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10 Ways to Ruin Your Life in Your 20s

From JP | February 10, 2014 . By Jonathan Pokluda
Wrong Way Sign

No one ever plans to ruin their life. Nobody makes that a goal, or a New Year’s resolution, or an integral part of their 5-year plan. Kids don’t sit around and 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.

Nobody ever plans for it, but it does happen. It happens far too often. And it happens because of the choices we make, even though that is not a result that anyone would ever willingly choose.

Most of those choices take place when people are relatively young—old enough to be making important decisions about their life, but young enough for those decisions to snowball and grow to have disastrous consequences. In other words, these are choices of young adults, which is the prime demographic for The Porch.

How can we avoid making such mistakes? Below are 10 things people can do to ruin their lives while still in their 20s. It is a list of what not to do, or things to stop doing immediately if you don’t want to suffer the results.

1. Believe that ideas don’t have consequences.

This was the biggest lie I believed in my twenties. I thought I could do what I wanted and get away with it; after all, I’m young. But I’ve since learned otherwise. Right now you are in the process of becoming what you will one day be. You are preparing for something. You are either doing the things that will prepare you to be a great spouse, parent, employee, friend, etc.; or, you are preparing to be the opposite of that. Everything you think and do now will lead you down one of those paths.

The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps. – Proverbs 14:15

2. Live outside your means.

Ah, Dallas, 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, financial worries, and delayed/nonexistent retirement in your future decades. Many people today are still paying for experiences that happened years ago, long after the “instant gratification” has been forgotten.

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. – Proverbs 22:7

3. Feed an addiction.

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

How do addictions happen? You feed them. I’ve been addicted to several things, and each of them took work to develop. You don’t drink one beer and immediately get addicted; it takes repetition, just like exercise. The more you do a thing, the stronger the addiction grows, and the harder it is to stop doing it. Stop now; it will only be harder with “one last time.”

The righteousness of the upright delivers them, but the unfaithful are trapped by evil desires. – Proverbs 11:6

4. Run with fools.

Fact: you are becoming who you hang around with. 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 with idiots, or addicts, or criminals, that’s what you will become. But if you hang around with wise people, who are committed to following Christ and to making a difference with their lives, then that is what you’ll become. Change your playmates and playground.

Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. – Proverbs 13:20

5. Carelessly give your heart away.

Want heartbreak? Give your heart to someone who will break it. And how do you know who will break it? Everyone will, except for someone who truly commits to protecting your heart and loving you until the end, no matter what. If they are really willing to commit to that, they will gladly do so officially through marriage vows. So, only give your heart away once—at your wedding. Until then, be careful with your heart. Be careful with what entertains it and what you allow it to seek. You may not be able to choose who you love, but you can choose who you let love grow with.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. – Proverbs 4:23

6. Tolerate evil.

You’ve probably heard the quote: “The only thing necessary for evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing.” Well, it’s true. Because there is evil in the world, actively seeking to destroy others, and if nobody opposes those actions they will succeed. And then eventually you’ll be the target.

“Tolerance” is a big word right now, and is often held up as an absolute good—that you should always tolerate every person and every idea. But some people kill. Some take part in sex trafficking. Some promote ideas of genocide or infanticide, or argue that they should be able to sleep with whomever they feel like. God does not tolerate sin; He paid for it. Stand against evil, or one day there may be no one left to stand for you.

To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech. Proverbs 8:13

7. Make secondary things ultimate and ultimate things secondary.

If an outsider were to observe how you spend your time and resources, what would they end up saying your life is about? Making money? Looking good? Fantasy football? Would they say you worship God, or worship that 60-inch HD TV?

There is nothing wrong with working, or working out, or having hobbies, or being interested in the opposite sex. Those are all good things, if you don’t go overboard and make them the focus of your life. They are all secondary, the side dishes of an eternal life. God is ultimate, is the very reason you are here, and is the only one of those things that will last forever.

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. – Proverbs 30:8-9

8. Believe that this life is all about you.

You are one of seven billion people alive currently, and though you are special, so is each of the other 6,999,999,999—and the 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 will be forgotten as soon as the screen changes.

