Are you in your late twenties or early thirties and working as intern or in an entry-level position? No need to feel embarrassed. Research shows that self discovery in your twenties is perfectly natural. It’s what our brains are wired for.
The Wall Street Journal ran an article on delayed development in 2012 that helps explain.
“Until very recently, we had to make some pretty important life decisions about education and career paths, who to marry and whether to go into the military at a time when parts of our brains weren’t optimal yet,” says neuroscientist Jay Giedd at the National Institute of Mental Health, whose brain-imaging studies of thousands of young people have yielded many of the new insights. Postponing those decisions makes sense biologically, he says. “It’s a good thing that the 20s are becoming a time for self-discovery.”
If you’re like me, you spent your twenties working odd jobs, pursuing degrees, interning, volunteering around the world, falling in love, and searching for meaning. I rejected, questioned, and embraced God, the way I did with politics, education, and other traditional pillars of civilization. I interrogated the purpose of democracy, institutional religion, and higher education only to find that despite the limitations and frustrations of each, they play a necessary role in a free society, and must be vigilantly defended.
Am I jealous of friends that went straight to university and on to high-paying jobs? Absolutely. But for many of us, that script was wrong, and we needed to wrestle with life and create our own narratives. I dropped out of high school, worked a series of odd jobs in Boston, enrolled in continuing education, sought therapy, and went on to pursue post-graduate degrees in literature and theology. Now I work in politics and public affairs in Northern Ireland. And my life’s calling? Yes, I think I’ve found it. To promote and defend liberal democracy and find a productive way for faith to engage politics and the pressing policy issues of our time.
For those of us who are still on the cusp of emerging into our own powers, we really need to get over the fear that we missed the train to success. Through our adventures and studies we’ve dug deep into ourselves searching for solid ground to stand on in what is often a chaotic and transient world. Because we enter our thirties confident in ourselves, our values, and our passions, we will likely not suffer a mid-life crisis. We are no longer seekers. We have arrived.
They used to call us late-bloomers. Now they call us emerging adults. We call ourselves punks, drop outs, street poets, adventurers, entrepreneurs, artists, musicians, missionaries. We call ourselves whatever we need to in order to shape an identity that allows us to be messy, unfinished, inquisitive, inventive, creative, and curious. Our thinking is unconventional. Our narratives are completely unique to ourselves. And by the time we reach our late twenties, we start to feel the deep dimensions of our identity and life’s calling. As we calm down, we begin to integrate more fully into society bringing our wisdom, creativity, and disruptive narratives with us.
By the late 20s, “there’s better communication between parts of the brain that process emotions and social information—like what people think of you—and the parts that are important for planning ahead and balancing risk and reward,” says developmental psychologist Laurence Steinberg of Temple University.
It doesn’t matter what career we go into. Any field would be lucky to have us. We are the disruptors. And what do we do? Let’s take a cue from Josh Linkner, who writing for Forbes, declares,
Disruptors wonder. They dream, explore, harass, discover, challenge, vex, disturb, rattle, break, upset, imagine, push, shatter, drive, offend, risk, and poke. Disruptors also win, get promoted, earn more, make a bigger impact, reach their dreams and change the world.
I know instantaneously when I meet one of my kind. We are rough around the edges, abrasive, compassionate, creative, and often rub people the wrong way. We aren’t just changers, we are chaffers. We desire truth, justice, and, as puzzle-solvers, are drawn to the world’s problems. It’s a way of life that for me embodies how I seek to live out the Gospel. I mean, was Jesus not the greatest radical, convention-defier, disruptor there ever was? So if you’re just finding your feet in your thirties, remember, there is nothing wrong with you. Science backs you up, and frankly, you’re probably one of the worlds more interesting people.