In three days, I turn twenty-four. Twenty-four. It feels heavy and somehow makes me look in the mirror a different way. And while I’m genuinely ecstatic to be celebrating another year of life— [One of my best friends is getting married this weekend. Best birthday present ever!] —It makes me wonder how I’ve gotten this far and haven’t seemed to have gotten anywhere at all.
In reality, I know twenty-four is young. I know that I still look eighteen and still act childish and still have so much growth to do. I know there are so many more beautiful days to fill and sunsets to watch and walks in the woods to enjoy. There is so much laughter and celebration and love to look forward to.
But some days, like today, it feels like I owe the entire world an explanation. It feels like I owe those mentors and professors and family members an excuse for why I haven’t lived up to everything they told me I could be.
I’m sorry I haven’t had a full time job for more than eleven months since I graduated. I’m sorry I clicked the pause button and went to India. I’m sorry that I graduated at the top of my class but now live with my parents. I’m sorry I haven’t gone to grad school or published scholarly articles or gotten married. I promise one day I’ll figure it out. [or maybe I won’t?]
I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
And in the light of my mother’s kitchen last night, I decided that for my twenty-fourth birthday, I was going to quit apologizing. Because I don’t owe people anything and mostly, because I am more than the work that I do. And so are you.
I’ve reflected upon it a lot lately—this unfortunate and non-biblical ideology that our culture perpetuates. I’ve had really raw conversations with friends recently about how easy it is to base self worth on a resume or a job title or the answers we give to people when making small talk.
We ask things like, “What do you do?” “Where do you work?” And in answering these questions, I so often justify myself. I say things like, “Well, for right now, I’m doing this.” “Well, I hope to one day be X,Y,Z.” “It’s temporary.”
It’s a mere fact of our culture: we elevate certain positions above others. Someone is going to recognize a lawyer as being more successful than a coffee barista. A doctor more prestigious than a bag boy at the local grocery store.
I understand this. I’m guilty of this. But I don’t agree with it.
Our Biblical Paul was a tent maker. He made tents. Let that sink in for a moment.
We don’t remember this about him though. Nor, if we are really honest with one another, do we care what Paul’s trade was. We remember the way that he proclaimed what he believed. We remember that he was imprisoned for spreading the good news of Jesus. We remember Paul for more than his vocation. We remember the lifestyle he lived and the heart that beat loudly for the eternal.
I just wonder what would happen if we all worked to get to know the heart of the people around us. I wonder what would happen if we stopped basing worth on a worldly standard of success. What if, instead, I asked you what makes you feel like you are floating on the clouds? What makes your heart swell? What are you passionate about? What do you feel defines the very essence of who you are as an individual and a human being? What song lyrics do you have memorized because they resonate so strongly with what you believe?
Perhaps your answer would fall into what you do vocationally, but I’d venture to say that for many, this is not the case. Maybe the answers you’d give me have nothing to do with the place that pays your bills.
Maybe it’s the thing you do in the early dawn or late at night when the sky is painted with those ever glimmering lights.
Maybe you feel most like yourself when your fingers run across those lovely ivory keys.
Or maybe it’s the way that words are constantly ebbing inside of you and overflowing on to the pages of your journal.
Maybe it’s the way you feel when your feet hit the pavement, miles of road ahead of you to run.
Perhaps it’s a serving a meal to your family or to the homeless.
Maybe you literally know everything there is to know about Star Wars characters [in which I say, props, my friend].
I just wonder what our world would look like if culture didn’t determine value based on career goals or ambitions. We are so much more than where we work.
Just a little Thursday [almost Friday] food for thought: What is it that makes you, YOU? Do you rely on the work that you do to determine your identity?