When Things Don’t Work Out

When I was in my early twenties, I spent a lot of time floating around trying to figure things out. I’d made a five-year plan at 18- graduate college, get the perfect job, get married, so on and so forth- but things weren’t panning out like I thought they would or should. I woke up at 23 not having achieved any of the things I thought I should have by then, with people handing out unsolicited advice on how to achieve my goals, and I wasn’t even sure what I was trying to achieve anymore.

I was a child development major back in college, and in one of my classes we discussed this thing adolescents go through called the Personal Fable that stems from an egocentric stage in development. If you’ve ever wondered why kids 12-18 think they know everything or that no one ever in the history of the world has been through or understands what they’re going through, the Personal Fable is the reason. They go through this time where they think people everywhere are scrutinizing their every move; this is also the time they tell themselves that by 23 they’ll be married, done with college, and working their dream job.

It’s a harsh realization to wake up at 23 and not have any of that.

I think when 20 something’s get to the point where they wake up from the personal fable of their adolescence and see that life isn’t at all like they had planned, they start to regress back to that adolescent way of thinking and relive the personal fable all over again. So many of my friends are worried they’re living mediocre lives because life hasn’t gone the way they imagined at 18, they’re worried everyone is scrutinizing them, or worse, pitying them because they aren’t married or because they haven’t achieved all their dreams. That isn’t actually the case, but because our lives aren’t lining up with our peers, we’re convinced there’s something wrong with us.

I was terrified my life wasn’t developing like it should because I kept comparing myself to those around me. The saying goes, “comparison is the thief of joy”, and the saying holds true. I walked around in a haze of depression and intimidation, because I felt my life wasn’t progressing as it should and I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. I was 23 and hadn’t graduated college, hadn’t gotten married, and didn’t have my dream job. I kept thinking I was destined to live a mediocre life because my best-laid plans had fallen through. It was during that time though that God started reminding me of all the things I had been able to do because MY plan hadn’t worked out. Because my plans hadn’t worked out, I was able to discover a passion for working with kids and be part of a team that developed a mentoring program for at-risk students. My grandmother received the Holy Ghost and was baptized in Jesus’ Name. I was able to travel all over the U.S. and had the opportunity to travel to the Philippines for missions. Because my life didn’t go as I had planned, God was able to show himself mighty and prove how much better His plans are than mine.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8 (KJV)

“I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out- plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 19:11 (msg)

I’ll be 27 in September. Reflecting as I write this post, I’m thankful that His ways are so much higher than mine. I’m grateful I was able to go through, and still go through, periods of transition that require me to examine my life and ask if I’m living it right. I’m thankful for the men and women of God who have been placed in my life to help guide me through murky times. Jesus didn’t crush my plans or ignore my desires by not allowing me to have everything I thought I wanted by 23, he just asked me to dream bigger. And that’s what He asks of all of us- Dream bigger. Dream outside ourselves. Be invested in the Word and our local churches. Be invested in people. Commit to prayer and fasting. Serve the kingdom and serve each other. He opens doors and guides our steps when we are aligned to the Word and walk in his Spirit.

I know sometimes it feels like you’re lost or missing the mark. I frequently ask myself in frustrated moments, “What am I doing with my life?!” I encourage everyone reading this to find a mentor to help guide you along the way. Proverbs 11:14 says,” Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” There are plenty of people willing to shell out advice, but align yourself with someone who will correct and guide you.


Stop worrying that you’re life won’t matter unless you achieve this or that goal by a certain age. Discover your passions, submit to your leadership, and trust that Jesus is guiding you. The things you want for your life pale in comparison to the things He wants for your life. He’s got this.

about the author

Hannah Riddle is the Student Advocate at a Junior High in Bentonville, AR. She is passionate about working with at-risk youth and believes in the power of mentoring. She enjoys reading, painting, and doing things outdoors.