Your work-life balance probably doesn’t exist anymore, and we want you to know that you didn’t mess it up.
It’s not your fault.
It evaporated with the 9 to 5 job.
And the full-time job with benefits.
Likely, your life is currently cobbled together with side-hustles while you attempt to finish that degree (which takes much longer than 2 or 4 years to complete), work that freelance project (which will end up paying you less than minimum wage), maintain your internship (no pay but it’s supposed to give you “valuable experience”), and hone your barista skills (just to make ends meet).
Your work life is 6 to 10, then 3 to 8, then 9 to close.
And your life-life? Your time for friends, hobbies, and rest? You’re supposed to find all that in-between.
Where? When? How?
These are haunting question that increase the panic that grows with every birthday driving you closer to 30 and making you feel further behind.
In your relationships.
In your resume.
In your bank account.
In your soul.
So when other (often older) people talk about finding a “balance between work and life,” you’re perplexed. Even that phrase assumes that work and life are separate entities, and that’s not true for you. Talking about work-life balance feels about as relevant as finding a cassette tape, using a pay phone, or referencing a fold-up paper map.
Well-Meaning Adults and Parents
Likely, you have some well-meaning adults and parents in your life who feel an urgency to speak even more loudly to your life-trajectory. As we explain in our new book, Growing With, young adults are walking, sprinting, or sometimes stumbling, toward their future in a process we describe as “adulting.”
While definitions for “adulting” abound, we define it as young people’s growth in agency as you embrace opportunities to shape the world around you. Family members and mentors who want to support you don’t always recognize how their well-intentioned efforts can actually backfire when they fail to see the complicated and honestly, often impossible, work-life environment you’re trying to navigate. Their opinions, camouflaged as comments, sound like fingernails on a chalkboard to emerging adult ears.
“When are you going to get a real job?”
“When I was your age I already had a job and a family!”
“Your generation is so picky/entitled/lazy/soft/selfish (choose your favorite derogatory adjective).”
The Struggle Is Real
The struggle is real, not simply because you likely can offer very specific stories of what we’ve described above, but because your lives are caught in a world that’s thin on support.
While jobs may be available, most are part-time.
College tuition for public universities has increased 200% since your parents considered college.
College debt has skyrocketed … and is smothering you.
First jobs out of college are often unpaid internships.
On average you are working far more hours than a traditional full-time job.
Women still make less than men.
Young people feel on-call 24/7. If they want to get paid, that is.
The bottom line of all this is that you and others in your generation feel like you are working harder on adulting while receiving less for your efforts.
So Where’s the Good News?
We are inspired by the emerging adults we know who value their spirituality. These young adults are not measuring their own—or others’—spirituality through church attendance but are looking for a compelling relationship with God around which they can orient themselves.
Some churches point fingers at young people for not showing up to their programming. But we’ve found that most churches really want to journey with emerging adults and help them experience the best life Jesus offers.
So if young people want support and churches want to offer it, where’s the disconnect?
Perhaps it’s in our diverging assumptions about work-life balance. Adults over 30 and churches both often assume that it’s possible, but emerging adults are fairly certain they’ve never even experienced these categories.
So what’s the good news that Gospel-oriented churches and adults over 30 might offer those trying to navigate their third decade in life?
Probably not a sermon on work-life balance.
Probably not a sermon.
Probably not a sermon at 9 a.m. on Sunday morning.
That you’ll miss.
And be blamed because you missed the worship service. Again.
What does a young person who wants to honor the life God’s given them do? Certainly, there must be some good news in the Gospel for an emerging adult who’s trying, really trying, to follow God’s call for their vocational life?
The Real Goal: Five Suggestions to Preserve Your Soul
We know it’s hard because many solutions are made and churches are run by those who have the luxury of balance and fail to understand your “adulting” pressures. But we want to encourage you to view your 20s as a decade of investment. The best investment you can make in the midst of all you’re juggling is to preserve your soul. Ultimately, that’s what those older than you want for you—and for themselves too—when they talk about balance. And essentially that’s what will help live the best life both now and for decades to come.
So if you want to preserve your soul in the midst of the your side-hustles and vocational juggling act, consider these five suggestions.
Learn from all of your experiences—both positive and negative. This third decade will surprise you as you encounter new people and situations. Pause long enough to take note of your successes and learn from your mistakes. Every experience has the potential to shape your vocational journey if you pay attention and learn from it.
Stop thinking that you can be “anything” and start focusing on becoming “something.” You’re at a point in your adulting, relational, and vocational journey when you have to do something really hard: Choose. Some choices you make will open up new opportunities as they close others. There is both joy and grief embedded in these decisions that give you the chance to invest your life in what is important to you and beautiful for the world. Shift from feeling guilty about what you’re not doing to being passionate about what you are doing.
Fight to be physically and relationally healthy. Only you can choose to take care of yourself physically, emotionally and relationally. Recognize that today you can choose how you will treat your body, your friends, and your family.
Reach out to others who can support you and who you can support. Now is the perfect season for you to move from independence to interdependence. Seek mentors who can help you grow and be honest with you. Find friends who bring out the best in you. Value your family by appreciating the beautiful parts, reconciling the broken parts, and letting go of the destructive parts. Embrace your neighborhood, workplace, and church through encouraging and empowering those who may be a step or two behind you.
Get involved in a church that is more interested in your participation than your attendance. We want you to be involved in a life-giving community and we’re biased: We would love for that to be a church near you. Look for a church that prioritizes young people, hands you and others in your generation the keys of leadership when you are ready, and loves your local and global neighbors.
Your (often hectic) life matters.
Today. To many.
So, no matter your schedule. No matter the imbalance.
Preserve your soul.
Live your best life. And share that life with others.
We need you.
We believe in you.
And we’re convinced that God is calling you to something even more compelling than a work-life balance.
Kara Powell is the Executive Director and Steve Argue is the Applied Research Strategist both for the Fuller Youth Institute in California. Together they have co-authored the new book, Growing With: Every Parent’s Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in their Family, Faith, and Future (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2019)