Thursday, January 14, 2016

Dear Confused Twenty-Something


(I know this is a bit of a lengthy post and not my normal subject, but it's something I wanted and needed to express to any fellow twenty-somethings.)

Dear Confused Twenty-Something: 
(a frank confession)

I'm twenty-three years old. It is neither an old age nor a very young age. I'm five years out of high-school. I'm three years into my twenties. I'm single, both maritally and relationship-wise. I'm busy all the time. I've traveled three times in Europe on missions trips and around the US in the occasional summer-camp or campaign brought about by slightly-above-average political involvement. I've self-published two novels and won a contest that published my version of “Cinderella.” I've been published in a magazine. I've kept my sanity. I've kept my good humor. I've kept my common sense. I've kept my determination to never mess with alcohol. Not because it's evil, but because I know that its abuse blossoms in both branches of my family tree. I've become a modern-day Mary Poppins. I've become a home-school teacher. I've launched three blogs. I've shut down nearly as many. I've road-tripped and missed flights and seen beautiful and wonderful things I never expected I'd get to see. I've met fascinating people and made friendships that don't make sense on paper. I've lived life and I've missed sleep and I've skipped college and I've read great books. I remember to check my oil and I have my own car. It even has good tires.

I've done all these things. In a lot ways, my young self would call me a success.

But I still don't know what the heck I'm doing.

And I don't like that. You know, I thought I would avoid the classic “mid-twenties” crisis that all the romantic comedy leads encounter. I thought I would surely avoid that shocking sense of being flung around the head a couple times and let off like a sling-shot. I thought I would surely avoid feeling as simultaneously full of potential and utterly confused as a Lego set with the instruction booklet violently shredded. Because I had a plan: I would continue writing and become a novelist and get married by the age of twenty-two (if not sooner). I would not be sitting in my girlhood bedroom with a cooling mug of tea beside me, writing these words on my day off. I would probably have a kid by now and certainly a husband, and I could walk into any Barnes & Noble and pluck one of my own books off the New Release shelf.

That's not how it worked, of course. I have that career, but it's different than I expected. I'm doing it all – the housekeeping, the homeschooling, the cooking, and caring-for – that I expected I would do. But I'm doing it in someone else's home for someone else's children and I make dinner most nights of the week for someone else's husband. I'm writing, but it's not novels. It's a blog. It's letters. It's flash-fiction and finely-worded tweets and a manuscript I keep promising I will work on when I have time.

My life is both the same and worlds-apart from what I thought it would be. And I don't know. Is it good enough? Is it worthwhile? I have a fear of wasting this one wild and precious life of mine doing things that aren't what I'm meant to do. Maybe I worry too much about what I'm meant to do. Most days I adore my life and the things I get to do. I love the two little girls I take care of and my boss (their mother) never ceases to make me laugh. I love my family. My friends are fantastic. I have a safe home and earn plenty of money for small list of things I need. It's a wonderful life.

But when I get quiet and begin to listen to my heart, the confusion wells up. Is this what my life should look like at this point? I've used up the “grace-age.” I've used up the fumbling-around of the early twenties given to kids graduating college and moving out and launching into full-on careers. I'm a full-blooded woman now and it's nothing like I thought it would be.
There's so much more knowing.
There's so much more not-knowing. Will I ever get married? Can I even write a good novel? If I don't get married – and that's okay – what do I devote myself to? Will I play Mary Poppins my whole adult life? If not, then what will I do?
There are so many more moments of, “What in the world is this?” than I counted on. I've even surpassed my mother in terms of the number of years I've lived without being at least engaged. In an ironic little twist of events, I have sometime begun to feel that the expiration date of even her (always accurate) experience of Single Life in The Twenties is up. I've passed the deadline of my original plans and, seemingly, everyone else's. I'm walking everyday in uncharted territory. I was okay with a Plan B but I didn't realize Plan B would involve living each day wondering toward what end I was working. I thought I'd have a big goal. A big end-game. What I have is cold feet and a heart that throws itself daily into the work before her, hoping its enough.
Enough for what? Enough for noticing. Enough for seeing a pattern. Enough for looking back in twelve-months and being able to discern a theme. Any theme. I wrote about it in my journal before the new year:
“My life is a story. It has a plot (IT MUST). It is its own screenplay and suddenly I've been thrust into the role of lead, cameras fixed on my disconcerted face, and no one remembered to give me a copy of the script. Have you ever tried lip-syncing to a song you don't know at a church you've never been to when a tall, balding guy is blocking half the words on the projector screen? You gape and pantomime just one syllable behind the congregation and you begin to sweat under the double pressure of knowing you look like an obvious idiot (to the person whose mind wasn't on the worship), and the fact that to stop now would be twice as awkward. Basically, I'm tripping over the lyrics of life, singing along to a song I've never heard, feeling like I should have an answer because I'm an intelligent young woman. But guess what? I DON'T KNOW.”

