Graduation Advice from an Elder Millennial

I graduated college in 2005. That means by the time I was a senior I had already experienced the Columbine school shooting as a high schooler, 9/11 as a freshman in college, and one of my brothers was killed right before my 22nd birthday while serving in Iraq. I limped out of college into my first job, after three years of which I felt called into grad school and campus ministry. So I started a new job working for the CCO, which meant fundraising my salary, in the summer of 2008. That’s right, I entered a career that depended on raising financial support and then the market immediately crashed.  Not the rosy future I had envisioned for myself.

We always ask graduating seniors “do you know what you’re doing next?” We assume that they should know the answer and we rarely warn them that one’s early-mid 20s are often extremely tumultuous and unpredictable. That is only heightened for those who are graduating this year in the midst of a global pandemic and likely recession. As someone who can relate, here is what helped me survive and grow in challenging times.

Say yes to random opportunities

I had an entry-level job in Student Affairs after I graduated. It did not pay a lot, it was not glamorous, and I could have done the minimum requirements for it. But whenever additional opportunities came along, I took them. I volunteered as a faculty/staff advisor for the women’s club rugby team. I attended our annual professional conference and the second year presented a workshop on supporting students in trauma. I collaborated with other offices across campus to offer campus-wide events. When my church gave me opportunities to lead and serve, I jumped in. When a friend and coworker invited me to the CCO’s annual Jubilee Conference, I said yes. All of these experiences helped me grow personally and professionally, made me more competitive for grad schools, and eventually led to my next step. Whatever job you get, even if it does not seem impressive, make the most out of it. And if you cannot find a job, look for involvements in your community. The need for service and support is significant right now. Invest in your area and you never know what networks and connections you will make in the process.

Invest in a church family

I was an emotional wreck after college. I was processing the trauma of losing my brother, I was trying to adjust to a new town and new job, I was lonely and depressed. I bounced around to different churches for about a year, and then landed at a small Anglican church plant nearby. That church became my home for the next 7 years. They invited me to join the leadership team after a year. I did not know how to help lead a church plant but I was committed so I said yes. I had the chance to be a lay delegate multiple times at our annual church network conference. It meant sitting through a long day of Robert’s Rules and not understanding half of what was going on, but it shaped me to see myself as an active agent in my local congregation and in our global denomination. Beyond interesting leadership experiences, the church gave me a family. We were in a small college town which means I had very few peers to hang out with, but I had older couples that took an interest in me, and young families that invited me over. I did not have many other young professional friends but I was far from alone. Those people loved me and supported me and cheered me on during an otherwise untethered season in my life. It can be hard to find a church. It takes time to build relationships and to open up. But it is the best investment you will make.

Cultivate your mental/emotional health

I think a lot of us feel like a train wreck after college. Whether you go to college or not, our 20’s are a time when we are working through family dynamics and past hurt. We are continuing to discern who we are and what we are supposed to do next. It is often a lonely time with a lot of transition in friendships and community. And it is a time to lay a healthy foundation that we can build on for the rest of our lives. Investing in our mental/emotional health during this season is an investment in a stable future. It will be stressful at first. To face past trauma, to confront unhealthy patterns, to address areas of sin/idolatry in our hearts is never easy or quick. But ignoring those struggles does not mean they go away; it only means their presence in our lives is prolonged. Now is the time to grit your teeth and go to counseling. Find a mentor who can encourage and guide you. Meet regularly with a pastor or trusted spiritual guide. That may have to be online for the foreseeable future, but do not let that stop you. It will get so much better and getting to a place of greater inner stability is invaluable.

Ask for and accept help

I had no idea what I was doing in my 20’s, and that is ok. I think actually most people have no idea what they are doing most of the time. I had SO many people that gave me needed advice, who answered my ignorant questions, who shared their life experience, who were patient with me. There is no shame in needing help and needing to ask questions. Some of my most frequent advice for anyone starting a new job is to ask lots of questions. It is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of proactivity. Do not let embarrassment of pride get in the way of allowing others to walk with you and give you any support that you need.

