Friday, February 8, 2013

On Not Wasting Our Twenties, or Why 21-Year-Olds Really Are Adults

I saw this on Scot McKnight's blog (originally posted here at The Art of Manliness):

At age 20: Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard and cofounded Microsoft, and Sir Isaac Newton began developing a new branch of mathematics. 
At age 21: Thomas Alva Edison created his first invention, an electric vote recorder, Steve Jobs co-founded Apple Inc., and Alfred Tennyson published his first poetry. 
At age 22: Inventor Samuel Colt patented the Colt six-shooter revolver, and Cyrus Hall McCormick invented the McCormick reaper, which allowed one man to do the work of five 
At age 23: T. S. Eliot wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” John Keats penned “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” and Truman Capote published his first novel, Other Voices, Other Rooms
At age 24: Johannes Kepler defended the Copernican theory and described the structure of the solar system. 
At age 25: Orson Welles conscripted, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane, Charles Lindbergh became the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic, New York farmhand Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, John Wesley began planting the seeds for Methodism at Oxford, and Alexander the Great became the King of Persia. 
At age 26: Albert Einstein published five major research papers in a German physics journal, fundamentally changing man’s view of the universe and leading to such inventions as television and the atomic bomb, Benjamin Franklin published the first edition of Poor Richard’s Almanac, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin, and Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Italy. 
An impressive list of accomplishments to be sure. And despite how many might interpret this kind of “precociousness,” I would argue that these men accomplished what they did not despite their age, but because of it.

While I recognize that adolescence has become a lifestyle instead of just a life stage in our culture, I don't buy it. Yes, the decade of one's twenties has changed and shifted and grown over time, but that doesn't mean we can waste our twenties wandering aimlessly or without ambition. Delaying maturity because "I'm just exploring my options," or out of fear of failure, or anxiety about being "stuck" in a job/place/marriage simply isn't sustainable. I totally get those reasons, by the way. But I also know that just dwelling on them and allowing them to define me won't help me grow up. We don't have to let the epidemic of extended adolescence overtake us.

Now, I'm not saying all of the 21-year-olds reading this should go out and get married or buy houses or dive into a life-long career (though some of you probably can and should). Not all of us are the next Einstein or Welles or Bonaparte or Edison. But some of us might be, and probably are, and all of us have the innate potential to embrace and utilize our God-given gifts and passions and callings.

Don't waste these years. You are an adult, whether your parents, peers, or culture recognize this truth. It always pains me when folks in their 40s and 50s refer to 21-year-olds as "kids." Yeah, they might look and act a bit childish at times. So do most of the adults I know. It's not about the perception of the now, but the capacity and potential of the what if. They won't stop acting like kids if we don't start believing that they're adults.

So, here's my advice as a 28-year-old dude to those living in this fine decade between 19 and 29:

Get a university degree because it's better than not having one. Go live in another city. Go live in another country. Start your own business or non-profit. Take up photography or painting or an instrument or automobile maintenance or an obscure sport. Read a lot of books now, because you won't have the time to read the ones you want. Write a book, while you're at it. Watch good movies, like ones made in the 1970s and foreign countries. Learn to enjoy and appreciate coffee or tea or wine. Join a movement or a ministry or a mission. Go to coffee shops and start having conversations with strangers. Eat a lot of different ethnic food. Teach yourself how to cook. Pour your time and energy into things that matter.

Be an adult. You are one.

The capacity is there. The potential is there. The possibility is there. We only need to embrace our twenties as a decade of adventure and exploration in the pursuit of maturity, not the avoidance of it.

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