The trick, I learned, to making the most of your teenage to early adulthood years is to actually be young. What I mean by that is this:
I believe kids are some of the only humans who know how to be fully present. If you watch them, you’ll notice their bleary-eyed wonder at the world around them. They’re fully engulfed in their surroundings, making play out of the tiniest and most ordinary things.
Yet, as kids grow older, we teach them to be elsewhere. We shove phones in front of their faces at an early age. We pressure them to think about the future constantly. We tell them to dream big and plan the way, which consequently burdens them with thoughts of the extraordinary.
And then, we complain when they’re not present later on in life.
I’m not saying it’s ultimately bad to tell kids to plan for the future and so on. What I’m pointing out is, maybe this isn’t the best thing we should be teaching our future leaders.
As a young person in my twenties, I’m constantly learning the skills that would help make my life more well-rounded. Yet, while I’m learning these skills, I’m seeing just how impossible it is to plan everything about the future. We can’t do it. Ten years ago, I would’ve never imagined I would be a writer some day.
While planning is good, what’s even better is being fully engaged with the present.
Not planning is an essential discipline for living like Jesus for a reason. Jesus knew what was healthy for people was to not be trying to control their circumstances with the future, but to be concerned about their character in their daily lives. This, to Him, was a better use of energy.
I’m learning now that this is healthy: to not focus on what I’ll do in the future, but more on who I’ll become. This is where I try to place my energy—on the present, instead of the future.
Maybe we should teach all our future generations to be present in the moment. Why? Because it leads to a more wholesome, productive, and meaningful life.
Here’s what I mean when I say “be present”:
1. Be Present with Your Work
We shouldn’t be trained to entertain distractions. We shouldn’t be taught to multitask. Instead, if we want to do significant work, we should learn how to be fully engaged with our work.
What this means is, don’t tweet or post to Instagram while you’re working. Don’t try to finish two tasks at once. Instead, mark off a chunk of time in which you’re only going to do one task. Take life one task at a time, and someday, you’ll have a string of meaningful work under your belt.
2. Be Present with Your Decisions
Like I said before, it’s impossible to know everything about the future. Sometimes, the best thing you could do is to take in everything that’s around you, and just make a decision based on your gut.
When I was choosing colleges, I spent years trying to plan which one was the perfect choice. But then, I got a call from a dean who asked me if I wanted to go to James Madison University, and I said yes. I knew nothing about the school, but I trusted my gut. And it worked.
Some decisions are like that. Stop trying to plot the course on every single thing you do. Sometimes, all you have to do is listen to the mentors in your life, and follow your gut.
3. Be Present with Your Relationships
At some point in your life, your friends are going to need you. They’re going to ask for help, or for you to just be there. Can you confidently be that present person to them?
I used to keep all my relationships at an arms-length, not on purpose but unconsciously for some reason. But what I’ve learned now is that relationships require you to be there—not be in a Facebook message, in a text message, in a tweet or Snapchat to them, but truly with them, physically and mentally. These are the ingredients to relationships that last.
These three tips on being present are recent discoveries, sadly. If I could go back, I would work better, not waste energy, and have better relationships by being present. But that’s something we’ve almost let go of with age.
As we grow older, we’re taught to be elsewhere, when the best place to be is in the here and now.
Maybe, this is what Jesus meant when He noted that children were the greatest in the Kingdom. Perhaps being present is the one thing we should never let go of.
Photography by Mikaela Hamilton