[Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions here.]
I recently lost my job. But it wasn’t just a job, it was my childhood dream, what I have spent my entire life working toward. It was also, in some ways, my identity (I go to counseling and this has been addressed ad nauseam).
Some people might say this is my chance for me to finally follow my dream, but I’m not some wunderkind who has been waiting to bust out their million dollar ideas. I’m 29 and I feel like I’m starting over, only without the naiveté and optimism of a 20-year-old.
So, what am I supposed to do? How are plain normal people supposed to restart?
Dede, I’d like to officially welcome you to the settling in phase. I’ve been in it for a few years, so I can tell you from experience that it’s awesome—seriously awesome.
Now you may hear the term “Settling In” and cringe, which is normal. But don’t confuse settling in with shutting down, quitting on your life or resigning. It is none of those things. What settling in means is that you’ve gotten to a place where the optimism and drive to pursue what God’s calling you to is strong, but not as panicked.
In our post-high school, newly found independence, choosing a major, realizing that God is using us, twentysomething state, we find ourselves learning how to drink from the firehose of opportunities. And while it’s a fun time of life, it’s also like giving a 1-year-old their first piece of cake at a birthday party. At first, they don’t know how to handle what’s presented to them, yet within a few moments, it becomes baby heroin—and they beg for it every day.
Opportunity is the same way. When we first taste the freedom of independence, we don’t know how to temper ourselves. So we go nuts, and everything is a huge deal, because everything is a choice to engage in something while simultaneously forsaking something else. Additionally, we think that those opportunities are one-shot deals, because we don’t have enough time and experience under our belts to realize (and trust) that opportunities present themselves more than one time.
For example, your “dream job” will likely be one of a dozen or so dream jobs you hold (read this). Yet when we find ourselves leaving (or being let go) from that dream job, we wonder if the dream was a lie. Or if there even is a dream at all? And then, another job comes along that seems WAY more suited to where we’re at, and we convince ourselves yet again that the dream is alive and that this is “the one”—and the cycle continues a dozen or so more times.
And that’s pretty much our twenties in a nutshell. We freak out about vocation, we freak out about dating, we freak out about what God actually wants us to do, and we make it all a huge deal. Then, something happens…
You wake up one day, somewhere around your 30th birthday, and things that once consumed you (vocation, relationships, calling, etc.) seem a little more tempered—not less important, but less dire. Usually, this change in intensity is precipitated by a life event that jolts you into a realization that life is cyclical, not linear. That is, you finally get that you’re always going to be on the treadmill of “figuring it out,” so you better learn how to pace yourself.
Dede, vulnerability time, here’s what I thought about my life in my twenties: I wanted to be famous. At different points, I wanted to be the next Mac Powell, Andy Stanley or Jon Acuff. I wanted desperately to be known because I felt that if people affirmed my abilities, I may actually be worth something. And like you, I went to counseling and addressed this self-inflicted lie, ad nauseam. Then, my thirties hit, and I became a dad.
Becoming a father, effectively, re-calibrated me and dimmed the panic of figuring it all out. This was not because any of the other dreams were deferred, but because I realized that the way I may be able to best change the world is by loving Eve and Lucy well. Maybe (likely) I’ll never end up a NY Times best-seller or an influential teacher, but I will clap for the girls during their swim lessons and sing the ABC’s during breakfast—which I think is just as important.
Now, this is not to say that I, or anyone else who has settled in doesn’t dream. That is far from the truth. But I think we dream with the understanding that we’re already realized, and we’ve already made it.
Because at the end of the day, the job really is to love God and love your neighbor. Which means that my primary and secondary roles are spelled out for me: One, I must pursue Jesus. And two, I must pursue the people God has placed in my world. Which means I need to be the best husband, father, friend, co-worker and advice columnist I can be. Then, once I’ve gotten a good pace on the treadmill with those pursuits, I can run a little faster and begin to dream about what else might be out there.
Dede, my advice to you is to settle in. Don’t worry about the dream job, because it’s either something too distant for you to see, or it doesn’t exist at all. Either way, if we trust the sovereignty of God, we can trust that clarity would be yours if the time was right.
So, take this in-between time and use it as an opportunity to explore where God has you today. It’s no accident that you lost your job, it’s a bummer, but God isn’t surprised. So what does this mean? May God be asking you to focus your heart and mind in a direction other than vocation? Might there be relationships that need to be prioritized? Might your relationship with God need some tending to? And on a deeper lever, would you be OK if your life was “normal” and you never became “a wunderkind who has been waiting to bust out their million dollar ideas”?
These are your questions to answer, Dede. But I will tell you that the moment you realize that your value is found in how you love God and love people, than the drama of your twenties will fade, and you’ll settle in to the cyclical journey of figuring the rest of it out. Good luck, friend.
And that does it for today. Until next week…
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.