People who become the biggest thing in their world are dysfunctional. They have a skewed view. They will always end up either disappointed or delusional. And when they go, their world disappears; they don’t actually leave any impact.

If you do want to be important and make a difference, live for God. Resolve to give your life away for something bigger, and make an impact on the people around you.

Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18

9. 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, or become a CPA, or become a great husband or wife. And any 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? Because in each case, choosing the latter makes it more difficult (or impossible) to have the former. Don’t choose ramen over riches.

The wise store up choice food and olive oil, but fools gulp theirs down. – Proverbs 21:20

10. Avoid accountability.

We all have the tendency to screw up, or be blind to our own failings, or to 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, or point out blind spots, or have help in times of weakness.

But are you running to community and accountability, or running away from it? Some people avoid it like the plague. The only reason you avoid accountability is because you don’t want to be corrected, even though that means you then continue to do the things that ruin your life. If you really want to change, and really want to put God first every day, then do the one simple thing that makes that possible: Christ-centered community.

Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but whoever hates correction is stupid. – Proverbs 12:1

There you have it: how to ruin your life in 10 simple steps. Now please don’t. Instead, make these your resolutions:

  1. Resolve to walk with God this year.
  2. Resolve to live below your means.
  3. Resolve to starve addictions.
  4. Resolve to change your playmates and playground.
  5. Resolve to be careful with your heart.
  6. Resolve to stand against the evil around you.
  7. Resolve to prioritize the things of God above all other things.
  8. Resolve to give your life away for something bigger.
  9. Resolve to hold out for God’s best.
  10. Resolve not to do any of this alone.

– JP

  • rslow

    pretty sure 20 year olds are not the only people who need to read this

  • George

    ” You may not be able to choose who you love, but you can choose who you let love grow with. ”

    Thanks for that.

  • Keith

    This is a great list, too bad the very people who need it the most will either never see it or dismiss it if they do.

  • Debbie

    Thank you for this. I have made 4 copies for each of our children in their 20’s who need to read this desperately.

  • Lacy

    From Sandi Tanner

  • Lacy

    Great advice

  • Jerry

    So be it!

  • Sloan

    Think it might be wise to NOT place “sleep with whomever you want” alongside the horrors of genocide, infanticide, sex trafficking and murder. Whether this was a thinly veiled slam against homosexuality or against pre-marital sex, let’s hope to God (quite literally) that young Christians are able to recognize true evil, and differentiate between behaviors (you believe) of which God disapproves, and a level of atrocity that is hard to even fathom. Words, and their placement, are powerful. Be very, very careful what you equate.

  • Mariah

    Thanks for this post. I am actually a 20 year old and became aware of this post through an email. Although reading these were painful, it’s much needed. I agree with rslow, everyone at all walks should read this list. Thanks again!

  • Allan

    JP, what is your opinion on student loans? I’ve seen many of my friends’ personal finances ruined from majoring in unmarketable degrees while taking out 50k+ loans. Isn’t this becoming a bigger issue these days?

  • Sloan,

    I serve as an editor here, and saw the different drafts of this, so I can speak to the intent there.

    “Sleep with whomever you want” means literally what it says, and so would include having sex with children (pedophilia), having sex with people who don’t want you to (rape), funding sex trafficking and slavery (prostitution), and having sex with others regardless of your situation or commitments (any kind of sex outside of marriage, including adultery and premarital sex).

    Some of those certainly seem worse than others. Evil, however, is defined first and foremost by Webster as “morally bad” or “sinful.” Even the ones you see as not being so bad are still sins, and therefore evil. And it’s not that we “believe” God disapproves; it says in the Bible that He does, and if you believe in the God of the Bible then you have to accept that it means what it says.

