Out With The 20s In With The 30s: Game-Changing Lessons To Help You Overcome The 20-Something Struggle

Well, I made it. 30. It wasn’t easy. The last 10 years I pinballed off the walls of anxiety, confusion, and ambiguity. 

Needless to say I had few constants. But I could take this to the bank. Every six months, I would come to a crossroads and say, “Where do I go from here?” College. Graduation. Big boy job. Engagement. Marriage. First house. First child. Cancer. Second child. Career change.

Despite all the “come to Jesus” meetings with myself, looking in the mirror and thinking the next 24 hours would determine the rest of my life, I made it. And you can too. This post is for every 20-something who has asked, “Where do I go from here?”

Here they are. Honest. Direct. Challenging. One game-changing lesson for every year that will help you overcome the 20-something struggle.

Year 20: Faith is not the absence of doubt. It is the presence of belief.

Oh, you have doubts about God. Welcome to the club. No need to sign a form. Just grab a seat.

It was around this time in my life that I started struggling with my faith. I had a lot of questions. And, at the time, I thought my questions were a testament to my lack of faith. So, I suppressed my doubts about God.

Bad decision.

The church might not tell you this, but I will. Doubts about God, heaven/hell, etc. aren’t bad. Many (maybe even most) 20-somethings have serious questions about God and faith at some point. When you’re no longer perched tightly under the wings of your parents’ faith, God can be scary.

Don’t buy the lie that faithful Christians never doubt. The gap between a borrowed faith and a personal one is often bridged by doubt. Step into difficult questions. Don’t run from the hard stuff. On the other side is a personal relationship with God, one that you own.

Year 21: The path to a broken life is paved with insecurity and comparison.

I didn’t drink in high school or college…until my 21st birthday. I was the guy who thought he could hang out with people who overindulged and never be tempted to indulge himself.

Wrong.

And here’s why. I struggled with insecurity and comparison. I wanted to be like the baseball players on campus. They were cool and had hot girlfriends. I wanted to be the most popular guy. And I was neither. So, when I saw an opportunity to acquire what I always desired, I took the bait (in the form of alcohol). When this happened, my life began to spiral out of control.

I hit rock bottom shortly before my 22nd birthday. I considered ending my life while driving down a narrow two-lane road intoxicated.

But it wasn’t alcohol that caused my problems. It was insecurity and comparison. If you allow these two toxins to hang around, eventually they will find a way into your heart. It’s equivalent to seeing a thief on your porch, looking out the window, and saying, “Eh, he’s probably dressed in black and pacing back and forth for no reason. I’m going to bed.”

Insecurity and comparison are thieves that always look for an open door to your soul. They rob your peace and replace it with anxiety, your joy and replace it with depression, your contentment and replace it with consumption.

Maybe you wish you were prettier, smarter, cooler, more athletic, etc. But the path to true peace and security come through trying to be the best you, not the best someone else.

Year 22: If you are a 99% follower of Jesus, you are not a follower. 

I grew up in church, but I was hesitant to follow Jesus. Finally, the day after my 22nd birthday, I made the decision. What took so long? I didn’t like what I saw.

Every summer, like clockwork, several friends would go to church camp, come back “transformed,” then “un-transform” in a matter of weeks. That was my primary understanding of Christianity, and I was “un-interested” in doing Christianity halfway.

To those going to church camps, do your friends a favor: make sure you’re really transformed by Jesus before you go proclaiming it to the world. Your actions impact others.

I vowed to never be that guy who decided to follow Jesus, then pulled a “gotcha” two weeks later. And, while I made a bunch of stupid mistakes in the years after, the day I was baptized I gave all of my heart to Jesus. Here’s a hard, but true statement: if you give 99% of your life to Jesus, you haven’t given your life to Jesus. Ironically, if you give 99% of your life to Jesus, you will only get 99% of God, which means you don’t truly get God. You get some warped, twisted version of God that fits your lifestyle.

Give everything to Jesus. Go all in. Don’t let the half-way, lukewarm Christians keep you from making a decision that alters your eternal trajectory. Jesus is worth it. I promise.

Year 23: Formal education might land you a CAREER, but self-education will land you a MEANINGFUL LIFE.

