I had a most intriguing conversation with a recent college graduate.
Aubrey told me she'd come to faith during her sophomore year but felt she'd plateaued in her growth since finishing school. In her words:
I did great spiritually when I had my friends around all the time, when I could stay up late talking about God and life and faith–but now, it's hard. I got totally stressed out trying to find an apartment and looking for a job that I actually liked. Now, I can't find a church that fits who I am. Is it supposed to be this hard? I still believe in God, but I don't feel as close to him as I did last year. What's wrong with me?
Actually, there may be nothing wrong with Aubrey. She's quite normal.
I meet graduates all the time who are attempting to navigate life after college. Things don't fall into place like imagined or promised. God seems distant. Passion has evaporated. Your sense of mission has been eclipsed by the reality of paying off debt and making life work. Sometimes, you even question your own maturity.
Factors at Play
The fact is, we live in a culture that fosters what I call "artificial maturity." It's not anyone's fault. It's happened as an unintended consequence due to two realities that have surfaced since the dawn of the 21st century:
- We are over-exposed to information far earlier than we're ready.
- We are under-exposed to real life experiences far later than we're ready.
Consider how society has evolved. Everyone has access to information from pre-school days onward. In a recent publication of the journal, Pediatrics, researchers found "almost universal exposure" to tablets and the use of smartphones (mobile devices) among young children as early as one year old.
At the same time, adults have shifted their parenting styles. You are likely aware of it. Parents give trophies to kids just for participating. They decided to keep their kids safe by preventing risks, hovering over them like a helicopter, and encouraged more activities instead of taking a job while in school. In short, school years do not emulate what real life looks like after graduation. Parents have done a much better job protecting than preparing. Far too frequently, we've prepared the path for the child and not the child for the path.
So, what's the result for young professionals after graduation?
There are high levels of anxiety. Consuming lots of information (a thousand messages a day) but with little real-life experience can create a false sense of confidence while in school. Consuming content without context is dangerous. Information without application stunts growth. As twenty-somethings encounter adulthood, it's a reality check. Maturity might have been artificial. I spoke to a psychologist recently who's diagnosed three young clients this way: "High arrogance, low self-esteem." Too many university deans have said to me, "Twenty-six is the new eighteen."
I'm concerned that we didn't get you ready for life.
In my book, Generation iY, I relayed the results of a landmark 2007 American College Health Association study. The conclusions were sobering:
• 94 percent of students reported feeling "overwhelmed" by their lifestyles.
• 44 percent said they were so overwhelmed it was difficult to function.
• Almost 10 percent had considered suicide in the last year.
A decade later, I wondered if the young adult situation had improved. Had they learned to cope with a world filled with technology, materialism, and demands on their time? I was hopeful, but alas, the reality has become more challenging. There are now greater levels of anxiety than ever before. From a spiritual perspective, it's caused many young adults to get "stuck."
The Fork in the Road
If you are a young adult in this situation, there are two glaring options. First, you can walk away from faith. A 2015 Pew Research Center survey found that, as time goes on, the large share of religiously unaffiliated Millennials is increasing measurably. A high percentage of younger members—those I call Generation iY, who were born since 1990—are religious "nones" (saying they're atheists or agnostics, or their religion is "nothing in particular"). They just gave up. Sadly, I know a young woman who planned to become a nun but instead became a "none."
This is the road less traveled, but it is the road most rewarding. When young believers embrace the hardship that comes with following Jesus, when you run to the roar and face your fears, doubts, and confusion—you end up stronger and more resilient in the long run. You stop looking outward for others to blame, and instead look inward and own your growth. You toss your illusions aside that life should be easy, that things should always go your way. You avoid becoming an emotionally brittle young adult and become a vibrant, obedient, spiritual person who can serve as a compass for others.
22 TRUTHS I wish I had embraced when I was 22
If you've plateaued in your spiritual journey, ask yourself: Is there a gap between what I know and what I do? Your answer will impact your intimacy with God.
So, may I be a temporary mentor as you walk toward faith? I'd like to offer you 22 simple truths that I have found foster authentic maturity, rather than artificial maturity, in my life:
1. You should learn to fail early.
2. Your knowledge of Jesus should not surpass your obedience to Jesus.
3. No one owes you anything.
4. Work ethic is the most important skill to take into your career.
5. Every decision has a benefit or a consequence.
6. God draws near to you when you draw near to him.
7. You should view happiness as a by-product not a pursuit.
8. Taking responsibility for yourself is actually liberating.
9. You will never grow without a struggle.
10. Maturity demands that you get over yourself.
11. Your EQ (emotional intelligence) is more important than your IQ.
12. You will sabotage yourself if you cannot delay gratification.
13. Life is not fair and not everyone wins.
14. Healthy self-esteem requires achievement not just affirmation.
15. Be willing to serve the coffee (small tasks) in order to get ahead.
16. Making progress will always mean taking risks.
17. You must find your identity in Jesus, not in anything that can be taken away.
18. Spiritual brokenness leads to growth; surrender actually enables you to win.
19. Growth and success will likely take longer than you think it will.
20. The first person you must learn to lead . . . is yourself.
21. Relationships with God and people are priority one and two.
22. The practice is the reward. Learn to enjoy the journey.
Not long ago, Danny came to me seeking some advice on his spiritual life and career. He was stuck. I loved his humility and transparency as we conversed. When I asked Danny if he knew the Lord, he reflected for a moment, then said, "Well, I met him once. But now . . . I'd like to really get to know him."
May that be our perspective from this day forward.