It’s been many years but I still remember the anxiety and excitement of my late teens and early twenties, times when a well meaning relative or friend would buttonhole me at a party, sidle up to me at the family reunion, and then interrogate me.
So John—what are you going to study in college? What do you want to do for work when you graduate? What about grad school? What part of the country do you want to live in? What about marriage and kids? What are you going to do with your life?
Young adulthood is a gift because the world is laid out before us, as never before or ever again in this life. It’s a blank slate. An open road. And so the adventure begins! Young adulthood is a challenge because now a young man or woman is in ultimate charge of their one life. Responsible for their decisions and choices and then dealing with the consequences. Trying to discern the path, the right path, to follow.
So what are you going to do now?!
A natural inquiry, and yet, maybe it’s not the best question to ask the young people in our lives, as they set out for the future. This is the time of year for such conversations: in these late summer weeks as young people in our lives and world leave us for college or graduate school, or face graduation next spring, or start a new job or contemplate getting married. As we help them pack up their suitcases and leave the life they’ve known, perhaps we’d do better to help them think about the person they want to become. Their inner lives and not merely the outward trappings of a “successful” life.
I wish someone had asked me then, not an insistent “what?” but instead a curious “who?”—as in, “Just who do you want to become in life?” I wish someone had checked in with me about the state of my spirit and not just my career path or the size of my starting salary. I wish I had taken more time then to work on shaping my values and ideals and worried much less about things like my major or my roommate or the dorm I’d call home. I wish that I had worked harder to be more intentional about becoming the person I wanted to be, not just on the outside but on the inside too.
But no one ever asked me about such things.
Most of the time our higher educational system does a good job of teaching professional skills, giving us the tools we need to make a living. Our nation produces millions of graduates and craftspeople, folks empowered to do something. But we also we need help, at all points in life, to learn as well how to make a life too. How to become a good person. How to be the kind of dependable friend peers trust, look up to. How to find a calling in life that feeds the soul and not merely fills the bank account. How to become a good citizen, to live a life not just for one’s self alone, but for others too. How to have faith in something beyond yourself. How to be worry less about how we look or are perceived on the social scene or in social media and more focused on who we really are, in real life.
How to have true character.
For we’re living in weird times, days when outward personality can so often trump inward human character. Our sons and daughters may know just how to pose for a quick Snapchat, or send out a pithy tweet or carefully curate a picture perfect image on Facebook, all external things. We help them learn how to prepare for that first interview or find a perfect internship but are we helping them as well, to cultivate their character? Create lives of integrity and goodness. Have faith in a power greater than themselves, and know they can depend upon God for strength and comfort and guidance.
So my hope and prayer for all the young adults now trying to make their way in this world, this generation who very soon will be running the show, is simple. May we as a world encourage them always to be people of character. To seek not just a job but a calling, some work or passion or interest that brings them joy and makes the world a better place. To live a life worth living in the deepest sense.
Because the “whats” of life: these come and go and change. But the “who”—who we want to become: this is what makes and shapes the best life of all.