Welcome to your 20’s assignments

Dear graduate: your next assignments

Young Adult Development


When college students graduate they often don’t recognize their biggest assignments are unfinished. Decisions once made during college years are now made during the 20’s. The most recent developmental research shows that young adulthood now extends into the early 30’s. We used to send kids off to college expecting them to graduate as adults. Not so any more. Full adulthood is coming later in life now—as late as age 34 for many.  This changes the role of colleges. We used to act like we were “finishing schools” but increasingly we’re more like starting schools. Decisions once faced during the college years are now pushed back into the 20s when college professors are no longer nearby to serve as guides. Parents used to hand off their kids to us expecting us to hand them off to “adult life” on graduation. We now graduate seniors into “extended adolescence” where big life-altering decisions are now made after college. When students walk down the aisle they may be finished doing our assignments, but they often have major life assignments uncompleted. 


Life assignments for the 20’s


1. Independence.  Become independent from your folks and pay down your college debt.

As you graduate from college you are probably bankrupt—if you sold all your assets and put that money toward your debt you’d be in the hole. If you don’t get a job you’ll have to move back in with mom and dad. The bad news is that you start this era of life dependant on your folks but the good news is you’ll end it independent. You might even start out with that dreaded choice to move back in with your folks but by the end you’ll have moved through sharing space, renting your own apartment and even on to buying your own first house by age 34. It will be an incredible shift from dependence to independence and will signal your entry into full adulthood. This doesn’t mean you have to settle down immediately and can’t still have flings of irresponsibility. Indeed the 20s are a decade of struggle between stabilizing and adventuring. You might take a year off and travel around the world or go work a year in Mozambique—that is expected in the 20s. When I was in my 20’s I took an entire year off with my wife and lived in a VW and wandered around the country hiking and camping.  That’s still OK, but by age 34 you’ll probably have “settled down” and not because you got trapped but because you wanted to. It is a task of young adulthood that leads to full adulthood. Now it may seem like a daunting task but in a little more than a decade you’ll probably be completely on your own and mostly out from under your educational debt. Indeed, when you are 34 and you go out to a restaurant with your folks you might pick up their ticket before dropping them off at their house then driving home to your own house. Gaining independence from your folks is one of life’s big assignments in the 20’s.


2. Vocation. Settle the direction of your vocation.

As a college student you were asked, “What is your major?”  Soon you’ll be asked, “Where do you work?” By the end of young adulthood you will get a third question: “What do you do?” They will be asking about your vocation—what you feel called to do in life. When your folks sent you off to college you may have chosen a major based on your high school likes. You liked photography or taking mission trips in high school so you chose a major in photography or intercultural studies when you were 18. In the next ten years you’ll see if you like the vocation of photography or cross-cultural work. You might discover by age 30 that you really wanted to teach school. This will drive your parents crazy since they assumed the major you chose at 18 would last a lifetime (like it did for them in 1970).  Times have changed and these decisions are often now made at 28, not 18.  You still have some wiggle room. Students who majored in photography sometimes wind up being marriage counselors and psychology majors sometimes end up being photographers. The question for you now is no longer, “What will I major in” but “What will I do with my life?”  The next decade will be one of trying things out and seeking God’s direction.  By age 34 you will probably have settled the general direction of your vocation—it is one of your assignments for the 20’s.


3. Intimacy. Develop friend-making skills and find intimacy with the opposite sex.

Just as you searched for your identity as a teenager you now must find intimacy with others, especially the opposite sex. You will need to develop your friend-making skills so that you can make new friends and be a friend to others.  You won’t be able to rely on your college buddies and family for friendship forever.  You will no longer have a thousand people your own age living nearby to eat with or go to a movie with. You’ll have to find friends and make new friends or you’ll be swept into an eddy of isolation and loneliness. Friends won’t come as easily or as automatically after college. You’ll have to seek them out by being a friend and you’ll have to learn to make friends with people different from yourself. But even more than general friendship the 20s are a time when you’ll need to find a way to intimate friendships with the opposite sex, and that means far more than “getting married.” It means learning how to be a giving partner even in a marriage relationship.  If you remain single you are not exempt from this assignment—for it means more than sexual intimacy, though for a married person it means that too. Intimacy vs. isolation is a fork in the road you will face and some will fail and be swept into loneliness and isolation. This is one of your major assignments for the 20’s: learn to develop intimate relationships—especially with the opposite sex.