You know what's also confusing? Those twenty-somethings who seem to know their lines. I look at them and think, HOW? They have a glittering career or a new family or some huge mission burning such a hole through their hearts that the soul-light pours out. I love those people. My very best friend is one of them. These people inspire, challenge, and thrill me. I love watching their stories unfold and being a part of the grand hustle and sparkle of it all. To those of us who are waiting, sent out of the safe harbor of adolescence but unsure to what destination our cargo is due, I extend my empathy. It is difficult to see our comrades sweep by with wind in their sails, colors flying when we long so much to go. It's especially hard if you, like I, have the energy, passion, and wherewithal to withstand such a mission. When we want to go, to be, to do, and we can't figure out where to go or who to be or what to do, it's difficult to not wonder if we've done something wrong. Missed some chance. Turned down some dead-end lane. Missed the last exit before a toll-bridge. Forgotten our social security number while mid-form at a doctor's office.

I'm so glad I swore allegiance to Christ because it is His power that comforts me. It is His unchangeable character that can balm my heart, bruised from pushing and being pushed against by life and the confusion of it. I know that my God is the God who specializes in taking daily not-knowing and forming it to His plan. I signed on to do whatever He requires of me and if that is walking in this haze for a season or even several seasons, then I know that's my work. Daily obedience. And it is good work because it is His work. I've never doubted that. It's an immense comfort to me and something I cling to, knowing that where truth and light is, darkness cannot also be.

But I want to comfort you, dear Confused Twenty-Something, that you're not alone. If you feel like you have no idea what's going on, please realize that more of us share that feeling than not. If you feel like you've lost touch with whatever it is you thought you wanted to be, or if all your plans have changed or if you're no longer certain, even, of what it is you are doing, don't freak out. Because I have freaked out and it changes nothing. I have also done my ground-work and I think it's a safe guess that three out of five twenty-somethings you talk to will identify with that promising and directionless Lego set mentioned above. It's okay. It's actually okay not to know. It's okay for life to be different than you thought it would be your whole life. Those people who seem to have Googled the lyrics to their life-song, I bet they're not always confident. I bet even they have days where they don't know. Because no one is omniscient.

Please enjoy their life. Don't succumb to jealousy or comparison. Support them. Encourage them. Glean wisdom from them and ask how you can help them be even more fantastic.
Please enjoy your life. Many of those put together people will tell you they miss the days of untapped inspiration and potential. Of not being sure what adventure life was taking them on. Take risk and adventures and ask someone to have dinner with you out of the blue.
Please do lots of things. Activity is a wonderful cure for confusion. If you can't determine the exactly perfect thing to do (and who can?) then you had much better be doing something
Please don't lose hope. Just because you can't see what's going on doesn't mean that nothing is going on. Or that nothing will go on.
Please don't take it out on other people. It is no one's “fault” that you feel confused or frustrated or out of the loop. Take time in this unidentifiable stage to love the people with whom you come in contact. Listen more than you talk. Ask questions. Pay for someone's lunch. Give more hugs than are strictly necessary.
Please keep dreaming. If you have a big goal, pursue it. If you have some dream that requires a skill you don't have, pursue it. Learn that skill. Take those classes. Go that way. Keep it up. And if your dream shifts to another dream, wish the first one farewell and get to work on the second.


And as always, please remember that the survival rate for the twenty-somethings is pretty high. I've heard that both males and females, by the age of thirty, have escaped with their lives. Take a breath, lift your head, and get going. I'm gonna stand by you.

31 comments:

  1. Dear Rachel,
    As a fellow twenty-something, writer, etc. this is a post I deeply resonate with. Thank-you for putting it all into words. It is a gift to read your thoughts and know I am not alone. ;)

    I too feel so happy where I am, and wonder at the same time if it's where I should be. Sometimes I worry that even if I am happy, everything I know will change. But I think I can say that I've felt closer to God in my twenties than any other year in my life so far. So that gives me hope and courage and reassurance.