    If you do not believe in God, then you wouldn’t really be able to say that anything is “truly evil” or even “morally bad.” If it is just based on what each person thinks is bad, then “true evil” does not exist, because there would be no basis for saying what is evil (everyone would have a different opinion, and there would be no basis for saying anyone’s opinion was wrong). If evil does truly exist, as most people inherently know and recognize, then it has to be based on some universal authority with the power to decide what is evil. That’s God, and He says that any sex outside of marriage is sin and therefore evil. (He also offers forgiveness, since we all fail at that.)

  • Madison Watson

    Great Article!

  • Brock Seal

    Love this article. i really needed to read this to get my life back on track

  • Sandy little

    Thank you Kevin McConaghy for your response to Sloan. As a 64 year old Grandmother of 9, 3 that are 18-24, I totally agree with your response. However, even those in their 30’s plus ( and I can include myself) must constantly be on guard in all these things. Satan seeks to kill and destroy and he will devour you as soon as you think you are safe. I know.

    Excellent article. I’m glad my daughter shared.

  • McKaila

    Read

  • JP

    Allan,

    To answer your question about debt…

    Romans 13:7-8: “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

    Christians should be wise in how they process debt. Debts should always be paid back, and Christians should never take out debt irresponsibly or in isolation.

    Proverbs 22:7: “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender.”

    Debt hinders our ability to be generous and inhibits freedom. Debt is never God’s best, but there is some debt that could be wiser than others. For example, going into debt for an experience, or a depreciating “want”, would be very unwise. Debt against a secured asset, such as a house might be less unwise but should still be processed carefully in community. Student loans should be processed similarly, in community, prayer, and with God’s word.

    Grateful for your question,

    JP

  • Rach

    ” If they are really willing to commit to that, they will gladly do so officially through marriage vows. So, only give your heart away once—at your wedding. Until then, be careful with your heart.”

    This is not very clear and can be harmful to say. Advice like this is quoted by foolish people who rush into marriage, who think that because they are marrying a Christian, everything will be okay.

  • Rach,

    Hmm. How would you suggest it be worded? The intended idea is quite different than rushing into anything: it’s that you don’t go “head over heels” and make unwise decisions because “love is blind.”

  • JP

    1 Corinthians 7:9?

  • Carolyn

    Sloan,

    SLEEPING WITH WHOEVER YOU WANT can have DISASTRIOUS EFFECTS IN MANY WAYS. THE MURDER of unborn living babies if you choose abortion as a way out of an unwanted pregnancy. Babies being born to unwed mothers who cannot provide secure,united,loving homes for them and the sad, undeserved toll that takes on these children, as well as their families through the years. Oh yes the risk of contacting horrendous sexual diseases. MAJOR CONSEQUENCES? YES INDEED !!!

  • mariah

    George
    ” You may not be able to choose who you love, but you can choose who you let love grow with. ”

    Thanks for that

    Love this!

  • Clare

    YES PRAISE!!!!! THANK YOU FOR THIS WIDSOM I WILL SURELY PASS IT ON TO MY GRANDCHILDREN, MANY OF WHOM NEED THIS ADVICE FOR VARIOUS REASONS.

  • Patsy Jones

    This is interesting!

  • Andrea Freeman

    Im 52 yrs old & divorced after 28 yrs of marriage just four yrs ago. Good information now, even at this stage of life.

  • Jo Kniffen

    Actually this is really REALLY good info to give to Junior High! Pre-arm them before they step into High School!

  • Robert

    I Sure Would Like To Copy This But I Don’t Know How To Do It, To Keep It Before Me For A Reminder Thanks For This Message It Is Great

  • Matt

    Powerful message. Well written, well thought out.

    Regarding some of the comments, if you read this thinking you know someone who could benefit from it rather than seeking to benefit from it yourself, you’re doing it wrong.

  • Janice Moze

    Kevin thank for truth. gods word is ALIVE and it will judge us on the Judgement day Romans. Chapters 1 &2 warns. Us3 times. On right and wrong. ,,God gave them Up. God gave them up. God gave them up,,,read. Romans 3′ 4′ 5 ‘6’7’8′. To see that God wants to save whosoever will. Read. 1st Corinthians 6:12-20. Read Isiah 3-20&21. May god bless us and help us do right in his sightjkm

  • Shawn

    This is all true to the day you die.

