You’re Trying to Answer the Wrong Questions
As a 26-year-old living in the city of Atlanta, I’ve noticed three common questions that subtly invade and influence my days. From conversation and observation I believe these three questions are impacting most people in their mid-twenties in more harmful ways than we dare to consider. The questions are:
1. What will I do?
2. Where will I do it?
3. Who will I do it with?
The big three. (I’m certain these questions are affecting many more, if not all people in general, but for the sake of brevity and my personal experiences I will only address them in regards to the Millennial demographic.) These questions begin to take form in exciting and hopeful ways when we start to transition out of our parents’ upbringing in an attempt to become our own person. And over time, specifically post-college graduation season, these exciting questions evolve into anxiety-producing ideas that can loom over us like a cloud, becoming the filter for most of our thoughts and feelings.
In their own, there’s nothing harmful in asking them. However, I do believe it is harmful to make them the three main motivations in shaping our decisions, thought-life, and overall lifestyles.
Studies repeatedly reveal how Millennials are growing in dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Depression and anxiety are on the rise for more reasons than we have time to discuss in this article, but I am strongly convinced much of it is due to creating lifestyles around answering the three wrong questions.
I do believe there is an alternative question that is more fitting for structuring your life around. This question is, “Who do I want to become?”
In his book The Road to Character, David Brooks discusses the difference between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues relate to skills and external success. Eulogy virtues relate to relationships and deep qualities that make up who you are at the core of your being. He goes on to say, “Most of us have clearer strategies for how to achieve career success than we do for how to develop a profound character.”
Our souls crave depth, the eulogy virtues. But our world praises wealth, status, and accomplishments, the resume virtues. A drastic difference between the two is the timeline of change experienced. To invest in your character is a lifelong commitment, while resume virtues can change tomorrow, for better or for worse. And in an Uber, Netflix, microwave culture of instantaneous satisfaction, investing in eulogy virtues has become so unappealing they’re almost completely ignored and traded in for the next notch on a resume.
Many of us are unhappy, dissatisfied, and unfulfilled; so we make drastic decisions in an attempt to answer life’s three big questions in hopes to satisfy our longing souls. People will move, date, and change jobs only to find themselves still unsatisfied. Why? Because changing your circumstances does not address your character. You can feed your resume and social media feed while leaving your soul starving. We make resume-progressing moves hoping to find fulfillment, yet fail to deal with the thing that terrifies us the most- our souls alone in an empty room.
“All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” -Blaise Pascal
To move to a new place, begin a new romantic relationship, and land a new job are exciting, but they fail to address who you actually are at your core. They are temporary fixes to an eternal longing. You cannot force fulfillment in sudden, instantaneous decisions. Your soul craves depth. And depth takes time and toil. Shaping your character is less like Amazon Prime and more like working a vineyard. You won’t see today’s input delivered tomorrow, but you will taste fresh wine years from now.
We must put in the time and the work to be able to carry the weight of stewarding the dream we desire, the place we will change, and the partner we crave. We cannot continue trying to answer a heavy calling on our lives before our character is strong enough to carry it.
Scripture is filled with this reality. Moses spent decades in the wilderness before becoming a leader at the age of 80. Joseph spent ten to thirteen years practically alone in a prison, molding his character, before he became free and rose to responsibility. David spent a decade on the run forming his character in caves in between his calling to Kingship and actually wearing the crown.
Jesus had not accomplished a single, noteworthy achievement by the age of 30. He spent the first three decades shaping his character that would sustain the weight of a three-year ministry. And even his ministry started as 40 days alone, tempted in the desert. And what were the temptations? Quick answers to life’s big questions. He did what we fail to do so often, reject the instantaneous fix and embrace the waiting and working towards the promised, fulfilling future.
A commitment to character is how we will find satisfaction regardless of our circumstances. This commitment will take a lifetime, but along the journey you will find yourself answering more questions than you could have if you were pursuing them on their own.
It can be daunting to begin to commit yourself to living for who you want to become by the end of your life. But as my pastor says, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it was started in one.” And once you begin to build, do everything in your power to protect yourself from comparing your humble beginnings with other people’s success built on years of labor and patience. You’re becoming the best possible version of yourself, not the best possible version of your neighbor.
Who do you want to become?
Today is the best time to start in answering this question. You may move, change relational statuses and jobs, but these will not restrict you from answering who you want to face when you’re alone in an empty room.