Most millennials grew up with an exciting sense of promise: The economy was booming. The Internet was changing the way we communicate. MTV still played music videos (TRL forever!).
But culture, the economy and even MTV have changed dramatically. More and more millennials still live with their parents, have abandoned faith and are not in relationships. For many, life isn’t turning out how they thought it would.
The good news is, that’s OK. Some of the assumptions we all maintained about getting older turned out to be myths perpetuated by culture and not the reality we’re living in. Identifying them—and embracing the real truths of adulthood—can help us realize that being a grown up may not look like we thought it would, but it can still be pretty great.
Jobs Should Define Our Identity
When you’re young, people tend to ask the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But, instead of sparking genuine existential reflection (to want to be, or not want to be?), the question tends to conflate identity with a profession.
For many millennials, the promise of access to college, advancements in technology and a general posture of optimism made almost any future job seem like a legitimate possibility while growing up. But following a recession and some cold reality (not everyone can be an astronaut—there’s only so many seats open on those shuttle missions), finding “dream jobs” simply wasn’t achievable for everyone.
Instead of making individual identity almost solely wrapped up in how we generate income, who we are—and what we want to be—has to do with what God has called us to, no matter what we do for our jobs. Just because you wait tables, work in a cubicle or drive for Uber doesn’t mean you can’t also be a writer, a missionary, a minister, a musician, an entrepreneur or whatever other title or titles you associate with your calling.
Friendships From School Will Last Forever
When you’re in high school and college, most of your day is spent in extremely close physical proximity to people your own age. Odds are, you found people who shared interests and ideas, and making friends was easy.
But, the irony of living in the most digitally connected generation in history, is that despite hundreds of online “friends,” many millennials report feeling lonely and find it difficult to make new friends.
The truth is, making new friends—and maintaining old ones—takes work. The busyness of jobs, families and adult stuff can make finding time to build relationships harder, but that shouldn’t let us fall into the trap of taking them for granted.
Instead of just relying on day-to-day life for friend time, being an adult means getting involved in church, playing in sports leagues, volunteering or just carving out time to grab some coffee with a buddy to maintain meaningful relationships and actually accomplishing all those squad goals.
Faith Gets Easier
Not only does research tell us that more millennials are leaving the church, but also that increasingly, they doubt the existence of God.
With most big issues in life, education, experience and exposure to new information helps us better understand difficult topics. But for many, faith is different. Instead of confirming the things they’d always been taught in the evangelical church, access to new knowledge has actually fueled questions that have led to doubt and concerns.
Fortunately—and despite what some individual church experiences may have been—big questions aren’t a bad thing. In fact, the Bible says that our faith actually grows when it’s tried (James 1:3: “The testing of your faith produces perseverance.”).
As we get older, faith may not become “easier,” but sometimes, challenges that force us to analyze why we believe what we believe, is exactly what we need.
Our Best Years Are Behind Us
It’s not uncommon to hear college referred to as “the best four years of your life.” And, look, dorm life has its perks (mainly the constant exposure to Ramen and video games), but there’s no reason that your adult life shouldn’t be better than the good ‘ole days.
Reflecting back on college hijinks can be fun, but nostalgia is a double-edged sword: If you get too caught up in the past, you’ll never enjoy the present.
The great thing about getting older, is that you’ve been able to figure out who you are, what you like and become established enough professionally to actually do things you enjoy.
Marriage and Parenthood Would Be a Breeze
When you’re single—or even just in the dating phase of a relationship—marriage seems like an end goal, not a journey in and of itself. But once you get there, you realize that you don’t know as much as you thought you did, and you’re really just getting started.
There’s a risk in thinking that marriage, parenthood or really any major milestone associated with adulthood, as “hard work,” but it’s equally as problematic to think it will be a breeze that doesn’t require any effort.
Landing that big job, tying the knot or having a kid are major moments. But each brings its own set of challenges, rewards and, at times, difficulties. The ability to face them head-on starts with realizing they’ll be there in the first place.
You Get Too Old to Achieve Your Dreams
In an age of Silicon Valley wunderkinds, twentysomething social entrepreneurs and young culture influencers, we’re constantly made to believe that if you haven’t achieved your goals by the time your 30, they probably won’t happen.
There may be some twentysomethings that find success early on, but for most people, achieving big goals takes time. Work hard. Don’t be discouraged. Learn from mistakes. Trust God. Remember, callings don’t have a deadline.
We’d ‘Outgrow’ Our Flaws
For some reason, the promise of adulthood, and everything associated with it, made many of us think we’d simply be able to outgrow our personal flaws. When I have a 9:00 – 5:00 job, sleeping in and running late will no longer be a problem; Selfish tendencies will go away when I’m married and living with someone I love; Debt, overspending and not saving won’t be an issue when I’m making real money.
The truth is that there is a difference between growing older and actually maturing. That’s why being involved in a solid community, seeking accountability and mentorship and finding a good church are so important: They all can help us recognize and work through our flaws and to become the people we want to be—no matter who we are right now.
We Wouldn’t Become ‘Boring’ Adults
Remember thinking how lame it was that your parents would hang at home on Friday nights, watching Dateline and going to bed early? Fast-forward a few years, and the only thing different about your weekend was that you binged on Making a Murderer instead of a Dateline mystery.
Sure, it’s fun to go out every night, stay up too late and embark on impromptu road trips. But families, jobs and the need for more than three hours of sleep and a Red Bull to sustain ourselves all day without dozing off in front of our computer can create some lifestyle changes.
But, like most things involved with adulthood, it’s all about finding a balance. There’s nothing wrong with crashing early and being “responsible” with all of your time and money, but remember that we also all need to have some fun sometimes too.
Make margin to rest and relax, but don’t get so caught up in a routine that you’re no longer open to spontaneous outings, a late night diner trip or the occasional all-nighter.
Jesse Carey is a mainstay on the weekly RELEVANT Podcast and member of RELEVANT's executive board. He lives in Virginia Beach with his wife and two kids.