degree than they had been with a bachelors.

With things changing that fast, who has time to ruminate on decisions? Who has time to grieve losses or mourn disappointments? To reflect on successes and failures? If any one emotion lingered for longer than a month, I began rapid fire analysis to try to get it “dealt with.”

I didn’t want to dwell in a moment and wait for time and the Holy Spirit to tell if a decision was a good one. When passion and inspiration struck, I was off on a new adventure, as committed to it as if I had been planning it for years, rather than hours.

An idealist. In my teens I just wanted something real. Something with meaning and substance, which is why teens seem to love movies where people die. In my 20’s, however, this morphed to the endless search for the ideal. Ideal community. Ideal mate. Ideal job.

Many of us enter our 20’s from this magical, cohesive world of life-concentrate: college.

The other day Lewis and I concluded that  when we were  coming out of socially homogeneous and dense living situations (college, missions communities, discipleship scenarios, camps, grad school), we were probably our most ill-prepared for real life. Anyone can create community in an environment where everyone around you shares at least some of the same fundamental values (education, relationships, faith, achievement) and you are forced to share intense living space. It does precious little to prepare you for the fragmented reality of life, where your closest friends are the ones you see once every two weeks, and you spend the majority of your time and energy at a job that is not fulfilling your rockstar dreams.

So when I got my first job out of college and spent months putting stamps on mailers and running credit cards…I was disappointed.

When I tried to create a cohesive, all-encompassing community where my friends, family, and job…I was bitterly disappointed.

Every boy I met was disappointing. (except Lewis, of course)

At the heart of all that disappointment, was my failure to become the ideal ME.

24 and confused.
24 and confused.

Lewis said that when he met me, my motto was, “If I can, then I should.” Instead of becoming superwoman, I became the Energizer Bunny of other people’s ideas and expectations.

How exhausted I was! Last week we had this crazy stretch of nights celebrating birthdays, covering civic meetings, babysitting, etc. etc. On the 5th night, I collapsed into bed at around 8:30 and said out loud, “Can you believe this used to be normal for me?”

Lewis shook his head. “I never found it normal.”

A sucker. A sucker for marketing campaigns telling me that the right products would shape my identity. My phone, my operating system, my drink order, my eye makeup.

More than that, I was a sucker for the LOVE WHAT YOU DO narrative. It’s no surprise that so many 20 somethings are frenetically flaky, unhappy, and disappointed. We grew up on a steady diet of heroes who used the internet to create an ideal life where they have everything they want, and get it wearing pajamas. Or the ones who struck out to Africa without a plan and came back with a Pulitzer.

I was a sucker for this. So I found ways to do what I loved, was paid accordingly (intangibly), and devastated accordingly when things didn’t pan out.

An Approval Junkie. I would do pretty much anything for the approval of those I admired and respected. Just like most of my millennial peers. We’ve been over-praised and excessively affirmed our whole lives. And then there were the handful of people who felt the need to fix this problem of mine.

I can see where it’s tempting to withhold affirmation “for her own good.” Spiritual leaders/pastors/counselors really love to be counter-cultural, and this one seems pretty easy. The culture created this monster, we just have to starve it out.

But therein lies a deep misunderstanding of people who seek approval. And it’s also a really crappy way to love people.

Approval junkies are not drug addicts. It’s a clever and wholly inadequate moniker. Approval is how they gauge what is real, and their relationship to that reality. Ideally, we will realize that human approval is relative and ephemeral, and we will find our bearings in Jesus. However badly we need our Reality Navigation System replaced, we don’t need it short-circuited. It’s disorienting and traumatic. It doesn’t point us to Jesus, it just leaves us confused about the way the world works.

So, I was an approval junkie, with enough encounters with Pseudo-Holy-Spirits, that I was disoriented a lot of the time. Which made me feel like an actual junkie quite a bit. Shamed and cynical and desperate.

But, you say, how should we “help” our approval junkie friends? Don’t. Life is hard enough on them. Keep showing them the love of Jesus and how much they are approved by him, they will eventually get the picture.

Simplistic. Life was always unfolding in a neat narrative that could be summarized with a beginning, middle and end. All I needed was an epiphany or a life lesson while traveling the world. Then it would all come to light.

“How love is like a Eurail pass.”

“Why I will never again make important decisions after a 24 hour fast and prayer vigil.”

“3 Steps to healing from heartbreak. 1) Get in your car and drive up the 101. 2) Smoke cigarettes for the first time. 3) Write a short story. ”

So… life was like Buzzfeed.

At the end of the week I will turn 30. Rather than leave these 20-something traits behind, I’m hoping that they will age into something better. I’ll post on my aspirations for 30-something next.

DC Zoo. Age 24.
DC Zoo. Age 24.