You know you’re getting old when you get more LinkedIn requests per week than Instagram follows. Or when you’re out to eat with your family and the waitress asks if you and your dad are brothers.

In my head, I didn’t hear “are you brothers?” I heard you look old and it’s time for you to graduate and maybe while you’re at it swing by Target to purchase some Just for Men Touch of Gray.

Ouch.

But it’s true. Not the touch of gray part, but everything else. I just turned 23, and I’m about to officially graduate from college.

So between turning 23 (and sadly no longer feeling 22) and looking back on college, I decided to keep my birthday blog post tradition going with 23 Things I Learned in College.

You could write a blog post for each of these so I’ll try my best to keep it concise. Here we go!

1) Purpose begins now, not later.

I often fall into the trap of believing I have to put my life’s purpose on hold until I “figure everything out.”

When I graduate and get a job, then I’ll…

When I get married, then I’ll…

When I have kids, then I’ll….

College is not a holding room until we can move on to better things or “the real world.” The same purpose that 22 year-old college me has will be the same when I’m (hopefully) still kickin’ it at 82.

2) The really important stuff in life happens outside of your comfort zone.

The dreams and goals that scare you are often indicators that you’re on the right track.  When did we ever get the idea that we’re called to play it safe?

3) Find a hobby that has nothing to do with your major.

College is the perfect place to explore all kinds of things. Heck, the other day I wrote a country song. It contains extremely meaningful and original lyrics with words like “baby” “Chevy” “tailgate” and “countryside.” I’m really proud of it. I’ll let you know when I move to Nashville and land my big record deal. I bet it’ll make your speakers go “boom boom.”

4) Always pursue authentic community.

We are designed for community. God is Himself a relational God—the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit glorifying and enjoying each other in perfect community.

Wherever you are, pursue authentic community with everything you’ve got. Building genuine relationships far outweighs and outlasts short-term tasks.

 5) Be invested.

The way to make college (or anything in life) awesome is to be invested. To be all in, adding value to others. We don’t need busier college careers, we need invested ones.

6) Life is awkward. That’s OK.  

Too often we look at the manicured social media posts of our friends and think that life is always smooth sailing for everyone but us. Except it isn’t. I once found myself on a first date at an organic grocery store.

See? I bet you feel better already. Need another? This past summer I got trapped inside a subway train all alone in a dark tunnel.

Life is awkward. People are awkward. And you’re not alone.

(For more of my thoughts on awkwardness, check out my blog post Side Hugs and Other Awkward Situations)

 7) Write down everything that happens.

I have a Word document that basically documents everything I did in college that I think is worth remembering. From big things like internships and family trips, to little things like playing volleyball with friends, I tried to keep track of everything I did throughout college. I plan to keep the tradition going each year in the “real world” as well.

One day, you’re gonna be old and will have trouble remembering everything. So write it down!

(For further thoughts, I have a blog post for this one too.  It’s called Write it Down!!  ‘Cause I’m clever like that.)

8) Make a ruckus.

There’s so much that could be said about this idea, coined by Seth Godin. That’s why my friend Nick and I dedicate an entire chapter to it in our upcoming book. Suffice it to say this, leave your university better than when you found it. Use your strengths, passions, and values to make an impact within your sphere of influence.

9) There’s no better way to connect with a person, community, or city than to serve.  

I learned this first-hand a few years ago on a mission trip in New York. Sometimes it takes getting into the trenches—serving and hearing the stories of real people—to really begin to love a city or community.

10) Become an “opportunities expert.”

I stole borrowed this one from my friend Sam. The first step to getting involved in something is to know it’s there. You can’t take advantage of new opportunities if you don’t know they exist. So take Sam’s advice—how can you become more aware of the opportunities around you?

11) Dance always.

Before college, I was no fan of dancing. Nowadays, you don’t know the full me until you’ve seen me at a dance party. Dancing is awesome. It brings people together and helps you not take yourself too seriously.

Ben Rector knows what’s up. He ends every concert with a dance party. It’s pretty rad.

(You know how this works.  Check out my blog post 4 Reasons Why Swing Dancing is the Best)

12) Become the person you’re looking for is looking for.

I heard Andy Stanley give this slightly tongue-twisting advice a few years ago, and it completely flipped my perspective on dating. I think he’s spot on. We tend to focus so much on finding the right person that we forget to focus on becoming the right person. You’ll never find “the one” (whatever that means) if you don’t become “the one.”

