For almost my entire life, I have been the young one in the room. Since completing grades one and two in one year, I was the youngest in all my classes. This continued throughout my school years, with me being the youngest high school graduate.
Though I wasn’t the youngest at university, I was invited to participate in opportunities usually given to older, more experienced individuals. For example, my professor asked me to be his teaching assistant, when he had only ever asked Masters students in the past.
After studies, in my professional life, I often found myself invited into conversations with people decades older than me. I joined the organizational leadership team as the only one under 30, and the team I led had children my age. The opportunities seemed to keep coming.
Throughout these experiences, I felt valued and unique to be included with people who I viewed as wiser and more experienced than myself, especially when it involved leadership. I didn’t realize how much my identity had been rooted in being ‘the young one’ until I turned 30.
Turning 30 wasn’t just another birthday to me. It was a significant shift. I was no longer the only person in the room in their twenties. I was in a different decade, and I felt significantly older. My lifelong trend of being ‘the young one’ seemed to come to an abrupt end before my eyes. My identity crisis was officially triggered.
Now, those of you who have surpassed 30 may be rolling your eyes at this point and thinking that 30 is still young, wondering why I’m even talking about it. You’re right. Most people live into their 80s, at least in developed countries, so 30 is comparatively young. But I had made youth such a part of my identity that the little 2 changing to a 3 caused me to ask some deep questions. Am I still valued? What makes me unique now?
The easiest response to calm my fears and boost my self-esteem would have been to assure myself I am still at least one of the youngest people in the room. Objectively, one year doesn’t change much, and I can continue almost the same as before. However nice this may seem, I realized it was a short-term solution.
Eventually, I wouldn’t be 30. I would be 40, 50, 60, 70, or even 80. I would no longer be ‘the young one’ in the room with a crowd of people much older than myself, feeling special and valued because I’m young. I would be the older one. What would help me feel valued then?
Achievements? Promotions? Degrees? Relationships? Travels? I could fill the gap with all of these things, but they will also shift with time. The only thing that doesn’t change is God. I remember a line from an old church song: “on Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.” It’s true. If I place my value and my identity in my age, and how that compares with those around me, it will change, and it will shake me. If I place my identity in Christ, it will not change no matter what happens. But what does this really mean?
To be honest, it is something I am still learning. But I think the core of it is connected to these verses from Colossians 3:1-4 (NRSV):
“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”
My life is hidden with Christ in God. The more I pursue God, the more I will find myself. My value, my uniqueness, who I really am, it’s not something to do with my age, my job, my education, or even my family. It’s to do with who God is, because I am made in his image (Gen. 1:27). The journey now is for ‘the young one’ to keep becoming ‘Christ’s one’. That’s something I will continue to be beyond 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, and even 80.