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If 40 Is the New 30, Is 20 the New Junior High?

If 40 Is the New 30, Is 20 the New Junior High?

A recent article in The New York Times Magazine asks why so many people in their 20s are taking so long to grow up. In the article, Robin Henig proposes:

“It’s happening all over, in all sorts of families, not just young people moving back home but also young people taking longer to reach adulthood overall. It’s a development that predates the current economic doldrums, and no one knows yet what the impact will be—on the prospects of the young men and women; on the parents on whom so many of them depend; on society, built on the expectation of an orderly progression in which kids finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and eventually retire to live on pensions supported by the next crop of kids who finish school, grow up, start careers, make a family and on and on. The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain untethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life.”

My friend Bob, who is about 10 years older than I am, told me recently that, at least in our culture, your 20s are about getting educated, your 30s are about accumulating resources (becoming financially sustainable), your 40s are about building (families, houses, careers, ministries, impact) and your 50s are about enjoying what you’ve built (and perhaps pressuring your kids to get married and make babies). He did not intend this as advice, he was only making an observation. But I tend to think it’s a pretty good path. It takes time to build influence, to establish connections and to build confidence in others at your abilities. But delay the process and, well, you are in what psychologists call “suspended adolescence.”

To be honest, most of my friends who are in their 20s are seriously ambitious and enormously accomplished. I think of my friend Justin Zoradi over at These Numbers Have Faces, or Chase Reeves who is building his little blog empire, or Joshua DuBois who runs the president’s Faith-Based Partnerships and Community Initiatives Program or Jenny White who is heading up Charlie Peacock’s Art House Program in Dallas. It’s hard for me to see twentysomethings as kids (unless we start talking about music! Twentysomethings trade in bands like children with baseball cards, hardly taking time to actually listen to the music! Call me an agist. I know I am an agist), but apparently the phenomenon is real. So if you’re in your early 20s and it’s just after noon and you’re crawling out of the bed, you grew up sleeping in and surfing the Internet with a laptop on your belly, here are some tips:

1. Lose your friends: If your friends aren’t ambitious, if they don’t have clear plans, you probably won’t either. This doesn’t mean to reject them, but it does mean if your friends want to lay around doing nothing all day, get some new friends. The single greatest influence playing on you is your friends. You will become like the people you hang around.

2. Read books: Try to read a book a week for the next six weeks. This alone will stimulate your mind and you’ll start being bored with being bored. You’ll want to explore ideas. Your conversations with friends will become boring. You’ll wonder how many more conversations you can have (or that you have to have) about what happened the last time you guys were drunk.

3. Write down your goals for the next five years, one year, one month and one week: Do this now. If you don’t know what you want, that’s a very serious problem, so just write down anything and start moving. A body in motion stays in motion. It doesn’t matter if you change your mind later. You can’t change your mind about what you want until you start moving forward.

4. Ask your parents or a mentor for criticism: Criticism from people who love you is a gift and a blessing. It’s going to be hard to take, and the first thing you are going to want to do is criticize them back, but don’t do it. Just soak it in, then act on whatever they say. Nobody is perfect, but people who don’t accept criticism end up worse off in the end.

5. Accept hardship: Hardship is part of every life, and God intends it to purify you and prepare you. If you reject hardship, you reject life.

6. Cut the cynicism: Leaders don’t roll their eyes, children do. Is the Dave Matthews Band so yesterday? Great. You and the kids in the high school cafeteria can talk about it all day. People work very hard to do what they do, and when you roll your eyes you’re being insulting. Children are insulting, adults appreciate craftsmanship over fashion. That said, the last Dave Matthews’ record really wasn’t that bad.

7. Accomplish something: Nothing builds true confidence like success. Want to be a filmmaker? Make a short film and enter it into a contest. Want to write? Write an essay and submit it to a journal. Pick something and practice and work until you’re good at it. You can only change direction if you are in motion.

Of course, there are a million more tips. But this should get the ball rolling … or at least get you out of bed.

Donald Miller is the author of Blue Like Jazz (Nelson) and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (Nelson). This article originally appeared on his blog and is used by permission.

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