An old man’s advice to his young friends


Life is made up of small segments, individual events that are not significantly related or have any real connection, so it might seem. But in retrospect they are, and they do. Keeping that in mind, it’s good to remember that a pleasant and productive future has at least two key features helping to ensure it will happen.

The first thing a young person needs is a life’s dream. What do you really want to be when you grow up? I know that sounds a bit trivial by the time you even start to think about college. Yet I am surprised by the number of young adults who have no clue about it.

Too many of them take the path of least resistance, meandering like a lazy river with no real destination. People who simply settle are almost sure to eventually rue the fact that they didn’t start off their career with sufficient forethought.

What exactly do you love to do and would even do for free if you were able? Start with the answer to that question and proceed from there. Often young people don’t recognize or connect career options with the kinds of activities that they actually enjoy or require the skills that they already possess.

When you consider the fact that a career often means many years’ worth of doing the same things over and over, obviously it should be something you enjoy. People who hate Mondays and only work to live are not typically happy people. Love Monday. Look forward to your work. After all, work was the very first gift and responsibility that God gave mankind.

Once you have decided what you want to do for a living, you will need a plan that will get you there. Without a plan, you will certainly lose your way. A plan is like a map that leads to your dream. Don’t ever lose it. You can adjust it as you progress along your way. In fact, most plans need fine-tuning at some point.

So, what is your plan? Is college a necessary step toward achieving your dream or is it just an expensive and time-consuming cul-de-sec that will eventually require a whole new start? Sometimes a trade school or some sort of apprentice program might be a wiser and a lot more economical first step toward a desired career.

Perhaps military service is an option. The benefits of serving a four-year commitment are attractive. Besides some free healthcare, the G.I. Bill provides college tuition or trade school financial assistance. Even a short time of military service is an excellent environment in which young people can mature in ways that will make them significantly more valuable employees when they return to civilian life.

Heck, some kids love what they are doing in the service and go on to make a nice career there. Retirement benefits are substantial and are good for the rest of your life. Besides that, after a twenty-year stent, you will still be young enough to start a second career, with a retirement check in the mail every month and more publicly funded education benefits.

Ok, I’m not trying to talk you out of college. Your life dream may require a degree (mine did) and you might actually enjoy studying (I do). The earlier you know that, the easier it will be for you.

These days high school students are allowed to take dual enrollment classes at a local college and get a substantial number of credits while still in high school. That comes in handy later. Local colleges are a lot less expensive than big-name universities and the credits from a community college are usually transferable to almost any major university at a much lower cost.

Living at home while taking college courses has three main advantages. The first two are the obvious savings and the psychological advantage of family support. That would include encouragement, possible tutoring from parents or older siblings, and maintaining an atmosphere of accountability as you learn to cope with a more difficult curriculum.

You aren’t as likely to waste your time hanging out with friends in lieu of studying for an exam. Trust me; learning to prioritize your time and effort is vital if you plan to achieve a college degree.

Lastly, the teachers at community colleges are not usually graduate students putting in their time merely reading the textbook to you. That’s what often happens in major universities for all of the introductory courses. Community colleges employ professional teachers doing what they love to do and who can make the learning experience fun as well as productive.

So, you finally get to the college of your choice. What is next? Hopefully, you are going to be disciplined and take your studies seriously. When you apply for your dream job your grades will matter. Employers are looking for disciplined people who are mature, focused, and responsible.

Charm is a plus, but that does not make up for lousy grades that expose a person’s immature attitude and lack of work ethic. Think about that while you are deciding whether to prepare for a big test or go drinking with your pals. It will make a difference in the future.

At some point you will need to zero in on a major, the courses you will need in order to prepare for your dream job. In some cases, people merely need some kind of degree to get into a job they desire.

I was in the NROTC program and knew that I wanted to be a naval officer. I could have majored in just about anything and received a commission and a career I had dreamed about pursuing. I almost blew my chance from the very start of my freshman year, taking full advantage of a new sense of freedom to do whatever I wanted.

Self-discipline was seriously lacking until I realized that my opportunity to actualize my dream was in jeopardy. Fortunately, I came to my senses and got my act together enough to graduate with both a degree and a commission.

Over the next four years, my dream changed. It might happen to you. That’s fine. My new dream required more education and three more years of graduate studies. The difficulty was compensated for by my ambition and the maturity that comes from providing for a wife and children.

I applied myself and made excellent grades which bode well for me when I graduated and was released into the world of Christian ministry. My four years in the U.S. Navy were rewarded through the G.I. Bill that paid for my tuition at the theological seminary. Our financial situation greatly improved when I was able to get a job at a large church while completing my graduate degree.

So, what is your dream and what is the plan for you to get there? Think about those often. Don’t worry, but reconsider them regularly. Observe others who do the kind of stuff you hope to be doing in the future. Talk to them about their work. Are they happy? Is there anything they would do differently?

Ask a lot of questions and take note of their responses. Your dream and/or your plan might change as you better understand yourself and what is needed to be the best and happiest “you” that you can be.

Study hard but enjoy your learning experience. Pay attention to the people you most admire. What makes them interesting, productive, and happy? Consider their answers in a quest to achieve your dream through a sound and flexible plan. God bless you as you find the way to joy and fulfilment in your future.

[LeRoy Curtis is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and Asbury Theological Seminary. He served four years as a U.S. Naval Officer after which he became a pastor, Bible professor, educator, author, and missionary living in E. Africa for eight years where he and his wife developed a curriculum of biblical studies for untrained pastors in rural Kenya. His passion for training young church leaders takes him to various parts of the U.S., Latin America, and Africa. He and Judy are currently residing in Carrollton, Georgia.]