I graduated college when I was 23, and the day I turned in my last exam, I vowed never to return. I wiped my hands clean of school. The thought of studying for another test made me want to throw up in my mouth. Ever been there?

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And because learning and school were two sides of the same coin, I was also done with learning.

This is one of the great tragedies of the modern education system: it paints learning as a chore. It’s work to learn. And work sucks. Listen, if God is all-knowing, and we’re created in God’s image, we should be learners.

I am convinced more every day that the most successful people and the most joyful people share a common trait: they’re constant learners. They are passionate about learning. And they don’t need to be in a school building to do it. They approach every situation in life as an opportunity to learn.

Your mind, like your body, is organic. It’s either growing or dying. And the food for growth is learning. So, grab your pencil and pen, step out the front door, and start learning.

Year 24: Marriage WILL NOT fix your problems.

I tied the knot not long after my 24th birthday. I dreamed about the day for years. In my dreams, I married a really hot woman. Check. And I would never again struggle with loneliness, lust, or going to the movies by myself. Whiff. Whiff. Huge Whiff.

I realized in the first few days that marriage wouldn’t fix my problems. In fact, it exposed a few problems I didn’t know I had. But this is the beauty of marriage. It refines you. It teaches you selflessness.

Your first home will probably be small, so there isn’t enough room for you, your spouse, and your baggage. It’s best to start removing some baggage now.

Year 25: There’s no such thing as “good” and “bad” experiences. There are just experiences. You determine what is good and bad.

Life threw me a huge curve-ball at age 25. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Melanoma. Nothing in life prepares you to hear a doctor say, “Let’s talk about your chances of living beyond five years.”

How about, “No?!”

I’ve always wondered why tragedy cripples some people and catapults others. Then I was diagnosed with cancer, and hit me. You ready? One word…perspective.

Cancer taught me there’s no such thing as “good” and “bad” experiences. There are just experiences. You determine what’s good and bad. Those who survive, and even thrive, through tragedy are those who choose to see good in every situation.

And, for me, this was only possible through faith in Christ. Romans 8:28 reverberated in my mind like a cowbell at Scott Field on a Saturday night (I’m an MSU Bulldog fan…we love cowbells). God works everything together for good. Everything.

Before my bout with cancer, I thought the world owed me something. As long as you believe the world owes you something, tragedy will cripple your life. Anything that doesn’t go your way will cripple your life.

Start saying this to yourself now. Your friends don’t owe you anything. Your job doesn’t owe you anything. The world doesn’t owe you anything.

Now, you’re in a position to see good in every situation.

Year 26: Your life’s purpose is found at the intersection of your greatest embarrassment and fear. 

I made a life-changing decision at age 26. After graduating as an engineer and practicing for two years, I transitioned into full-time ministry. Naturally, right?

Here’s what I discovered: if you really want to find your purpose, answer this question, “What do you fear most?” For me, the answer was instability and public speaking. I would rather someone kick me in the pants repeatedly than stand in front of a crowd or deal with an unstable career. So, I majored in engineering. Stability. No public speaking. Done and done.

God probably laughed as I pursued my little stable life. Then, as I started to enjoy some stability, he went all Chuck Norris and roundhouse kicked my selfish dreams. And when Chuck Norris roundhouse kicks something, game over.

The first Wednesday at my church in Jackson, MS, the preacher approached me and said, “Are you a prayin’ man?” Trap question. Saying no meant I wasn’t a Christian. Saying yes meant I would have to pray…in front of people. My greatest fear was now staring me in the face.

Turns out saying yes changed the trajectory of my life.

It’s never too early (or too late) to get out of your comfort zone. Take risks. Be willing to fail. Failure is the greatest teacher. On the other side of your comfort zone is the life you were created to live.

Year 27: Counseling is NOT a bad thing. It might even save your marriage. And your life.

This was probably the hardest year of my life. I came face-to-face with everything that mattered to me. Tiffani discovered my addiction to porn, and I was in danger of losing it all.

Then, she said these words…”We need to go to counseling.”

Counseling? No way. Only really awful people go there. Not going. Well, my wife is hard-headed (I thank God for it).

