As diplomatic as my writing voice (usually) is, I’ve always marched to the beat of my own drum when it comes to lifestyle choices. And by that I mean that I’ve rarely bent to the culture around me.

Being naturally introspective and determined has led me to be intentional about my steps from a young age. In each season of my life, I’ve carried on with decisions that have impressed, disappointed, shocked, amused, or even challenged the people in my life.

why you need to choose a lifestyle and not just a career

My history with breaking the “rules”

Choosing to live by conviction comes at a cost. My mother taught me well when she made me switch schools at what seemed like an inopportune time. I was at the top of my class (I may have actually peaked in elementary school…), loved by my friends, adored by my teachers, and generally quite pleased with myself. Too pleased, perhaps, when she had me apply to a different school. My following year was so challenging that I often wanted to cry– but I myself had made the switch out of conviction. My old school was too competitive, my mom said, and I needed to have a life. I needed to enjoy learning again. I needed to stop learning simply to win. I agreed with her.

Fast forward to high school and I was a strange bird among my friends. I didn’t cram for the SATs, I didn’t pull all-nighters, and I chose not to apply to every top-10 school in the nation. After a surprising turn of events, I told Harvard to postpone my admission so that I could go work at an addiction-recovery community in New Hampshire, fresh out of high school. Instead of going straight to college, I went to work in rehab.

A year later, as a member of the Class of 2014, I made all the choices that my classmates didn’t. I chose to leave empty space in my schedule. I took classes that were weird and fascinating. I was committed to spending summers at home with my family, and I was determined to work with children. I didn’t care how much I was paid, or whether others thought my future job was admirable enough.

At 24, I married my best friend, whom I had been dating since high school. This was absolutely abnormal for the people I grew up with, and the people I graduated with. We were the first of our friends to get married, and our wedding was not without its quiet but earnest skeptics. Another stroke of conviction, another step against the grain.

I share my story because I want you to know where I’m coming from. My story, like all others, is one of successes and failures. There is only one thing that might make my story unique: my decision to base my choices on conviction from the very beginning. I wasn’t about to let other people tell me how to live. 

The post-college season and dealing with disapproval

The real reason why I’m writing this is not to share the above exposé. I want to encourage you today, wherever you are, to stand confidently behind your choices.

As millennials, we’ve come into the spotlight as we choose our first (or second or third) jobs, live on our own (or with our families, friends or spouse), and navigate the sweet and sorrowful season of “real adulthood.”

In all of our vulnerability we also become the target of scrutiny. Most of this comes from well-intentioned individuals who desire the “best” for us– however that may be defined– and who will have no qualms in expressing that we are making all the wrong choices. Perhaps from a career standpoint, they’re right. Perhaps from a relational standpoint, they’re also right.

But here’s the thing that no one can take away from us: our conviction. I believe that this generation is asking questions that haven’t been asked for decades. We work not only for financial stability, but for value. We dream of not only career success, but career impact. We want not only what is true, but what is good.

Why your lifestyle says more than your career

What many people don’t realize is that a lifestyle is not determined by a career. Rather it’s the opposite– your career should be determined by your lifestyle.

Your lifestyle, simply defined, is how you desire to live. It’s who you desire to connect with. It’s how you choose to share yourself and your resources. It’s what you’re passionate about and how you pursue that passion. It’s the choices you make from the moment you wake up to the moment you fall asleep.

An intentional lifestyle choice is a sign of conviction.

Meanwhile, your career falls somewhere into that lifestyle. Some careers might be off the table due to moral convictions; other limitations might be set by the location of the people you love, or the access you want to the things that you love.

So while many of us are losing our heads over finding the right career, or perhaps shielding ourselves against flaming arrows of disapproval, what we really need to ask ourselves is what matters most to us. What kinds of people do we want to be? How will our daily actions shape who we become? 

Jobs will come and go. Our careers will be judged by others, and deemed to be great successes or perhaps just average. We might achieve recognition in our field, or go unnamed or unnoticed forever.

But what remains in the end is how we chose to live. What matters is whom we touched, and how they were made better by our influence.

The road to no regrets

Choose your lifestyle before others choose it for you.

Living by conviction despite disapproval is hard– believe me, I experience this much more as college graduate than I ever did as a student. But I don’t have regrets, at least not yet, because I still fully stand behind every decision I’ve made.

As individuals with agency and autonomy, we get to decide what really matters to us, and whether that changes how we live. Let’s not let this privilege go to waste.

So even as you and I wrestle for the next step in our professional path, let’s remember this: what lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us. (Thanks, Emerson.)

Are you content with your lifestyle or are there changes you wish to make? How do you deal with disapproval as an adult?