There’s been a lot of talk floating around about the advent of the quarter-life crisis and how “what I want to do when I grow up” is becoming a question people ask in their twenties. I’ve thought about it for awhile now – it actually came up in relation to singleness and relationships, the idea of treading water and wondering what I’m supposed to be doing with myself. We’ve got to this point of wondering, “okay, when’s life supposed to begin?”
And I thought about midlife crises, too, and the amount of angst we can build up, the whole “what am I doing this for?” that rattles us and makes us feel useless or worthless.
And sometimes we get to thinking that this is simple discontent, that our lives have not turned out to be as fabulous as we expected, or that life is a lot harder than we’d thought. And that has something to do with it – fantasy worlds are way easier to imagine than to make true. On the other hand, seeking to be content can fall into the trap of “settling”, of saying, “oh well, this is what life is” and giving up. Which is also wrong. We have this inborn desire for our lives to be meaningful, fulfilling, and purposeful. If we don’t have any of that, if we can’t see how we could achieve that, then something really is wrong.
My current answer is this: meaning, fulfillment, purpose, and “what we are when we grow up” – indeed, part of growing up at all – is founded on one thing: what we believe to be most important in life.
And a lot of us are confused on that point. I mean, I say that certain things are Most Important, but that doesn’t mean I really believe it. I say that some things Aren’t Really Important At All, but I act as if they are. Somewhere in my subconscious, I’m hanging my hopes and dreams on something, and that something may not be what I think it is. It may be a whole lot of things that it really shouldn’t. So when I find myself wondering what I’m doing with my life, seeking fulfillment and meaning and purpose and having crises, it’s ’cause I haven’t matched up what I’m doing with what I believe.
It could go some way to explaining certain forms of depression. At least it’d make it worse. There’s folks who’ve tied up their whole purpose in life with a job. And then they lose their job. And feel worthless. There’s folks who’ve tied up their whole purpose in a relationship. And then that relationship is gone. And they’re at a loss. Athletes in wheelchairs, soldiers struck blind, a speaker with aphasia – what do you do? We don’t even need to achieve these things in the first place to feel derailed.
And so I lay out before me the expectations I have, the things that have become important to me, the goals haunting the back of my head, and I begin to wonder…
Is it Most Important to have the latest stuff? Is it Most Important that I know more than other people? Sometimes I act that way. Is it Most Important to be respected, loved, admired? Is it Most Important to Have A Career In Something Significant? Wealth is not the Most Important Thing, happily enough, because I fail at that. Fame, too. Being important at work? I’d hate it. Is the Most Important Thing whether I’m using my Bachelor’s Degree? That took some letting go. I’m disappointed that I’m not married by now. But is that Most Important Thing?
Or is it Most Important to love and serve others, however that might look? Is it Most Important to seek God, to commune with him, to learn about him and his ways? Is it Most Important to explore God’s universe and discover everything I can about it? Is it Most Important to use my gifts, even when it’s just spotting patterns in screens full of fiddly numbers? Is it most important to give what I can to my community, to be disciplined in my life, and to edify and encourage the people I know? Is it Most Important to be humble, and strong, and kind, and patient, and wise, and good?
Yeah, I think I’ll go for that.
And then being single and living in an apartment in a nondescript Midwestern city with a roommate and a modest paycheck doesn’t seem so bad. It’s not failure. It’s not worth a crisis. In fact, it’s What I’m Doing Now That I’m Grown Up. Or even, While I’m Growing Up. Because while my teachers were planting dreams of great careers and fame and fortune to encourage us kids to do our work, and the world was telling us to indulge ourselves and live in pleasure, there are More Important things.