4. Family. Choose a mate and get married or decide to be single.

You can get married and have children when you are 40 or even later but the chances are most likely that by age 34 you will be married or will have chosen to be single. Even if you choose to be single you still might get married for the first time when you are 52 or even 60, but for the vast majority of graduates you’ll make this decision in the next decade—by age 34.  Marriage used to be a life assignment during the college years—we “take you in, pair you up and send you off.” That is no longer as true as it was. Many students delay marriage into the late 20’s. So you must complete this assignment with fewer “options” available to you—especially Christian alternatives like you had in college. By age 34 most of you will be already married or will have chosen a life of singleness. In fact, if you are married by 34 you will likely already have had your first child—maybe more. It is an overwhelming thought to today’s single graduate… yet, on average, in just ten more years you will probably be married and toting around one or more kids!  This is a major assignment for the next decade: find a mate and start a family or determine to be single.


5. Faith. Commit to your own faith and beliefs.

As you leave college you probably think you have settled the matter of faith, especially if you attended a Christian college. We Christian colleges fool ourselves this way. We pretend that by 22 people have chosen their faith once for all and it will be clear sailing from there. Not so. All the research shows that the “settling down” of your faith will occur in the coming decade. A Christian college is a lot like youth camp, a temporary locker room experience from which you go out into the next quarter of play. Even if you are a ministry student who “lines up” with all of your parents or denomination’s beliefs you will likely face a decade of “deciding for yourself” once you are gone from college. The 20’s can be a time of turmoil and doubt.  Some face this even in seminary (perhaps especially in seminary). You may even come to a time when you despair at believing anything at all. Yet by age 34 you will have chosen. Even a choice not to choose is a choice. Sooner or later in the coming decade it will dawn on you that you need to commit to something. Faith can’t be tentative forever. You might commit to the faith of your family and denomination or that of another but eventually (if you seek a meaningful life) you will discover the need to commit. When you do so, it will be your own faith—you will own it. This is of course the major assignment of the 20’s since your entire [eternal] grade is based on this single assignment.



So, congratulations on your graduation but your assignments are not done. The assignments of the coming decade are big ones. Years ago we used to say college students faced the three major decisions of life during the college years: decisions about “their Master, their Mate and their Ministry.”  Today some (or all) of these big decisions extend into the 20’s and even into the early 30’s.  We college professors won’t be there when you complete these assignments and the risks are great. We worry about your next decade because we know these assignments are more important than any one you did for us.


We won’t be there which is why we want to hand you off to others.  We don’t want you to face these monumental assignments without guidance and mentoring. This is why we are always talking about the local church. It is to the local church we want to hand you off on graduation. You came from your family, dwelled with us for four years, and now we hand you off to another community—the local church. It is in the local church where you can find a new family rather than moving home again. In a local church is where you will find guidance for your upcoming vocational choices or confirmations. The local church that can be the community where you can learn to make friends with people unlike yourself and maybe even find a husband or wife. In a local church you will find families banded together to teach and train each other’s children and teens—including your own. And most of all, we hope this coming decade of searching and settling on your faith will occur in a local church where there will be older men and women like us to guide your growth and commitment.


If you leave this college with a firm faith then fail to get in a local church we have failed. The ball will be fumbled half way through the play.  Things have changed since your parents went to college. Big assignments are still ahead of you. The local church can help you finish this play. But, there is a big hitch.  The local church you will attend won’t come to your graduation to take the handoff. We’ll hand off yourself to you!  Your job will be to put yourself into the hands of a local church. It is up to you. Like your parents handed you off to us for these four years we now hand you off to the local church. So, please don’t hog the ball. Give yourself to a local faith community who will help you complete the massive life-altering and eternity-affecting assignments of your 20’s.


So what do you think?

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Keith Drury   November 27, 2007