In my first post on thriving in (not just surviving) your 20s, I shared some of the positive wisdom I’ve gained through lots of trial and error (let’s be honest: mostly error) that helped me live well in my 20s. As I was making my list of “Do’s” for that post, I couldn’t help but think of the many things I wish I hadn’t done during my 20s, and since one of the ways God works through our mistakes is by allowing others to learn from them, I figure there’s nothing more sensible to do than share them with all of you.
And so I submit to you, based on personal experience, common sense, and the guidance of Christ and the Church, my list of “Don’ts” for your 20s (and beyond):
*Forget to say “thank you” (to God and to your fellow human beings). Something I’ve become much more aware of lately is how ungrateful I was in my early-to-mid-twenties. Sure, I wasn’t as entitled or thankless as some of my high school students were, but looking back it’s clear that I was MUCH more focused on what (it seemed to me) God hadn’t done for me or given me instead of the myriad of ways he had provided for me above and beyond what I could have asked, dreamed, or imagined. Not only did my relationship with God suffer because of this, but I simply wasn’t as happy.
*Stop asking God for forgiveness. As Pope Francis was so good to remind us:
“ Let’s not forget this word: God never, ever gets tired of forgiving us! … the problem is that we get tired, we don’t want to, we get tired of asking forgiveness… May we never tire, let us never tire of it! He’s the loving Father who always forgives, who has a heart of mercy for all of us. And even we can learn to be merciful with others. Let us ask the intercession of Our Lady, who held in her arms the Mercy of God made man.”
*Spend most/all of your money on yourself. In my “Confessions of a (Former) Shopaholic" post, I talked quite a bit about how my spending habits have changed in the past year, and for the better. I’ve noticed a decrease in anxiety and an increase in freedom since I stopped spending so much money on myself, and only wish that I had started using my money this way when I was 22 instead of 29.
*Limit God: in your mind, in your prayer, through your actions. He is SO much bigger than the God-In-A-Box we create in our heads.
*Waste your money on fast fashion. Closely related to the above: don’t spend all of your clothing budget on H&M, Anthropologie, Forever 21, Old Navy, ASOS, etc. I spent SO much time and money trying to fill my closet with the trendiest clothes—especially in my early 20s—and guess how many of those items I still have! If you guessed “less than five” you are correct! Money down. the. drain.
*Go to a different church every week. If you’re Catholic, this is a tough one. It’s SO easy to just pick the Mass time that’s most convenient for you each Sunday, even if it means going to a different parish each week and never becoming rooted in a Catholic community (N.B. This is one of the reasons why Catholics complain about a lack of “community” at their parishes.). I have been guilty of this on more than one occasion, but the two times I’ve put down roots in a parish, it’s been wonderful. I love that the priests know me by name and that I see familiar faces all the time and that when I tithe, it feels like I’m giving to family. Find a parish. Register. Put down some roots. Build community. You won’t regret it.
*Put your life on hold until you get married. When I was in college, I decided that I would wait to go to places like Italy and Israel until I got married. And that I wouldn’t buy nice dishes or kitchen equipment or furniture that I cared about…till I got married. Of course, when I was at the ripe old age of 20, I was convinced that I would meet and marry my husband by the age of 22 (25 at the VERY latest). I was also convinced that I would simply NOT enjoy those travel experiences or care about having good kitchen things if I weren’t married. This goes to show two things: 1) we know NOTHING about the future God has planned for us and 2) we know a lot less about ourselves than we think we do, especially at the tender age of 20. Turns out, I’m SO glad I didn’t wait to travel to Italy and Israel, or buy a good set of knives and pots, or find a couch and coffee table that I actually like. Moral of the story: Live the life you have now, not the one in your daydreams. God will take care of making your dreams come true in His time.
*Go out with a guy you really REALLY don’t want to go out with just because you want to be “open.” Listen, ladies: you don’t HAVE to go out with every guy who asks you out. Yes, it’s great that he mustered up the courage to ask you out on a date. But no matter how rare that is these days, if your gut tells you “absolutely not,” then don’t force yourself to go out with him. Being “open” doesn’t mean letting everyone in.
*Share your wounds on social media. You might be thinking, “But wait, Christina…don’t you share YOUR wounds on this blog? Isn’t that kind of hypocritical?” Fair question. The truth is, I don’t share my wounds on The Evangelista. I share my scars: wounds that the Lord healed a good amount of time ago, and that I’m comfortable sharing with total strangers. There’s a BIG difference between a scar and a wound. Wounds are deeply personal sufferings you’re experiencing now. The hurt is fresh. You don’t have any of the wisdom that time and hindsight afford. Asking for general prayers is fine, telling people about the sickness or death of a loved one is fine, but angsty status updates with oblique references to your ex-boyfriend or to a fall-out with a friend or to your depression/anxiety/self-esteem issues: not a good idea. If you’re hurting badly enough to feel the need to tell all of your not-so-close friends (plus a bunch of strangers) what is going on in your heart, you don’t need a better WiFi connection: you need therapy!
