How to Ruin Your Life in Your Twenties

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Pastor, Dallas, Texas

No one ever plans to ruin his life. Nobody makes failure a goal, or a New Year’s resolution, or an integral part of his five-year plan. Kids don’t dream about growing up to be an alcoholic; students don’t go to class to learn how to be bankrupt; brides and grooms don’t go to the altar expecting their marriage to fail.

But ruined lives do happen — far too often. And they happen because of the choices we make. Many of our most influential choices take place when we are relatively young — old enough to be making important decisions, but young enough for those decisions to have disastrous consequences. In other words, these are choices of young adults.

How can we avoid making such mistakes? We can start by listening to God’s wisdom through King Solomon. Although Solomon faced major challenges later in his life because he stopped taking his own advice, he was one of the wisest men who ever lived, and God has preserved some of his best counsel in the book of Proverbs.

Below are seven ways you can ruin your life while still in your twenties — based on the opposite of Solomon’s counsel — along with a resolution for what to do instead.

1. Do whatever you want.

“Right now, you are in the process of becoming what you will one day be.”

This was the biggest lie I believed in my twenties. I thought I could do what I wanted and get away with it. I thought, I’m young, and I’m not hurting anyone. But I’ve since learned otherwise.

Right now, you are in the process of becoming what you will be one day. You are preparing either to be a great spouse, parent, employee, and friend, or to be the opposite of that. Everything you do now will lead you down one of those paths.

The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. (Proverbs 14:15)

Resolution: Do what God would have you do.

2. Live outside your means.

I live in the city that practically invented the term $30k millionaire. But when you spend more than you can afford, you still have to pay for it — plus interest. By living “the good life” now, you ensure you’ll be living the bad life of debt payments, downsizing, and financial worries in your future decades. Many people today are still paying for experiences that happened many years ago, long after the “instant gratification” has been forgotten.

The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is the slave of the lender. (Proverbs 22:7)

Resolution: Live below your means.

3. Feed an addiction.

Whether it is alcohol, money, drugs, pornography, shopping, or another attraction, most people have an addiction of some kind. These addictions bring death: either literal death, or death to relationships, freedom, and joy.

How do addictions happen? You feed them. When you feed something, it grows. The more you feed an addiction, the stronger it grows, and the harder it is to stop. Wisdom is stopping now, not later. It only gets harder and harder after each “one last time.”

The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the treacherous are taken captive by their lust. (Proverbs 11:6)

Resolution: Starve your addictions.

4. Run with fools.

“If you want to be important and make a difference, live for God.”

Fact: you are becoming, in some real sense, who you hang around. It’s been said you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. You do what they do (because you’re doing it together), you pick up on their ideas and beliefs, and you even learn their mannerisms and language.

So, if you hang around fools, you will become one. But if you hang around wise people, who are committed to following Christ and to making a difference with their lives, then you’ll become wise.

Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Proverbs 13:20)

Resolution: Walk with the wise.

5. Believe this life is all about you.

You are one of nearly 7.6 billion people alive currently, and though you are special, so is each of the other 7,600,000,000 people in the world — and the billions and billions who have come before but are now long dead and forgotten. You are not the star of this show. You have a cameo that very few people will see and that will be forgotten as soon as the screen changes.

People who become the biggest reality in their world are dysfunctional. They always end up either disappointed or delusional. And when they leave this life, their world disappears; they don’t actually leave any deep impact. If you want to be important and make a difference, live for God and serve others with your life. Jesus was our greatest example of this. He served us by willingly dying for our sins on the cross. The most powerful person who has ever lived used his power to serve (Mark 10:45; Philippians 2:5–8). And by dying, he rescued us from sin and bought the power we need to serve others with our life.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18)

Resolution: Serve others with your life.

6. Live for immediate gratification.

Almost nothing truly worthwhile comes quickly. It takes time and discipline to become an Olympic athlete (or to simply get in shape), to get a degree, to become a CPA, or to become a good husband or wife. And many of the things you truly want long term can be derailed by indulging yourself in the moment. Do you want an amazing marriage, or just one amazing night? Do you want to retire in 36 years, or drive a luxury car for the next 36 months? In each case, choosing the latter makes it more difficult (or impossible) to have the former.

Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it. (Proverbs 21:20)

Resolution: Hold out for God’s best.

7. Avoid accountability.

“If you really want to change, do one simple thing as a first step: find Christ-centered community.”

We all have the tendency to screw up, or be blind to our own failings, or convince ourselves that we can change on our own, even though it’s never worked in the past. That’s why God created us to live in community with others: so we can encourage each other, point out blind spots, and have help in times of weakness.

Are you running to community and accountability, or running away from it? The reason people avoid accountability is that they don’t want to be corrected, even though that means they will continue to do what is ruining their life. If you really want to change, and really want to put God first every day, then do one simple thing as a first step: find Christ-centered community.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. (Proverbs 12:1)

Resolution: Do not do any of this alone.

Who You Become Tomorrow

People don’t resolve to ruin their lives. We hope to be great employees or business owners. We hope to be great moms, dads, husbands, or wives. We hope to be successful and contribute to society. We hope to be faithful in our walk with Jesus. But all faithful walks start with small faithful steps. Great mature adults are created through the faithfulness of young adults.

You are becoming something, and the resolutions you make and keep today will shape who you become tomorrow. Who do you want to be when you grow up? You will be that person much sooner than you think. What are you doing to become him today?

is the leader of The Porch, one of the teaching pastors at Watermark Community Church, and the author of the book Welcome to Adulting. He and his wife, Monica, live with their three children in Dallas.