23 things I learned as a 23-year-old

Updated: May 7, 2019

In celebration of my 24th birthday, I decided to reflect on parts of 2018/19 to see just what in the world I learned from this year as a twenty-something. Here goes.

1. Learn to love the skies you’re under.

I kept this image saved as my phone background for months. It became a daily reminder that I had a choice, a rather important one to make, about whether or not I would love my life. Instead of comparing and wanting someone else’s life, I could find a way to love the constellation of my own story, even when I saw features of it that were disappointing and dull.

2. Be so good they can't ignore you.

This could be taken the wrong way. At first it can sound like you're working so that others will notice you. That's not what we want. In simplest terms, just be outstanding at what you do. It turns out that people actually notice and observe the parts of your life you think they are oblivious to: the ethic you display at work, how you spend your free time, what spills out of your heart in conversation. Living to the best of your ability is a great legacy to offer to others. Assuming it's with pure motives, working hard to be the best of the best isn't wrong. It's honorable.

3. Decisions are just decisions. Life goes on.

Decisions used to paralyze me. I could not make a choice to save my life - no matter if it was about which granola bar flavor I wanted to buy at Kroger or about where to go to grad school. The fear was that I'd make a choice and then regret it. This year was different. I could look back and see how God drew so much good out of big decisions I made that really altered the trajectory of my life - even the ones that I regretted and wanted to go back and ask for a do-over. I resonate with this statement a stranger shared on Instagram: "Trust in God’s power to redeem more than in your own power to avoid mistakes." God is way bigger than all my best and worst decisions.

4. You can laugh and cry at the same time.

In an effort to be candid, 2018 was an absolutely rough year for me personally. But I made an intentional effort to pursue adventure and to find ways to laugh in spite of it. Looking back at the memories, I'm so grateful that I didn't put my life on pause until I "felt" like having fun. Life can be a terrible or terrific paradox of hard and hilarious, however you want to see it.

5. The landscape of my life is less important than the landscape of my heart.

As I've aged, I've become more okay with life being way bumpier than I imagined it would be. I've accepted that I won't always get what I want and others might even get what I want, and that's okay. I've tried to let go of things that ultimately will not matter in eternity: how impressive my resume is, what city I live in, what job I have, whether I date or don’t date, my social media accounts, what cool things I do in my 20s. I am tempted to put a lot of pressure on things that are little deals in a forever timeline, but there are bigger things worth contemplating, like whether my heart is forgiving and joyful and kind. I wrote a list of what’s ultimately important and what’s not and realized I was giving too much weight to the things that don’t last.

6. I know who I am and I’m okay with who I’m not.

This past winter I went skiing with my family in West Virginia. Skiing isn't normally my vacation of choice, but I wanted to be optimistic. At the end of day one, I was so over it. I'd tried. I nailed a guy as I flew uncontrollably down the mountain and couldn't figure out how to steer my skis in time before taking him out, and we ended up both on our backs in the snow. He got up with his dignity in tact; I didn't. I wanted to go home.

I started to feel really disappointed in myself. I felt weak and unadventurous. Who wants to be with a girl like that? So one morning before we ventured onto the slopes again, I had to sit down with Jesus and a clear mind to remember who I was. No...I'm not sporty or outdoorsy. I don't love jumping off cliffs or seeking some kind of external thrill. But these things are true: I love to learn, and I'll happily seek out books or conversations that teach me more about the world. I like change, so I often change my routine to widen my breadth of experiences. I love exploring a new city on my own, and I love exploring my heart which is a complex adventure of its own kind. So just because my ski escapades didn't strike a chord within the category of things I enjoy, I had to remember that I am nonetheless a risk taker. adventurous, brave. and capable.

7. There's always a trade off.

It's logical, of course. We choose one thing and we inevitably give up another. (If I remember ECON 2100 correctly, I believe that's called opportunity cost.) Saying yes to one opportunity costs us another. So focus on what you said yes to, not what you missed out on.

8. Healing is both unpredictable and unique.

We all have things we need to heal from. For me, it was a discouraging journey realizing that healing takes way longer and way more energy than I thought, and I spent the better part of my year mad that I wasn't feeling better. This only gets worse if you compare yourself to others and assume that they took way less time to be okay than you needed to take. So what I learned is that 1) it's okay to feel things and 2) it's actually just beautiful proof that you're human and you possess the wild capacity to experience both love and suffering.

9. I control me - not others and not outcomes.

I cannot control the outcome or the people in my life. (Ugh, what a shame.) What I can control is the decision to live in a way I'm proud of. I am entirely up to me. Taking ownership of my decisions has been one of the best decisions I've made.

10. God wastes nothing.

Believing this brought immense peace to me. It gave me permission to move forward without understanding all the tender spots in my story that were too confusing to make sense of. I may not get to ever understand "why" that needed to happen, but I do believe that God won't waste it.