A week later I stepped in the counselor’s office.

My experience in counseling ranks as one of the top five most important ones of my life. I am free from addiction, my marriage is growing, and my thought pattern is healthy because I decided to go to counseling.

You have crap in your life. Maybe it’s not an addiction. But it’s something. Go to counseling. I would get on my knees and beg you, but that would be awkward. Yes, it costs money. But you invest in Netflix subscriptions, a closet full of clothes, golf clubs, and tons of other meaningless stuff. Why not invest in something that matters?…YOU.

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It might save your life.

Year 28: You cannot impact those around you unless you take care of number one.  

Refresh yourself before you wreck yourself.Paul Angone

Retreats. Class twice a week. Devos. Every time I looked at my schedule, I wanted to run away to Never Never Land. It was exhausting.

I was burnt out. I was enslaved to my schedule and the demands of others.

Then, in a conversation with a good friend, everything changed. He said something that was a game-changer for me, “Your ability to impact the world is directly dependent on how well you take care of yourself. You can’t squeeze water from a dry sponge.”

Drop the mic and walk off stage.

My advice to 20-somethings: learn the art of saying no. As a general rule, people are too worried about themselves to worry about you. The world will take from you as much as you give it. But the world will only be impacted by you as much as you pour into yourself. Nurture your relationship with God before you help others nurture theirs. Take breaks. Pray often.

Year 29: A disillusioned view of God and the world leads to a discontent life.

Not long after my 29th birthday, I suffered a huge wound at the hands of a few Christians. I was ready to give up on the church and ministry.

But God used that experience to teach me an important lesson: a disillusioned view of Him and the world leads to a discontent life. You see, the wound occurred, at least in part, because I wasn’t expecting it. Like that time I was knocked out playing football. I walked back to the sidelines after a kickoff (well after the play was over) and…BOOM! I was severely concussed. This whole incident hinged on my inability to see him coming.

When you can’t see a serious threat coming, whether it’s a football player, a co-worker, or a brother/sister in Christ, the initial shock is stronger and the pain is sharper. This is the essence of disillusionment. Someone inflicts a blow on you that you didn’t see coming. And the shockwaves are felt in the deepest parts of your heart.

You see, I was disillusioned about the church and God. I didn’t think Christians would inflict wounds on people the way the world does. But I was wrong.

And that’s ok. Through my pain God showed me I’m no different than the people who hurt me. You’re greatest wounds are often the result of someone attacking your greatest idol. My idol is acceptance. I want to be liked. So, when a few Christians attacked me, they also attacked my idol. 

This is why the church is so powerful. Wounds don’t terminate on themselves. They point you to something greater. They teach you something about your heart. They refine you. They make you more like Christ.

It saddens me to see 20-somethings leaving the church. I get it. People suck. But Jesus never said the church would be perfect. The church simply proclaims the perfect One, Jesus, through our mess and letdowns.

Don’t abandon your faith because you’re disillusioned. There’s no perfect church. There’s only a perfect God.

Year 30: Your life becomes meaningless the moment you long for the past more than you hope for the future.

So, here I am. 30. And, strangely enough, I’m asking the same question…“Where do I go from here?”

My 20s were a period of exploration. I graduated college. Found the love of my life. Married her. Welcomed my first son, then my second, into the world. Battled cancer. Changed careers. That’s a lot. So, where do I go from here?

Forward.

I loved my 20s, but I don’t want to go back. One of the greatest threats to your present joy and future dreams is a longing to dwell in the past.

Victor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search For Meaning, said it this way,”It’s a peculiarity of man that he can only live by looking to the future.” 

That’s good.

The moment you lose hope in your future, and try to live in the past, your life loses meaning. This explains why parents who live vicariously through their children are often angry and miserable. They’re trying to re-live some part of their past, and life has no meaning there. This also explains why some of my friends struggled to maintain a job after college, while others acquired C-level titles. The former couldn’t leave the college life behind, the latter could.

Regardless of what comes your way, never lose hope. Always believe the future is far better than the past. And, if you believe this, I promise you will be right.

And your life will be meaningful. 

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I would love to hear from you. What have you learned in your 20s? Leave a comment below.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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