*Obsess about marriage. If you’re obsessing about marriage (or anything else), go to therapy. I spent more time thinking about marriage when I was 21-22 than I do now (thank God!), and I owe that in part to the processing I did in therapy.
*Spend the majority of your “fun” time in noisy bars and clubs.
Let me be clear: there is absolutely nothing wrong with going to a local bar for a few drinks with friends. I’m no teetotaler, even if I am a lightweight. That said, not all bars are created equal. I find that I always have fun (the kind of fun that comes without huge regrets in the morning) when I go with friends to salsa or country clubs to dance, or to a local lounge/pub where the noise level is reasonable and I can actually have a conversation. But back in my early 20s, when I used to go to your typical so-loud-you-have-to-stand-two-inches-from-the-person-next-to-you-if-you-want-to-hear-anything type bars, I rarely had a good time (in part because I couldn’t have a real conversation with any of my friends and I can only handle small talk with creepers for so long) and I usually drank too much (because people were buying me drinks, and what else was there to do at a place like that anyway?). People: let’s stop pretending that spending time in deafeningly loud bars and getting wasted every weekend is fun. It’s not. Real, lasting, Christ-centered friendships are not formed and cultivated in noisy clubs or by non-memories made when you and your friends blacked out that one time, and if the only friends you have can’t have fun without several drinks in them, they’re not really fun.
*Force yourself to do things you really don’t like to do just to meet a guy. You don’t have to go to every party. You don’t have to go on an internet dating site. You don’t have to join your parish’s young adult group. Love to hike? Find a group that goes hiking. Love to dance? Go dancing! Love to sing? Join the parish choir! The right guy will be attracted to you, not the mold you’ve forced yourself into to meet him.
*Treat every guy you meet as a potential husband. How would you like it if every guy you met at a party or event was mentally going through a “future wife” checklist while he was talking to you? Exactly.
*Act like other women are your competition. They aren’t. Your future is in God’s hands, so it doesn’t matter what the ratio of men to women in your area is or how many girls in your social circle are interested in a particular guy. Plus, if you’re in competition-mode, you’ll miss out on the opportunity to find some fabulous girlfriends.
*Waste hours of your day on Facebook. Need I say more?
*Stalk your ex-boyfriends/crushes on the internet. We have all done it. We have all regretted it.
*Spend lots of time complaining about men to/with your girlfriends. It just makes you bitter and jaded, which is NOT good for anyone. A couple of my friends and I realized we were developing a habit of ragging on the guys we knew for not being “real men” and decided to pray for them to become the men that they were created to be (and for ourselves, that we would become better women), and wouldn’t you know it? The bitterness faded and we were able to think and speak about them much more charitably.
*Bury yourself in work or a hobby instead of dealing with your issues. Please, just go to therapy.
*Stay in unhealthy dating relationships. It’s SO not worth it.
*Burn your bridges. Always try to reconcile if reconciliation is possible.
*Make decisions based on fear, discouragement, or anxiety. The fruit of the Holy Spirit is love, joy, peace, goodness, gentleness, kindness and self-control. Fear, discouragement, and anxiety are NOT on that list. Wait for the peace and clarity that surpasses all understanding before you make any major life-decisions.
*Watch TV every day. As someone who consistently confesses wasting her time, I can honestly say: I have never wished that I had watched more TV, but I have often wished that I had spent more time in prayer, or spent more time reading, or called my Mom and Dad more often, or spent more time exploring my city, or listened more often to interesting lectures, or even spent more time honing my lesson plans.
*Judge your life based on an artificial timeline you (or someone else) has created. I got into major trouble when I was 25 and still not married and decided that God had clearly forgotten about me because of course I was supposed to be married by 25. I felt like a failure at life and that everyone was looking at me with pity because I was 25 and hadn’t even had a real boyfriend yet. (Note: NO ONE was thinking that about me.) Long story short: I could have avoided SO much unnecessary pain had I accepted where God had me at that point in my life as exactly where I was supposed to be. He knew that I was not ready for marriage, even if I didn’t, and thankfully He didn’t give me what I wanted. The only timeline that matters is His and, love it or hate it, it’s a complete mystery to all of us.
*Be afraid. ”In the world you will have trouble, but take courage, I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33)
That’s all she wrote, friends…for now at least. :) I would love to hear any of your “Don’ts” for thriving in your 20s, or simply for living the Good Life at any age. Please share in the comments!