Every week in the month of April we will be featuring an article on the art of friendship. To see the full series, click HERE.
by Drew Moser, author of Ready or Not: Leaning into Life in Our Twenties
Millennials get a bad rap. There’s plenty of negative press describing them as entitled, lazy, and broke. They are mocked for spending too much money on avocado toast and coffee, and it’s difficult to find much millennial praise. I think these narratives are unfair and untrue, and they ignore some really important strengths millennials bring to the “table” of society.
I also fear that these messages distract from something that is truly troubling about millennials: loneliness.
The General Social Survey tells us that since 1985, the number of Americans who report having no close friends has tripled. That’s alarming. And ironically, through technology and social media, we are more connected than ever. Friends can now be counted by likes and follows.
Author Sherry Turkle captures this well: We are alone together. We are surrounded by people, we are digitally connected to people, but we continue to feel lonely anyway.
We’re a wired and lonely bunch. And loneliness, counterintuitively, has a subtle power to spread. It’s contagious. One study has shown that loneliness spreads among groups. The lonelier you feel, the more likely it is that others around you will feel lonely.
Not only is it increasing and contagious, loneliness is bad for your health. It’s been proven to increase stress, decrease creativity, and lower self-esteem.
The bottom line: We need other people in our lives. They’re good for us, and close friends are increasingly hard to find. This is especially true if you’re a twentysomething. The ten years of your twenties comprise a multitude of changes, making it difficult to cultivate meaningful relationships.
I devote my career to helping twentysomethings thrive in their post-college life. It’s a challenging goal in work I love. Your twenties are full of significant and disorienting change. Uncertainty abounds. Amid the change, twentysomethings are bombarded by mixed messages to live it up before settling down (#adulting) but also to figure out their lives as quickly as possible.
While you try to sift through these messages, the twentysomething journey can be incredibly lonely. This is often felt once one leaves a close-knit college community for the wilds of adulthood as a young professional. When the loneliness creeps in, it calls into question just about everything.
One question always emerges: So, what are my twenties for, anyway?
It’s this very question I (along with my coauthor Jess Fankhauser) explore in our book Ready or Not: Leaning into Life in Our Twenties. We’ve encountered far too many twentysomethings who are lonely. Loneliness leads to confusion, and confusion leads to all sorts of unhealthy places.
Twentysomethings, I firmly believe that your twenties can be lived with hope, purpose, and meaning. They aren’t some holding pattern for real adulthood. They also aren’t a frantic sprint to figure everything out.
Rather, your twenties are an opportunity to lean into life’s biggest questions:
- Who am I?
- Why am I here?
- Where am I going?
These are deep, beautiful, and complex questions, and they are too important to only share with the voices inside your head.
In my work, I’ve seen one of the most powerful remedies for loneliness: the ancient practice of intentionally gathering with a few others. Another name for it is the small group. Small groups attack the epidemic of twentysomething loneliness in powerful and effective ways. Here’s why:
Four Ways Small Groups Attack the Epidemic of Loneliness
1. It’s the best kind of reality check. The small group provides much-needed opportunity to navigate the complexities, confusion, and chaos of your twenties with others who are in the trenches with you. In a world where your Instagram feed tells you how amazing everyone else’s life is, a small group reminds you that everyone’s really just stumbling through life like you are.
2. It’s a safe place for your hopes and fears. A small group provides an arena for you to begin to know others . . . and to be known by others. Your twenties are chock full of hopes and fears, and intentional relationships provide safe places for you to bring those hopes and fears to those whom you can trust to steward them well.
3. It’s a built-in focus group to test your ideas, beliefs, and plans. Left to our own devices, we’re blinded by the limitations of our knowledge, personalities, and experience. The Quakers have a practice that counters this. It’s called a Clearness Committee. When someone is facing an important decision, trusted friends gather to ask questions. This question asking leads to clarity. A small group provides you with an at-the-ready Clearness Committee as you navigate the change and tumult of your twenties.
4. It’s a second family for when you need others. I often ask the people I teach, “If your car breaks down late at night, do you have someone you feel comfortable calling to pick you up? If you are recovering from surgery, do you have a group of people you can rely on to fill out a TakeThemAMeal schedule for you?” While we don’t always need the help of others, we inevitably will. A small group is a second family to help one another when life is challenging.
I confess, these four ways are not instantaneous. It takes time for any group to get to this level of depth and authenticity. Here’s how:
How to Start and Sustain a Healthy Small Group
Just start. In my experience, the most difficult part of experiencing all I just explored above is starting. The small group I’m in now started in a radically simple way. We were all relatively new to our community and happened to be at a concert. We were talking about how we were all adjusting to life in this new place, and one person said, “We should start a small group to talk more about this.” And nine years later, we’re still meeting together.
Be patient. The four ways small groups attack loneliness can seem nearly impossible when you first start meeting together. Authentic community takes time. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with others. Let grace abound.
Find a regular time to meet, and guard it. Good habits lead to growth. When you form a small group, find a common time and commit to it. Guard it from the countless other things that could interfere with it, because there will be times when you don’t feel like meeting.
Have content that orients you and keeps you moving. It helps to have a resource to gather around and consider together, a common spot to which to return when you meet. It’s even better when the resource you use has interactive exercises and discussion questions to explore together. Find something thoughtful and also practical. Ready or Not: Leaning into Life in Our Twenties is designed to be such a resource.
You don’t have to spend your twenties lonely. Find some friends and ask them to join a small group. Pick up a copy of Ready or Not and grow together. It’s worth the work!
Ready or Not: Leaning into Life in Our Twenties by Drew Moser and Jess Fankhauser
Discerning a calling is a messy undertaking. You are already involved in many good things now, even as you are being called to many good things in your future. The good life—good work, good relationships, good citizenship, good faith—is to be enjoyed now and pursued on every horizon. We are living out the Kingdom of God even as we seek it.
Ready or Not is a much-needed resource for young people on exploring the complexity of vocation in empowering, not prescriptive, ways. After exploring four foundational questions for emerging adulthood—Who is God? Who am I? How have I been shaped? What are my contexts?—you will work through interactive chapters covering the contours of adulthood, including: spirituality, family, community, and work.
Explore the full depths of your twenties with bravery and vulnerability! With insight into life skills, personal growth, and spirituality, Ready or Notwill set you on a faithful trajectory for a good and meaningful life.
Drew Moser is a dean and professor at Taylor University in Indiana. He’s also a writer, speaker, and consultant on twentysomethings and vocation. His book, Ready or Not: Leaning into Life in Our Twenties, is available where books are sold. You can find him on social media and online at www.drewmoser.com.