    Your brightness and artistry inspire me so much. Keep being awesome--you're touching so many lives around the world.

    ~Schuyler

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    1. Schuyler - thank you so much for your sweet words and your kind heart!

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  2. Ohmygoodness, Rachel Heffington. Your words are describing my life. Just this week, I decided to have a life crisis and completely re-evaluate what-I'm-doing and why-I'm-doing-it and if-I-even-like-what-I'm-doing-and-why. The crazy thing is that I have an absolutely beautiful life. Why do I need to second guess myself? But I do. I'm not living my Plan A. I have an excellent Plan B. But then it makes you wonder if we should be trying a little harder or doing things a little different so we can go live Plan A.

    It doesn't help when we watch other people seemingly living their Plan A, doing it (seemingly) flawlessly, and having (seemingly) no regrets.

    I think the key word there is "seemingly." ;)

    We all have the struggles and the questioning and the wondering if we are doing it right and the knowing that sometimes we are definitely not. But we press on and enjoy this life, crazy and different and random as it may be. And I think that maybe we will always wonder about "what might have been..." even if we were living Plan A.

    What is that Aslan said?

    "To know what would have happened, child?" said Aslan. "No. Nobody is ever told that... But anyone can find out what WILL happen," said Aslan... what will happen? There is only one way of finding out.”

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    1. Dear Brittany. <3 Mmmmm that Aslan quote. <3 Thanks so much for your transparent heart and your dear friendship. You are a constant inspiration to me in your vivid life, whatever sort of "Second Plan" it might be.

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  3. Thank you, Rachel. I identify with all this SO much. It feels so good to know that I'm not the only one going through this :-)

    And you're so right--we WILL all get through this in the end!! "I've heard the survival rate for twenty-somethings is pretty high" ;-) I actually met a lady a few weeks ago who told me that she didn't even MEET her husband till she was thirty! Now she's happily married with THREE beautiful little boys. THERE IS HOPE FOR US.

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    1. :) There is. Although I think one of the best things to come out of this foggy season for me, so far, is being all right if marriage and my own family don't end up in the plan - so long as there IS a plan (and there is). Nothing like a bit of pinching for broadening one's horizons!

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    2. That's right--whatever God wants, it will work out okay. Even if it's not what we THOUGHT we wanted :-)

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  4. I feel as if this was written for me. Life threw me a curve ball. Here's to surviving

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    1. And looking back in a couple years to think, "I'm so glad I didn't do what I originally thought."

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  5. While marriage is never something I "mapped out" on a timeline, if you will, for myself, I can definitely relate to your points here. I recently changed my major, changed my career trajectory, changed ALL of my future plans. I went from the concrete to the uncertain... and I feel like a spinning top: right now I've got 3 semesters of college left, I have numerous opportunities to work in what I love and build experience, but soon the top will no longer be spinning in the same direction. I have plans for the future--to some extent, we all do--but they are far from concrete. It's like driving into a thick fog: I know what I'd like to pursue after college, but that doesn't mean I have any idea of what I'll actually end up doing. ... I'd be lying if I didn't admit that I often feel anxious because I'm a control freak and I want to KNOW and PLAN and be PREPARED for everything. XD

    Well. Here's to adventure! It might be a bumpy ride, but at least it won't be boring. I think that might just be the point of our 20's. The top might fall, but we can set it spinning again. <3

    (#useALLthemetaphors #notevensorry)

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    1. #notevenalittlebit #youreoneofmyfavorites.

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  6. Being almost 30, and having at least the marriage part of Plan A, I'm learning that life really isn't a destination. It doesn't end when you reach a major goal or life achievement. You're still you, and you will probably never know the impact you have on the world around you. These are things I know people in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s think about, regardless of their life landmarks.

    I feel there is a lot of pressure leveled on young people in the western world to do something big with our lives. But big is so hard to define--and, frankly, things that were once big, like going to college, are not so big anymore because so many people do them. We can't all be great. And that's OK. What we can and should do is our best at whatever we're doing. That's really all God asks of us. There is nothing wrong with enjoying life where it is, rather than having a driving ambition to climb to the top. If you have that ambition, go for it. If you don't, don't beat yourself up because you don't.