11. God wants to do more through you than you think He can. But it will hurt more than you think it will.

Levi Lusko spoke this at a conference held at Passion City Church in 2017. It was actually my 23rd birthday weekend that I heard it. Ann Voskamp says this in her book Be The Gift, "Who knows why God allows heartbreak, but the answer must be important enough because God allows His heart to break too."

12. If you can stop fearing brokenness, you can break your fears of most things.

I haven't mastered this as a 23-year-old; I've just been introduced the fascinating possibility it holds. And maybe it's a bold and faulty assumption to make that I'll regret one day. Again from Ann Voskamp: "Everything never made, never dreamed, never risked, never tried was because of a fear of brokenness...It was that: fear of brokenness has kept me from so much living; it has kept me from so much loving." If you can realize that there's a sweetness and a creativity and a closeness with Christ that is birthed in pain, I'm not saying it will erase the pain but it will bring you peace within it. "When I'm no longer afraid of brokenness, I don't have to control or possess anything - dreams or plans or people or their perceptions. I can live surrendered. Cruciform. Given. This feels like freedom."

13. God is moving even when I don’t feel it.

My feelings do not always align with what I know to be true about God. I spent several tear-filled nights asking God why I felt stuck for far longer than I'd like to share. I juggled disappointment in myself and disappointment in God for not making His movements more obvious and helpful. Now in retrospect, I am more grounded in the truth that He was indeed moving. I believe that He has been doing 10,000 things all along that I couldn't (and still can't fully) see. Amazing book recommendation to help with this: Remember God by Annie F. Downs

14. Growing up doesn't mean you grow out of FOMO.

Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) isn't an exclusive experience of the insecure teenager. I felt it pretty consistently all year long (I am sad to admit) but I wrote a blog about it and basically want to say you have an invitation every day to see your own life for all of its own charm and wonderment. And when you accept your own portion and play your hand well, you feel the freedom to celebrate what others have because it's not a threat to you.

15. Make honor the highest prize.

"'A gracious woman gets honor; a violent man gets riches' (Proverbs 11:16). This could be the most valuable and hardest out of all 23 things listed here. I like to get even. I like to prove my point. I like to call out people when they're wrong. I like to put myself in a good spotlight. All too easily, I can be the violent person who seeks riches (status, approval from others, security in their opinions). If we want to fight for something, let's fight to be honorable to one another.

16. When life gets comfortable, I get comfortable with less of Jesus.

My most desperate moments this year served as the catalysts for driving me to Jesus. When life felt easier, I was much more content to give my attention to self-absorbing forms of distraction. I almost felt nostalgic for the harder periods because of how they caused my heart and mind to be so desperate for God.

17. Confidence is attractive.

Trust me when I say this because I have lived most of my life severely depleted of self-confidence. However, I've begun to carry myself more securely and more independently than I ever have, and it's a freeing way to live. Confidence applies to all contexts. Your date, your boss, and your friends all notice and benefit when you speak, make decisions, and carry out your responsibilities with a manner of confidence.

18. Advice from your people is great. But it's just advice.

Listen to the people who love you; they often give wise advice laced with good intentions. But don't turn off your own thoughts and desires and gut feelings because they matter, too. And they're worth listening to.

19. Minimalism isn't my thing.

I thought I'd be trendy and downsize my closet to only neutral colored items. But wearing only white and black day after day in the middle of winter can actually be depressing and I prefer color and change and options. So no Marie Kondo for me.

20. This isn't your practice life.

It's so tempting to procrastinate on being who you actually want to be because those better habits take time and effort and discipline. Before you know it, you've coasted through a year or maybe a whole decade of your life being someone you were less than proud of.

21. I can get through any hard day with these two phrases.

"I trust you, God" and "I'll be okay." I don't mean to oversimplify it. But when things do not make sense and I'm hit with some new wave of disappointment, I would utter these phrases over and over again. And when my mind started to imagine my worst fears playing out before me, I had to actually say out loud, "If that happens, I will be okay. I'll make it."

22. Chicken Salad Chick is sometimes all a girl wants.

And when Chicken Salad Chick is not open when it’s supposed to be, it gets dramatic.

23. Don't delete any part of your story.

I love who I am now. I cannot beat myself up for regretful decisions I've made. I wasn't the same person then as I am now. God wrote those days in his book, and He is writing these as well. Give yourself permission to be here, on the present page. You are not meant to go back and revise what has already come to pass. You are free to live in the present because there are memories and moments waiting for the present you, not your younger self. Don't try to erase what was hard. Feel it. And then once you feel it, feel fully the moment you are now in. The complexity of these emotions would never be quite so beautiful and stunning if you tried to erase certain scenes or rewind to an old time and place. This story needs all of you, not part of you.

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