When Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected: 4 Things That Can Help

Updated Oct 23, 2017
When Your 20s Weren’t What You Expected: 4 Things That Can Help
Now that I’m in my 30s, how have I been able to deal with my unmet expectations for my 20s? Here are 4 things that have helped me—and I believe can help you, too.

When I graduated from college in 2005, I had a timeline. At 21, I did not have all the answers about the next nine years, but I sure had plenty of expectations.

Like many newly graduated, hope-filled 20-something women, I envisioned having most of the “majors” by the time I was 30:

A great job I could focus on completely until I was 25 or so, which would be the year I’d meet my husband and be married by 26 or 27. We’d enjoy a childfree first year of marriage, but then start our family. I figured I could at least be pregnant with our second child by my 30th birthday.

I read that now and laugh, because I’m 31 now—and guess how many of those actually happened?

If you guessed “zero,” you’re right. But before you close out your browser, I promise there’s a happy ending below.

Initially, it seemed like things were happening as I’d hoped! Within six months of graduating, I had the great job. Within a year, I had my own apartment, my own car—my own life.

Then, within two years (slightly ahead of schedule), I was dating (and talking marriage with) a great, kind (okay, and really cute) guy whom my parents actually liked!

And even though it wasn’t part of my initial timeline, I decided that detouring from the great job early, and going to grad school, would be an acceptable amendment. (Especially since my school of choice was in the same city as my then-boyfriend’s military orders.)

That’s around the time the curve balls started coming:

He suddenly broke up with me.

Despite the break-up, I still went to grad school—but in the process, I indebted myself to approximately $55,000 in student loans.

Then the U.S. economy nose-dove during grad school, and employment (and repaying said loans) became significantly more difficult for many Americans (not just me).

Eventually, and definitely not part of my timeline, I became one of the numerous 20- and 30-somethings who moved back to their parents’ houses.

By the time my 30th birthday did roll around, I felt like I had little to show for my 20s besides an expensive degree, the burden of loans, failed dating relationships, and disappointment.

That was so not how I envisioned my 20s, back when I was 21.

Now that I’m in my 30s, how have I been able to deal with my unmet expectations for my 20s? Here are 4 things that have helped me—and I believe can help you, too.

1. Go Ahead and Grieve.

None of those desires listed above were inherently wrong for me to have. I mean, it’s not like I aspired to rob a bank by my 25th birthday! And it didn’t feel like I was forcing any of it—it just seemed as though what I’d hoped for was simply happening.

But it doesn’t change the fact that I had some disappointment I had to deal with. Between consequences of certain choices I made, and benevolently sovereign decisions God made, that’s just how my 20s played out.

And when a hope is delayed or a dream dies, there can be a sense of loss. In that loss, God wants to be your gain. He can handle your disappointment. He can handle your honesty, and in your authenticity with Him, He wants to comfort and mature you.

2. Garden Your Heart.

Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes a heart sick. But a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” When there’s a gap between our expectation and our reality, there’s room and potential for a variety of “weeds” to take root during our waiting: impatience, bitterness, and worry (to name a few).

These weeds breed toxicity, which is why hope deferred can feel so awful. It’s important for us to tend to our hearts when life doesn’t look like we thought it would. Our circumstances are like soil, so we have to be purposeful about what we’re allowing to grow. Plus:

It’s hard to see the good, if our perspectives are overgrown with the bad.

3. Get Honest with Yourself.

To be honest, there were times in my 20s that I was reaping consequences of sinful or foolish choices. I want you to know that there is no condemnation in acknowledging what you should repent of.

But it may be that your 20s weren’t want you expected—in part because of some sinful decisions. Again, I’ve been there, too, so I’m not pointing fingers. But it’s because I’ve also been there that I see the beauty and power of repentance to help me move forward in my 30s, more fully, freely, and wisely.

It’s never fun to see some of what’s really been going on in our hearts or lives, but in that honesty with yourself and God—in that laying down the old—there’s hope for you. There’s new for you.

4. Give God a Second (or 100th) Chance.

When your 20s aren’t what you expected, it’s okay to cry it out or pray it out—please just don’t shut God out. Glean what you can from what you weren’t expecting, surrender what you can’t change, and dare to believe that there’s more in store.

Give God another chance. And for that matter, give yourself another chance, too. It was a sad and sobering realization for me, to admit that one of the people I was most upset with was actually…


(Hadn’t I known better? Couldn’t I have done differently?)

Forgiving, releasing, and receiving grace is still a process for me. And I confess I still have my moments where I wonder what would be different now, if my timeline at 21 had come to pass.

But most days I’m utterly grateful that I didn’t get what I thought I wanted in my 20s, when I look back on the life, adventures, trials, and blessings that taught me so much in that season of life.

And I do know this:

God’s plans for us are good. (They may not always feel good, or look good by our human sight, but they are.) And when those plans are different from mine, it’s worth it (though not always easy) to exchange mine for His.   

So, at this point, I’m determined not only to learn from my 20s—but look ahead to the rest of my 30s (and beyond). We can’t see the way forward, if we’re constantly looking back. I try to look back only so far as it encourages wisdom and gratitude to God for what He’s brought me from.

It’s also been important to remember my circumstances are not my worth. I encourage you to embrace that same truth, too. That even though my 20s weren’t what I expected, God is not surprised; God is not at a loss for how He can still use me—and you.

God does not love you any less. Even when life isn’t what we expect, He is exactly what we can expect: faithful, loving, good, and true.

Your Turn: Did this encourage you? Could you relate, and if so, how did you adjust to life in your 30s, when your 20s weren’t what you expected? Please share in the comments: I look forward to what you have to say!

Rebecca Halton is a professional writer and creative entrepreneur, as well as the adultery-fighting author of Words from the Other Woman. One of her favorite times of day is when she’s empowering, engaging with, and encouraging other writers, bloggers, and authors on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.