If you’re seeing this, it means I am 20 years old. This is the birthday that I have kind of been dreading – hoping it would take much longer to arrive than birthdays past. But here it is. 20 to me has always seemed grown up. I thought by 20 I’d have my goals for the future so perfectly scripted, my life-long friends casted, and the perfect boy already in scene. But that’s not quite where my story is.
Nevertheless, while I am sad to let go of teenage stereotypes and song references, I am excited for all the things this new decade is going to bring. Here are some thoughts I have gathered during my time on this Earth – 20 things I’ve learned in 20 years.
So here’s to you 20 – may you be the best one yet.
With the number of days until my 20th birthday growing smaller, the number of nights I lie awake consumed by anxiousness continues to grow. I lie awake and think about what being 20 means. As a kid, 20 seemed like forever away. It seemed like the age when I would have it all together – the set career path, the serious boyfriend, the stable friend group. And here I am. My dream job changes everyday. I’ve never had what I would call a boyfriend, let alone a serious one. And I believe with all my heart that I haven’t met most of the people the Lord wants me to walk this life with.
My teen years haven’t been the teen years shown on television screens. I got the straight A’s, I walked away from the boy, I didn’t go to the college party, I applied for the internships. I have been left to wonder if I really had teen years – if I’m going to look back and regret not acting young like all the country songs told me to do.
But the more my nights became filled with these endless streams of thoughts and an overwhelming amount of sleep deprivation, I realized that, yes, my teen years haven’t been what one would deem as normal. I walked the streets of Chicago as an 18-year-old. I strolled singly through Millennium Park after visiting the Art Institute to conduct research for an art history midterm. I’ve hopped onto the Red Line and made late night runs to the Walgreens on Michigan Avenue more times than I could begin to count. My teen years weren’t filled with parties and concerts and crazy nights and young love. But I wouldn’t change them for the world.
A few nights ago, I was walking down Michigan Avenue at 8:00 p.m. all by my lonesome after I enjoyed a Saturday evening at a nearly vacant downtown Starbucks. And I kind of had one of those “this is it” moments. And I can’t really explain it. Pure contentment is a good start. Comfort, yet discomfort. Knowing that everyday this place will continue to push me so far outside the small area I find comfortable, yet knowing how far I’ve come. Knowing that if a friend walks away, if a boy chooses someone else, I can walk down Michigan Avenue by myself at night.
This city has taught me what it means to cohabit with millions of people, and how to be alone. I walk comfortablely through a city enveloped by darkness and filled with strangers solo. The cat calls don’t scare me – frustrate me a little, yes. But I’m not scared. I’m independent. I’m free. I love to spend Saturday mornings strolling down streets my shoes haven’t yet touched and memorizing sidewalk cracks I may never see again. I love knowing that there’s always something new for me to experience, even if it’s a few blocks away. I love walking by people and knowing that they can write their own stories about who I am, but they won’t ever know the honest one.
Years from now, I know I can look back on these years I spent in this city as ones that shaped me. I know there is a special strength that comes out of conquering this place on my own. Will I want these years back – probably not. But I’m always going to be grateful that I had them.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
Proverbs 3: 5-6
Sometimes life just seems like this series of disconnected, unrelated moments. Often these experiences are ones we gather simply out of necessity or convenience. I need money, so I get a part-time retail job. My college roommate is attending this event, and I have nothing better to do. Creating a blog sounds like a fun hobby, let’s try it out. But when we take a step back, each one seems to have somehow led to another and a deeper interconnectedness reveals itself. In the grand scheme of things, there is a general theme that runs throughout many of our experiences. It’s all about connecting those dots.
Now, I should probably mention I didn’t come up with this idea. Steve Jobs did in his 2005 commencement speech at Stanford University. But what he forgot to mention was the driving force behind the stringing together of our experiences. He forgot to identify the being that draws the dots that create our life pictures. I believe the Lord had decided on His dots for me long before I entered this world.
Recently, a dramatic, yet very gradual shift that happened in my career path – given I’m nearly 20 and my career path is still very much in its developing stages. But one day, I looked around at all of the experiences and the various opportunities that have fallen on my lap during the past several months. And on that day, things began to make sense through the noticeable pattern that seemed to magically appear. All the closed doors, the ones that slammed in my face and the ones I pounded on for days, seemed to make sense. Though I may not ever fully understand what the Lord had in mind when he created me, I’m beginning to get a grasp on some of the great things I know He believed I could do.
Having plans and goals is great. Having an extensive list of things you want to do and places you want to go is great. There is nothing wrong with working for something and seeking an end result. But I think it is also important to remember who is in control. To remember that, while you may have these desires so established in your heart, He will be the one who will guide you to the finish line – whether it looks the way you thought it would or it’s something a little different. I graduated high school wanting to be a journalist (the Rory Gilmore type), but I now see myself pursuing a career in restoring human dignity to the homeless and the helpless. All because a series of moments changed my world. My picture arose out of an internship, a few volunteer experiences, and a Christian ethics class. So connect the dots, my friends. Find your picture.
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