A quarter-life crisis pep talk

A medieval priest once said: "Love in reality can often be a harsh and dreadful reality compared to love in dreams." (Unsplash.com/JonTyson)

Four jobs in four years.

I left my boss' office with that dreadful thought just after telling him that I wouldn't be coming back next year. It's not because I don't like my job — I do. It's not because I have terrible co-workers — I don't. It's not about the money, the benefits, or the hours. It's because Pope Francis told me not to be wimpy.  

A recent study from LinkedIn says that millennials switch jobs on average of four times in their first decade out of college. Some might see that as a symptom of the "next-best-thing"-generation. But I don't think it's necessarily a negative phenomenon. To me, it's a manifestation of the admirably desperate search for vocation. 

I acknowledge this is not every young person's reality. Many are stripped of this freedom because there are immediate needs to meet. I acknowledge the privilege of choice. I am grateful that right now I have that freedom —that I only have myself to worry about and that I have the luxury of a college education.

Yet, while this freedom to discern and choose is an incredible privilege, it's also admittedly a tough time for many young people. Societal pressure can lead to self-doubt, the threat of a ticking clock can lead to anxiety, and uncertainty can lead to paralysis. Many young people during this period of time do indeed experience what could be understood as a quarter-life crisis.

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During these uncertain times for young people, it's easy to doubt the unique plan that God has for us, and, sometimes, even to lose hope altogether.

So I want to give a bit of encouragement to all those who are deeply seeking their vocations and are a little scared. To ensure that discernment doesn't turn into disaster, take heart from this quarter-life crisis pep talk, drawing on the words of Francis. And maybe, just maybe, I'll reassure myself along the way.

Keep moving when things are tough. In his first homily as pope, Francis offered this advice: "Our life is a journey, and when we stop moving, things go wrong." This isn't always easy.

When the American Jesuit Fr. John O'Malley was a novice, an older priest told him three things to remember in life when things don't make sense: "First, you're not God. Second, this isn't heaven. Third, don't be a jerk." Basically, stop taking yourself so seriously and just get going. A medieval priest once put it this way: "Love in reality can often be a harsh and dreadful reality compared to love in dreams."

But Francis tells us to keep moving in spite of the challenges. "Each of us, sooner or later, is called to face — at times painfully — frailty and illness, both our own and those of others," he said. But, love, Francis argues, not some false idea of perfection, is the path to joy.

The future is hopeful. In Francis' most recent foray into the world of modern communication technology, he filmed a surprise TED Talk for the annual convention in Vancouver, British Columbia. One of the many profound lessons of his 17-minute video was the encouragement that the future is to be anticipated with optimism.

In the midst of a quarter-life crisis, it's easy to slip into a pit of fear or anxiety. It's as though we forget that God has a plan for us that is far greater than any we can imagine. Instead of keeping our eyes on that patient trust, we look to the speed bumps and roadblocks that are sure to arise, and we often take an attitude that denies the assurance that God gives us.

Francis may well have been speaking to this reality when he said in the TED Talk, "To Christians, the future does have a name, and its name is hope." And what's more? We're not alone in this journey: "A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another 'you,' and another 'you,' and it turns into an 'us.' And so, does hope begin when we have an 'us?' No. Hope began with one 'you.' When there is an 'us,' there begins a revolution." With that kind of promise, it's a bit easier to take even just one step in the direction of the future.

Have the courage to be happy. Sometimes holding onto dreams and ideals in today's society can truly feel like swimming against the tide. It feels like a constant uphill battle, like the work will never end. There's always something you should be doing, or you can always put in more hours, or there's always something in the way making the path more difficult.

In Francis' message for World Youth Day 2014, he reminded us that while this journey will indeed take strength and fortitude, joy is essential through it all. "Have the courage to swim against the tide, and also have the courage to be truly happy!" With his joking personality and easy smile, it's plain to see that Francis is a model of this. Vocation is a deep matter, but that shouldn't strip us of joy. Let that grin be an inspiration to us all as we swim upstream toward our dreams.

Don't be wimpy. I think one of the biggest traps into which a quarter-life crisis lures young people is the delusion that our dreams are too big. Especially when faced with setbacks, we're tempted to think that we aren't cut out for the ambitious tasks ahead, and that probably someone else is more qualified, more talented, or more naturally-suited for the tough work that our goals require. Francis assures young people that this is nonsense.

During his famous trip to the United States and Cuba in 2015, he went off-script to encourage young people not to give up on their dreams. Francis counseled, "In Argentina, we say, ‘Don't be wimpy.' " That doesn't mean we forge ahead with blind confidence that anything is possible, but instead we decide what matters and what's possible and work toward that with all of the strength and talents we possess.

All of this pep-talking aside, I keep reminding myself that above all we have to be patient with ourselves. "Trust in the slow work of God," is the famous advice of French Jesuit Fr. Telihard de Chardin. We have to "give the Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading us and accept the anxiety of feeling ourselves in suspense and incomplete."

[Allison Walter is a high school theology teacher and track coach. She was formerly press secretary with Faith in Public Life and policy education associate with NETWORK Lobby in Washington, D.C. A graduate of Saint Louis University and a native of Kansas City, Walter believes in the power of faith to transform society.] 

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