  • Sean

    JP, kudos to you for holding firm to what the scripture teaches regarding what is evil. We all have evil in our hearts and need it rooted out.

  • mark

    Want to have a shot at living these goals successfully…find a good church where you can worship, grow, fellowship (help and be helped spiritually)learn and be held , at least in some measure, accountable.
    Hebrews 10:24-27

  • Darrell

    The point is… don’t do these things in your twenties or any other time. If use godly wisdom in your twenties, it’s a good pattern for the rest of your life.

  • Sonni

    The article was good. The comments made me laugh. Thank you all who participated, in particular Matt.

  • Kyle

    This list is ridiculous. I don’t think a 20something simply living their life should be considered “ruining your 20s”, it should be called “WELCOME to your 20s”. Put it another way, it’s all part of growing up. If you don’t make mistakes and learn from them , ONLY then have you started ruining things.

  • Steve from Illinois

    I for one have made it a point to screw up my life as much as possible just to spite the Lord, so this was a helpful checklist of things I need to make sure I AM doing.

  • Caleb

    This is a reply to Kyle. This list is not stupid. saying that this is all part of a learning seems to be an excuse to do stupid things. A wise person learns from their mistakes sure. But a wiser person learns from other peoples mistakes. Especially for us christians who keep forgetting to reqlise christianity is about being seperated from the wrold no matter what your age is.

  • Mary

    Great list- all of these things are easy for twenty-somethings to get sucked into.

    Only issue I have is #1. Ideas don’t necessarily have consequences; actions do. We are faced with choices/ideas in our lives by the devil every day. It is up to us to choose the action that most closely resembles what Christ would have done or hoped for us.

  • Natalie

    i really needed to read this! Great blog JP!

  • Justus

    Dear Kyle,
    I’ve once heard the saying that Experience is the best teacher.. till one of my students added, ‘especially when it is not your painful experience’. Many people think of life with this simplistic point of view that they have all the time in the world to make amends when they make mistakes, however none of us may live to make those amends.
    I lost a brother last year to drugs, I just wish someone had given him this advise before he went too far to make amends. As a person i my late twenties, I am just reminded of living my life like there is my tomorrow to be accountable to

    • The Porch

      Justus
      Thank you for sharing with us about your brother. We are so very sorry for your loss. We have a great ministry called Grief Share for those who have lost loved ones. Here is the link if you are interested in learning more about it: http://www.watermark.org/ministries/griefshare/
      If we can help with anything else please let us know theporch@watermark.org

  • Jason

    This list is a great echo of essential biblical wisdom. Also, to those Christians who would say, “It’s okay as long as you learn from your mistakes,”: how much more could you have done for God if you had gotten his wisdom before making said mistakes? And how much more can you do for God if you accept correction and continue to seek wisdom? God bless the folks that worked on this.

  • Sybil Hawkins

    I just want to say this is one of the best things I have read on the internet in a long time. Thank You so much for taking the time to write this. It would be nice to make a pamphlet with these valuable points. Let GOD continue to work through you. GOD BLESS

  • Stephanie

    One of my favorite quotes is, “garbage in, garbage out”. If you’re watching unhealthy things on tv, hanging around the wrong people hearing unhealthy language, taking in a substance, etc. then that is the very same thing that’s going to come out of you. Evil. Now the more you read scripture and seek positive things for your life, the more your mind doesn’t have room for evil thoughts. You’ll recognize an evil thought as soon as it shows up in your mind (we all have them) and be able to rid yourself of it. I’m 21, and yes it’s good to make mistakes sometimes to learn from them, but I wish I would’ve had more wisdom in the past because you have to live with those mistakes every day for the rest of your life. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  • Kendra

    I’ve always believed I could and would have so much for myself. Right now, I have nothing. My life is in shambles. I have made terrible choices and avoided dealing with the consequences that have only compounded in ways that I never imagined possible. These life lessons you’ve mentioned are ones that my parents never taught me. I’m 25, I know I still have time. And I will rebuild my life. But damn it’s hard. And painful, oh so painful. I wouldn’t wish this path on anyone. Thank you so much for writing this. I will be sharing this with many and I reallyhope this type of knowledge can continue to reach kids that are younger and younger…. Thank you. Bless you. Namaste.

