There is no decade like that of one’s twenties. At no other time do options feel so simultaneously limitless and restricted. You could be anything you want, so long as it covers your newly acquired bills. You could live anywhere in the world, but make sure it’s leading toward your future and roommates are available and you can get back home quickly after breakups. The rhythm of school holidays is exchanged for the rhythm of PTO. You begin to hear yourself complain about all the things you weren’t taught while resolving to “fake it till you make it” in more areas than are comfortable. Your passport and cholesterol become your problems, and there are signs that you may in fact be evolving into your mother after all.
Faith often gets deconstructed in people’s twenties. Jobs are accepted with pride and social-media announcements. Two-week-notices are submitted with trembling hands. Your friends birth babies. Your friends get divorced. You dissect your purpose like you may never have peace about it. You feel alive in ways that make you wonder if you’ll ever experience them again.
The brain fully forms in this decade, which is weird. You realize what your generation is called and that people have opinions about it. Loss happens that informs what type of tool box you’re going to need for your mental, physical and spiritual health going forward. You begin to name your trauma and triggers. Relationships solidify that will see you through several versions of yourself. You become a little more of who you are becoming, and consider whether you can live with that or not.
As someone who is three and half years out of her twenties, as well as someone who spent most of that decade running an intentional community house of twenty-somethings, I have a special affection for the lives that get lived between 19 and 30. With that sentiment and experience in mind, I’ve compiled a list of 10 things to consider doing before one turns 30 (which doesn’t include pandemic-unfriendly suggestions like go see your favorite band or travel to a foreign country.) Here they are.
Do some ego work.
Fr. Richard Rohr writes that, “The ego is that part of the self that wants to be significant, central and important by itself, apart from anybody else. It wants to be both separate and superior. It is defended and self-protective by its very nature.” Therefore, ego work is personal exploration that helps you see what of your existence is your God-given true self, and what false self you have implemented to survive the world, despite the harm it may cause you or others. Before you get out of your twenties, dive into the work of the mystics, the desert mothers and fathers, or systems like the enneagram to get a better look at how and why you’ve been experiencing the world as you have.
Welcome doubt, embrace tension.
Certainty is boring (she says as a coping mechanism at the end of 2020). Confident answers are so teen years. You’re in your twenties now, baby – doubt and tension are in! Make friends with them, even and especially in your faith. Trust them as guides into a better world, a better theology, a better you. Meet them with welcome, not war.
And by this, I mean live interdependently. Maybe this means as a resident of an intentional community house. Maybe this means as a roommate to a couple others. Maybe this means that your neighbor uses your lawn mower and you use their washing machine, or that you’re a part of a group of people who are creating your own health insurance opportunities, house church (Zoom) experiences, or dividing dinner responsibilities. Either way, plant seeds in shared soil. It subverts the toxicity of American capitalist independence and keeps us aware of our need for each other.
Find a counselor.
And accept the truth that you don’t have to feel depressed, anxious, traumatized, or at the end of yourself to make a counseling appointment. You can feel underwhelmed, confused, curious, sad, bitter, unsettled, relieved, proud, grieved, pressed, miserable, afraid, uncomfortable, burned out, calm, guilty, exhausted, inadequate, triggered, grateful, all the things at once, or nothing at all. You need not wait on a remarkable reason to explore therapy. And if you need permission? Here it is: make the appointment.
Ask questions about your history.
In an era of DNA tests, the World Wide Web and our elderly living longer, humanity has never had such access to our stories. Find out more about what blood runs through your veins. Who first lived on the land under your feet? Is the story of your family one of oppressed, oppressor, or both? How did those in your lineage demonstrate resilience and changed minds? On whose shoulders are you standing? How will this knowledge inform what you do with your time and resources going forward?
Chase curiosity over passion.
Author Elizabeth Gilbert writes, “We are constantly being told to pursue our passions in life, but there are times when passion is a tall order, and really hard to reach. But curiosity, I have found, is always within reach. Passion is a tower of flame, but curiosity is a tiny tap on the shoulder.” For many, one’s twenties can feel like there are ticking timers around every corner to find the right job, right partner, right city, right calling. This can put a lot of pressure on the presence of passion rather than the breadcrumbs of curiosity. Grow comfortable with the idea that the Spirit guides in next hints and faint whispers, too.
Get behind a justice issue.
With countless communities suffering at any given moment, it can be hard to know how to invest and where to start with issues of justice. The border? The climate? Anti-racism efforts? Gun violence? Nodding toward the idea of chasing curiosity, consider a thing that is excruciating to hear about for you. What tears your heart in two and threatens your hope for humanity? Let that be an invitation into the work of learning more and becoming involved in small and big ways.
As chaos rages around us, personal traditions can act as stabilizers, and season-markers. They can also give footing to the new identities we are exploring and the old connections we want to continue. And hey . . . you do not have to have a mortgage (or be in post-COVID days) to have traditions. Learn how to can vegetables in the summer. Make an Advent calendar for your kitchen table. Pick a recipe to revisit every New Years Eve. Light a candle to remember those who were taken from us too soon. Take walks on Sundays, meditate in the calm morning hours, end your birthday with an email to yourself. Build your altars of remembrance, even in shifting sand.
Set a boundary.
Learn that your, “yes,” to one thing is always a, “no,” to something else, and that boundaries hurt but don’t harm. Practice unapologetic rest and margin-protection. Make a habit out of leaving room to be surprised by life.
And lastly in this non-exhaustive list, look back on the old you with compassion and mercy. Embrace them with care, not embarrassment. Make room for the you that is evolving so that you can learn better how to make room for others who are on their way to their next conversion as well. Picture your old self as the wounded, road-side man in the Good Samaritan story and your new self as the Samaritan, or your current self on the roadside and your future self as the Samaritan. Allow that to inform how you refuse to box others into the one way you experienced them in one place at one time. Press into loving people as you love yourself by first forgiving yourself for being the growing, glorious human that you are.
Best of all? They can each be explored while in quarantine or lockdown. They can each be an investment into your life and that of your neighbor; an investment into a better world for all. Good luck, you, in these brilliant and heart-wrenching years of becoming. In the future, may you look back on them in wonder and gratitude. In the present, may you have peace.
Britney Winn Lee is the author of Rally: Communal Prayers for Lovers of Justice and Jesus and The Boy With Big, Big Feelings. She is the part-time editor for Red Letter Christians and the full-time director of a community arts program in Shreveport, Louisiana where she lives with her husband and son. Britney writes to build bridgers and bring a little Southern hospitality to complex kiddos, social justice movements, and the spiritually-homesick. Find her on Instagram @britneywinnlee .