“What do you want to be when you grow up?” Adults love asking this question of children. Their answers are usually cute, heartwarming, and sometimes downright funny. The first answer I remember giving to this question was ‘chef.’ I was really into Emeril Lagasse, even as a 4-year-old.
But as the kids grow up, we keep asking and expect increasingly serious answers. Every generation seems to stress harder about the question as they graduate high school and go to college, trade school, or the workforce. I can’t tell you how many times my poor 17-year-old sister has made the above exclamation: “what am I doing with my life?!”
Stressed out high-schoolers and college kids, this post is for you. You may be looking at the decisions you have to make over the next few years and wondering, “what do I do? What if I fail? And where is God in all this?” I may not have all the answers, but here are 4 important truths I’ve discovered going through high school, college, making a living, and most importantly, making a life.
#1: Define Yourself in Christ
This is the first truth because it’s the starting point of peace and clarity for you and glory for God. It’s why I find the question, ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ misleading and even damaging. What the asker really means is, “what do you want to do for a living?” Yet from an early age. we pose the question as if to reinforce the idea that we are defined by our career success.
Of course, those decisions are important. But you are so much more than your job title. You are more than your degree or the letters after your name. You are more than the age at which you marry or the number of children you have. Those things affect this life, which will one day fade away. Our lives glorify Christ when we cease to make our lives top priority. With any decision, start there.
#2: Take One Step at a Time
As humans, we fear the unknown. When we pray for direction, how often do we wish that God would just show us His map? Don’t we want to know where we will be in 5,10, even 20 years? You’ve likely noticed that God doesn’t operate that way.
A wise man once said to me, “God won’t show you the entire path at once. He’ll show you the next step and ask you to trust Him.” That can be nerve-wracking. But imagine how much scarier it would be if we served a less worthy God. So don’t worry too much about the big picture; just trust the mapmaker by taking the next step.
#3: You Never Quite Arrive
God may reveal your path one step at a time, but there will be so many that you never quite arrive. That’s another way I find the “what do you want to be when you grow up?” question misleading; it paints the rest of your life as a one-time decision. As if you decide one day, “I’m going to be X,” and then you spend forever on a straight path to X. That couldn’t be further from the truth.
You may earn a valuable degree in one field but then go in another direction after graduation. You may change careers in your 30s, 40s, or 50s. You may one day have a job title that doesn’t exist yet. A career is not a static, one-time decision. It’s a journey in which you constantly ask yourself, “what’s next?” It’s a course over which you continually get better at what you do to the glory of the Lord.
#4: Mistakes are Not Fatal
So don’t be afraid of messing up. We put the weight of the world on young people’s decisions, as though they are life or death, but most of them can be undone. Hate the college you chose? You can always transfer. Is your major or career choice making you miserable? Change it! Switch majors, go back to school or get a new job.
Even “mistakes” that can’t be undone need not be lamented. God makes all things work together for the good of those who love him. In His hands, no part of your life is wasted. Trust Him to make something beautiful out of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
The short version of this post is that it’s going to be okay. Trust me; I’ve been there. But more importantly, trust God; He’s everywhere. When the decisions you face scream at you, “what are you doing with your life?!”, look them in the eye and say “following Christ.” Then, even in the midst of the unknowns, you can find peace.
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