    • Allyson Wall (Young Adult Women's Coordinator)

      Hi Kendra!
      Thank you so much for sharing with us! We’d love to follow up with you and hear more of your story and see if there is anything we can do for you! I’ll shoot you an email to see if you’d like to grab coffee sometime.
      Thank you,
      Ally

  • Sharona

    Great read! I’m glad that I stumbled upon this post.

  • Cat

    As a 20-something, I’m disappointed in this list. I’ve grown up hearing all these points and being a practical child I took them to heart.

    The things I don’t understand that are going to ruin my life: Stocks, investments, 401Ks, insurance policies, mortgages, my workman’s right… to name a few. There are so many important things to being a functioning member of a first-world society that simply are not taught to 20-somethings, that it can be easy to get distracted in the moment when no one has taught you to think beyond what college to go to.

    • L.Webb

      Cat,

      Thank you for sharing your concerns. I can see how growing up following a bunch of rules about what someone else thinks is important might be discouraging. We, too, believe there is value in understanding how to be a functioning member of society and make educated decisions. I hope you use your passion for that to help generations after you! It is common among young adults to become overly burdened with the future and things that ultimately don’t matter. Having fallen into that trap, and experienced freedom in relationship with Jesus, I’d love to challenge you to think through #7 & #8 in the article above. Stocks and investments are great, but even those temporary. See Ecclesiastes 5:10. Here are some other resources that might be helpful:

      How Will You Be Remembered?
      1/4 Life Crisis: Money Matters
      The Gospel
      Headed for a 1/4 Life Crisis
      Losing My Religion

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and for letting us respond! Please feel free to email theporch@watermark.org with any questions, and we’d love to chat!

  • Susan

    That phrase “ruin your life” had a spècific meaning for girls in the 60s: It was code for getting pregnant out of wedlock. I remember the pg niece of a friend coming over to our house to get some castoff pots & pans for her hurry-up marriage. My mom, standing just out of earshot, said with quiet finality,”She has ruined her life.
    Peggy has ruined her life.”

    Of course, get pregnant out of wedlock today and the church will give you a baby shower. 2 p.m. Sunday in the Fireside Room. Registry at Toys R Us.

    • The Porch

      Susan,

      What a different culture it is today, right? The great thing is that God’s view on that hasn’t ever changed. Getting pregnant was never a sin, but is sometimes a consequence for the sin of premarital sex. Culture may go back and forth with what things are okay and what things are “greater sins,” but the Word of God is the authoritative moral guide that stands forever, that actually counts for something, and that any Christ follower should seek to follow regardless of what society says about an issue. Since no one else’s sin is worse than our own, praise God that He sent Jesus to pay the penalty for all of it (Romans 3:23, Isaiah 53:6)! Also see Romans 8:1-2.

      Here are some other resources that might be helpful:

      Freedom!
      Legalism
      Power of Grace

      Thanks for sharing, Susan!

  • Stephanie

    First, let me say I am a Christian, follower and lover of Christ. I have been on quite a journey in my walk and I am proud to say I have never lost my faith. However, I have done every single thing listed in this article and it didn’t ruin my life. Set me back from God’s plan maybe, but maybe not. I honestly believe I am exactly where God had called me. Do I regret those choices at times? sure. Do I feel I was glorifying Christ with those choices? Absolutely not. Should they’re be judgement or condemnation because I made those choice? NO! If you are a 20 something reading this and have made some of these choices, you have not ruined your life. You are worthy. You still have a chance.

  • Whitney

    I seem to remember Jesus running with a lot of fools 😉

  • James Smith

    good read

  • Deuce

    Thank You I am 24 married and have a young child and have made most all these mistakes but I am trying to change and I am going to read this everyday!