Last year, I was the stereotypical millennial: I held three random part-time jobs and posted everything on the Internet. I had dropped out of school two years before for a job that I thought would be my career, and I had no idea what I was doing or what trajectory I wanted to be on.
I felt stuck and lost and like I was floating in the middle of the ocean with no sign of dry land. And while that feeling is absolutely terrifying, it forced me to stop and take inventory of myself and my goals. Here are four things I learned from that year—my year of not having it all together:
Live Up to the Right Expectations
We all have an idea of what we want to be in our heads. And we’re constantly trying to live up to those expectations. In high school, I had a very clear picture of where I would be by the time I was 25. I would be wildly successful at whatever line of work I had very logically picked out based on median pay and market growth.
Then, as I grew closer and closer to that quarterlife landmark, I started to panic. There’s no way I could achieve my “plans” by 25.
But why was I trying to achieve goals I don’t even want anymore?
I didn’t want to be a tight-rope walker in the circus with Chris O’Donnell’s character from Batman and Robin anymore (just kidding, I’ll always want to be that). Who made 17-year-old me the arbiter of my own success?
Goals are always changing, because we are always changing. And if you hold yourself to an outdated standard, based on old desires—or worse, the desires of people around you—you’re limiting your ability to hear God’s calling on your life.
And let’s be honest, His is the only standard that matters. (And trust me, He wants you to be a tight-rope walking circus performer.)
Social Media Can Lie to You
Social media should come with a warning label. “WARNING: I used 15 filters to make this look white-washed and beautiful, and I also spilled that artful latte all down my shirt 15 seconds after I posted this.”
Social media can be a source of inspiration and an invaluable tool to stay connected with people. But it can be incredibly difficult not to compare yourself to those glamour shots and perfectly gridded minimalist pictures in your perfectly curated stream of Instagram images.
That’s not real life. It’s not as put together as the streams of beautiful photos make it all seem.
Life isn’t a minimalist living room with perfect lighting and antlers hanging above a whitewashed brick fireplace. Nobody leaves their belongings around their house placed in perfect grids. Behind every selfie there’s about 50 almost identical pictures that didn’t make the cut because there were traces of double chin.
People don’t ride off into the #nofilter sunset.
Real life has hardships, awkward conversations, horrifyingly embarrassing moments, rejection, loss and uncertainty. Except those aren’t the things that make it onto Instagram. Nobody is as perfect at they seem on the internet. You don’t have to be either.
Sometimes Quitting Is the Right Answer
Andrew and Peter had stable jobs. They were fishermen when Jesus called them into ministry. They literally dropped their nets and left. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone should quit their jobs and go work in ministry. But it does go against every instinct we have to stick it out and persevere.
Working hard obviously isn’t a bad thing. But sticking something out just for the sake of sticking it out can be a dangerous thing. Because, if you’re honest with yourself, you’re choosing between God’s calling, your pride or your security. God’s calling should always win that contest. Sometimes quitting is the answer.
Failure Can Be Your Friend
Since the beginning of my time on earth, I have been more afraid of failure than anything. I feared failure more than I feared injury, bankruptcy, or even Guy Fieri’s hair.
Fear of failure keeps you on the sidelines. It makes you a spectator. It keeps you from trying out for teams, joining clubs, getting on stage and generally doing anything fulfilling.
But what’s so bad about failing?
Say you do fail. You try something new, you apply for a job, you audition for a play, you put your art out there for the very first time and then you absolutely fail. And you’re right back where you started. But if you hadn’t tried in the first place, you’d still be in that exact same spot. The ball is going to that catcher’s mitt whether you swing or not; the least you could do is try. (Sports reference. Nailed it.)
Jesus, too, warns against fear of failure in the parable of the three servants. Jesus tells the story of a man who calls his servants together and entrusts them each with a sum of money while he is away.
The first servant invests the money, and doubles his share. The second servant goes to work, and also doubles his share. The third servant, the complete ding-dong of the story, digs a hole in the ground and hides the money, afraid that he will lose it. The master comes home and praises the first two servants and to the ding-dong he says, “You wicked, lazy servant!…Take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
That’s what the God of the universe thinks about wasting the valuable currency He’s given you. And if you think your talents and abilities aren’t currency, you’re dreaming. (You can’t see me but I’m dropping the mic.)
(Now I’m awkwardly walking back on the stage to pick the mic back up, because I just have one more thing to say)
Anybody who is successful didn’t get there by accident. They got there through a series of failures. Every time you fail, you learn something that teaches you how to be better.
You know, Thomas Edison tried and failed nearly 2,000 times to develop the carbonized cotton-thread filament for the incandescent light bulb. And when asked about it, he said “I didn’t fail; I found out 2,000 ways how not to make a light bulb,” but he only needed one way to make it work. And that is something I totally made up and I definitely didn’t just quote National Treasure (which is not, as the name implies, a very good movie). So, fail. Fail, fail, then fail again, then get it right and fail at something else.
Like Thomas Edison and National Treasure, fail hard.