    I loved your takaways at the end of the post. It's such a good way to approach life.

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    1. Thank you so much for that wisdom, Abigail. It's true - the pressure is (unnecessarily) high. Thanks for some perspective from the higher age-bracket. :)

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  7. Thank you for writing this. Your advice at the end is golden. I can relate so much, as I'm now in my late twenties (UM. OLD.) and still don't know what I'm doing, where I am headed, and fear that I'll never be successful or talented in ways I would like to be. I've put in a lot of work and time and feel I'm just...stuck. So yeah, good post, I'm with ya. And the end encouragement was helpful. <3

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  8. Thank you for this, Rachel. I'm getting ready to graduate college next year and have no idea what the heck I'm doing with my life. (Majored in English Lit because that's what I love, but who knows where it will lead.) I love your takeaways.

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    1. Hurray for new beginnings, right? Pursuing things you love - can that ever be a con?

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  9. Thank you so much, Miss Rachel... Living life was hard last year, for all of the above reasons and more. Thank you for sharing a heavenly bit of hope.

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Julia! I am blessed to be able to offer a little comfort to all of us in the unknowing seasons. Hang on.

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  10. Wow, what a fabulous post, and one that totally resonates with me! I've been thinking through a lot of this stuff lately. But I'm trusting God to put the pieces of my life into place at just the right time. Your blog is awesome, by the way!

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    1. Thank you so much for your comment, Amanda, and welcome to Lipstick & Gelato! I'm so glad we have the internet - makes connecting with other people in our season of life a heck of a lot easier!

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  11. Dear Rachel,
    I am not a twenty-something; I'm barely nineteen. But this post hit home with me. I had my life all mapped out, much like you. But you know, things don't always go according to our plans, and my life now looks nothing like what I envisioned one or three years ago. I'm not a parametric in a big city... or a medic in the air force. And the crazy thing about it is that, although those were the number one things that I wanted to do my entire life, I have no desire or call to do them at this point in my life. It's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just rather confusing, because all my plans and dreams fell through, and I'm left sitting here wondering "What on earth do I do now??" :)
    I'm on the threshold of a courting relationship at the moment, and I feel like my life is kind of in limbo, and that everything is about to change. It's hard to work through the every day things, the normal day to day activities and cleaning and cooking, while I'm waiting to see where God leads, holding onto the familiar yet at the same time longing for the changes.
    So all of this is really to just say: Your words at the end are making me really stop and think. Thank you for writing this!!

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    1. Embrace the plot twists - best way to live a fantastic adventure. :)

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  12. This resonates with me and I'm not even twenty-something. I'm about to officially become an adult and start college, and so must begin to ask myself Important Life Questions. The thing is, I thought I had already answered them until about a year ago. There are a lot of ifs and uncertainties in my head right now. I definitely don't like not having a plan or knowing my purpose, but I keep reminding myself that God's got this.

    Thank you so much. This was really encouraging.

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    1. Just hang tight - God WILL show you out. Though it IS annoying to not be in control on occasion. ;)

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  13. As an approaching-twenty-something, this is something I struggle with. A lot. Anxiety flourishes in my family tree, and I'm struggling with it as I try to map out my own life. You know how people say you don't need to know where you're going? I believe that's true. I also believe it is not the most comforting sometimes. This post was comforting, though. : ) Thank you for writing it.

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    1. You'll make it through! G.K. Chesterton once said, "An adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered."

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  14. Hi Rachel,
    I don't think I've commented before, but I've read your blogs over the past couple of years. Thank you for writing this post. It has taken me several days to come up with what to say to you. But, first, I just wanted to say thank you. You have had several posts over the years that I've emailed to myself so I can find them when I need them. You have encouraged me- especially with this post. I, like you, had my "plan a" date of arrival come and go. I never though I would be single in my twenties, but here I am! God, of course, knew all along I wouldn't be married at 19, so He started giving me things to do to keep my busy at 18 and beyond- I run a small business on the side, and work 30 hours a week at my dad's office. Now, I have no idea if this is what I'm suppose to do in my twenties. Thank you for the reminder to never stop dreaming- my first dream was to marry at 19, so my second, "replacement" dream is to run a business (or businesses) from the comfort of home (a better yet, my own house, which I would like to buy this year!). While that dream is coming along, I work outside the house, and on my days off, am helping my family around the house. Also, thank you for the reminder to encourage those who's dream is happening. My best friend, who has been in the same "I don't know what to do and my plans aren't happening" boat as me for years is probably getting married this year (just a couple years late for "her plan", and so I've had to learn (slowly) how to help her with her dream, and not get upset it's not happening to me.