Which leads me to the next thing I’ve learned.

13) Dating can be awesome, but it’s a miserable place to find your identity.

I’ll be honest, it was scary to write that.  But it’s been one of the biggest and best things I’ve learned in college. And I know if I feel it, you probably do too. Asking a person to do what only God can do is not only unrealistic, it’s crushing.

Checkout these words by Paul David Tripp from his fantastic book Awe. (Maybe my favorite book ever.)

If awesome things in creation become your god, the God who created those things will not own your awe. Horizontal awe is meant to do one thing: stimulate vertical awe.

14) Befriend people who aren’t like you.

There’s tremendous value in befriending people who don’t share your beliefs, values, political sensibilities, experiences, socioeconomic status, interests, I could keep going.  Scott Sauls’ new book Befriend really hits this idea home. If we confine our friendships to those who share our perspectives, we’re probably valuing our own comfort above the good of the other person.

15) Small talk matters… if you make it matter.

A lot of people hate small talk. I understand that. I’m not a massive fan either. But in college (and life in general) it’s unavoidable, so you might as well make it awesome.  It’s amazing how many great friendship and opportunities I’ve seen arise out of basic small talk.  But trust me, it doesn’t start with “What’s up?”

Instead of “what’s up?” how bout:

  • “What are you excited about right now?”
  • “What are you looking forward to?”
  • “What big things are you working on?”

16) Keep commitments.  

I remember one particular moment my junior year that I felt like a rubber band stretched to the breaking point, and I came extremely close to dropping one of my major commitments.

After some careful thought, I realized that the short-term relief of quitting would be dwarfed by the long-term damage of completely bailing on my team members.  Don’t get stretched too thin to begin with, but once you commit, be all in.

 17) Pick yourself.

I wonder how many things we miss out on or don’t do because we wait for someone to “pick us” like we’re forming basketball teams at recess or something.  If we have the skills, passion, and know-how, why not just pick ourselves?

 18) Sometimes it’s just a good ole fist fight.  

I’m talking about school, of course.  Some classes simply smack you right in the mouth, and there’s not much you can do about it.

What do you do when school punches you in the face?  Simple. Punch back twice as hard.  Study, plan, get tutoring, work your tail off.  For some classes (and certain times in life), that’s simply what it takes.

 19) Say “yes” a lot more than you say “no.”

A mentor once told me, “You’re in your 20s. Say ‘yes’ to more than you should for this season of life.  Over time, you’ll begin to find where your passions and gifts lie and you can begin to focus in on those things and say ‘no’ more often. But for now, say ‘yes.”

In college, we’ll never have less responsibility and more flexibility in our lives than we do right now.  So now is the time to try stuff, explore, and learn.

20) “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a hidden battle.”

It’s easy to look at a person, learn a few facts about him or her, and file their name away in our memory bank, assuming we know the gist of who they are. We don’t.

Over the past two years, I’ve seen three college friends lose their dads to cancer. Each time I found out, I was completely floored—in total shock. Because sadly, I wasn’t even aware of the situation until weeks before their passing.

Whether it’s a sick family member, a bout with depression, hidden insecurities, or wounds from our past, we all face battles beneath the surface of our lives. So as the saying goes, “Be kind. Everyone is fighting a hidden battle.”

21) “People buy into the leader before they buy into the vision.”

This brilliant quote by John Maxwell is probably the biggest leadership lesson I learned in college. If I’m not a person people want to follow, my ideas alone won’t get me very far.

22) Vulnerability builds trust. 

Some of the best, most authentic conversations I ever had in college began with one person dropping the act, being honest and vulnerable. There’s nothing that opens up the door for authentic relationships quite like vulnerability.

23) The gospel is the only thing that can truly change and satisfy you.

We are hard-wired for worship, to be in awe of something. We all find our identity and significance somewhere. Yet too often we settle for the ephemeral rather than the substantial. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “we are far too easily pleased.”

To be fully known and fully loved is what we long for. Complete intimacy and complete acceptance.

I love these words from Tim Keller:

The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.

That is the grace-filled hope of the cross. And it’s the only hope that is truly transformational, the only hope that matters.

 

Past birthday posts turn up!

22 Things I’m Thankful For (… Because I’m Feeling 22)

21 Things I’ve Learned in 21 Years

The Teen Years

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