Be patient with yourself and the process

When we graduate we think everyone is expecting us to have it all together and find our one true path that we will pursue forever. Especially in our age of technology where we see our peers with viral YouTube channels, or creating apps, or being social media influencers, we think we have to be an immediate success when we are young. But Maya Angelou was 41 when she wrote her first memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Betty Friedan was 42 when she wrote The Feminine Mystique. C. S. Lewis was 52 when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was published. Jesus was 30 when He started His public ministry. Do not compare yourself and your timing to everyone else. You are not “behind” where you think you are supposed to be. Focus on being faithful to each opportunity and each relationship in front of you.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.” (Luke 16:10)

This is not a time when you have to achieve huge success, this is a perfect time to learn faithfulness in small things. And that foundation of small-scale faithfulness, small-scale trustworthiness, will eventually be honored by the Lord in increasingly impactful ways. Be patient, stay faithful, stay hopeful. As a wise friend of mine told me, “The way we make decisions in current circumstances is how we are likely to make decisions in the future. A ‘yes’ to God today increases the likelihood of a ‘yes’ to God tomorrow.” Say yes to God today, and trust that He will provide the next yes and the ones after that.

How to Respond to the Coronavirus if You are Young and Healthy

To be honest, I was dismissive of the initial reaction to the coronavirus in the US. I thought cancelling the NCAA tournament and other gatherings was an overreaction. Hearing about the relatively mild symptoms of the virus made me think it was not that big of a deal. I figured that if I got sick I could recover quickly so why all the panic? But after spending more time reading about how the virus impacts people who are much more vulnerable than me and guidance from people I respect like Andy Crouch (Love in the Time of Coronavirus) and Esau McCaulley (The Christian Response to the Coronavirus: Stay Home) I had to change my outlook. If you are also a low-risk person wondering what your role should be, here are some things to consider:

It is not about you

Take health precautions seriously because it is not just about your health. It is about keeping vulnerable people safe who could be seriously harmed if we passed the virus to them. Be thinking about the elderly in your community, or those who are going through cancer treatment, or those who are pregnant and have longed for a child for years, or people who appear healthy to you but may have health concerns you know nothing about. Remember that all of these people could experience life-threatening illness through the carelessness of the healthy. Now is the time to put their concerns ahead of your own and make decisions with them in mind.

Practice everything we are being told to do

There are a lot of great memes about social distancing, but it is more than an introvert’s time to shine. The more we are in public and in groups that are not necessary, the higher the risk of spreading the virus. This could mean cancelling plans or events that you have worked hard to prepare. I am a campus minister and right now my students are all home with extra time on their hands. I have to fight the urge to gather them because it might be fruitful for us but could be detrimental to someone else. The wise thing to do is model staying home even when we could go out. When you are going out for necessities, be vigilant about hand washing and disinfecting throughout your time in public and as soon as you get home. These are not habits of germophobes, these are life-saving measures.

Consider how your health can be a blessing to others

Being a low-risk population is not something to take for granted, but a gift that can be offered back for the common good. Can you run errands for someone who is home bound? Reach out to elderly/high-risk relatives, neighbors and people in your community. They may desperately need someone to get them groceries, get their mail or buy stamps, or pick up their prescriptions. Then make sure to disinfect your hands before dropping those things off! Also consider who in your community might need childcare when school is cancelled but the parent(s) cannot stay home, especially if they are in the medical field. If you are a student or have a flexible schedule, you may be able to help a parent remain employed and keep their family stable.

Reach out to each other

Social distancing can be relaxing and fun for some, for others it will be deeply stressful and lonely. Be intentional with your community and proactive to communicate with others, especially with anyone living alone. Prioritize messaging and video chatting with anyone you know may be struggling. Isolation can inflame anxiety and depression; we need caring human contact to stay healthy. Physical health is not the only form of wellbeing at stake, stay connected and be an initiator for your loved ones.

Embrace Godly concern

It is tempting to go to extremes of either dismissiveness or panic. Trust God in what we cannot control (which is most of it) and honor God in what we can do. Our call is to love and serve our neighbors. Not in a spirit of fear or anxiety, but of selflessness and compassion. Be rooted in scripture and let God’s Word be your guide:

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. – Romans 12:9-13

The Church has a unique opportunity to demonstrate peace and sacrificial love during this season. Do not miss this opportunity to serve with humility, put the interests of others ahead of our own, care for each other in creative ways, and glorify God in the ways we respond. Let us go in peace to love and serve the Lord.