    Anyways, this was a long comment, but I just wanted to say thank you. I will probably be back to read your words again and again as encouragement on the hard days.

    ~Alexis V.B.

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    1. Thank you so much for commenting, Alexis. I always love to hear from my "blog lurkers," because I often don't even realize you guys exist. I am honored to have been of use in your life as an encourager - praise be to God who can use even kicking-and-screaming people like me! As I've mentioned to several people since publishing this blog post, I think one of the coolest things that has come out of this time for me is the fact that I don't care anymore what SORT of plot happens (i.e. it doesn't have to be marriage) so long as there is something coming! ;)

      Thank YOU for bothering to speak up. You have, in turn, blessed me.

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  15. Dear, dear Rachel. You've tapped onto something here. And I applaud you for being willing to share and be vulnerable when surely it was not easy to write these words or press Publish. But you did. You are brave.

    You have blessed me. When so much of life feels up-in-the-air and different from what I expected (though so much more beautiful than I could have dreamed), I am grateful for wordsmiths like you to whom I can point and say 'Like that.' When I, weary, have no words of my own, I am grateful for the ones who come alongside and say 'I've got you' simply by saying what I could not say. You are marvelous at this.

    I have no doubt there is something coming for you. ;)

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  16. I'm a reader who follows you through IG, and occasionally pops through to read back posts when I've got a few minutes. I really enjoyed this post, and I'd love to share my perspective/background on a few points. I'm the girl who got married when she was 18, to the man she had dated since she was 14. Along the way, I've (we've, to be fair) nearly destroyed that marriage multiple times. But God. My marriage is my favorite thing now--I can speak for my husband and say he's pretty happy with it too, but it hasn't been sunshine and rainbows for all of it. My point is this: Wherever you go, there you are. You take your own issues, your own dreams, and your own perspective into marriage--when you say "I do", contrary to popular opinion you do not actually "become one" in any other way than when God looks down from heaven He sees One Household. The act of creating a partnership is hard, hard work, and the more you know yourself, the more maturity you have under your belt, the better. I look at my friends who got married when they were late 20's, and I truly believe they started out with a more realistic sense of all those things, and a few additional things that simply make marriage easier, like established careers and money in the bank, and fun traveling memories and such to look back on, and established girl-friendships that I never had, and won't have because my husband has been my best friend from age 14. I'm not sorry for my journey or that I got married young, I am absolutely grateful for the path I've been given, but there are definitely advantages to getting married at an older age. I hope you find that encouraging because I totally understand the desire, or even just the "social obligation to marry" perspective of being single and wanting a relationship. If a relationship is in your future, God is using this time to make you who he wants you to be (and likewise for husband) in that relationship, and that is pretty cool. And, with regards to doing big things, I hear ya. I've got big dreams, and I'm chasing them now. 34, with three kids and a husband and a household and lots of responsibilities. Marriage matters not with regards to dream chasing... It might upset the timing a bit, but again, wherever you go, there you are. The thing is? I am doing big things. The people who love me, if I'm caring for them and pouring into them on the daily, that is big, HUGE, in the eyes of our Savior, who was all about individuals. Think of it--in every crowd, he singles out individuals. In the crowd of your city, he's given you individuals to pour into every day. So never doubt that you're doing big things. King David did big things but his family was a disaster--that's some good perspective right there.
    And the book? The book I'm looking forward to writing in 7 years or so is a completely different book than I would have written 5 years ago. Not even in the same section of the bookstore. And it might change again, before I write it. My guess would be that that is a good and blessed thing. I think "writer" is one of those things that you are, rather than something you do--more of a noun than a verb. I had to give examples of my written work for a project yesterday, and to my surprise I had about a billion things to narrow down, even though I haven't actually "written" for a long time. Just keep doing it and praying over it. Success will happen and sounds like it has, although maybe not in the form you've exactly expected.

    Super long sort of scattered comment done now. Thank you for reading--hope it was a wee little bit encouraging!

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