Life, Hope & Truth

From the July/August 2018 issue of Discern Magazine

Adulting Milestones: The Success Sequence

The transition from our teen years to adulthood can be daunting, with a flurry of life-altering decisions and responsibilities. But here is a sequence that can lead to success.

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Sometimes new responsibilities make you think more about the necessity of getting things done right, and in the right order.

For my wife and me, the recent arrival of our first child made us highly aware of the need to make our backyard a much safer place. The two-meter (6.5 feet) steep drop just a few meters from our house that we previously thought so little about we now suddenly saw as a peril for our child.

And it was clear the original builders of our deck had done a poor job. They had failed to build a retaining wall to prevent the land from slipping and had neglected to drive the piles that held up the deck deeper into the hard clay. So now our small deck was slanting downhill.

The failures of the builder now fell on us to correct. What would have been an easier job at the time the house was built was now a much more complex job. We needed an excavator to level and reshape the land and build two large retaining walls.

We couldn’t help but think how much easier it would have been if this had been done properly, in the right order, in the first place.

Doing things in the right order

Building anything—whether a deck or a life—can be difficult. But with proper planning any difficult task can be made simpler, even if we can’t quite foresee exactly how it will all turn out in the end.

Take, for instance, building a house. Specific steps must be followed in a specific sequence. Generally speaking, you would:

  1. Find a location.
  2. Inspect it to see if it’s fit for building.
  3. Purchase the property.
  4. Develop a design and budget.
  5. Obtain the necessary permits.
  6. Hire a builder.
  7. Lay the foundation.
  8. Frame the walls.
  9. Install the roof.
  10. Work on the interior.

Just imagine building a house in the wrong order. It would be silly to start step 9—the roof—without having done the earlier steps!

So why do many people approach life by doing things in the wrong sequence?

The success sequence

God does things in an orderly fashion and teaches us to also do things in order (1 Corinthians 14:33, 40). Long ago God’s Word laid out the principles that lead to a more fulfilling and successful life. Modern research backs up the success sequence taught in the Bible.

The Millennial Success Sequence, published in 2017 by Wendy Wang and W. Bradford Wilcox for the Institute for Family Studies, describes a sequence of life events that leads to success in “adulting”—that is, the process of becoming a responsible grown up. It gives modern statistical evidence of truths that our society once accepted as conventional wisdom.

The Millennial Success Sequence reports that 97 percent of Millennials who followed what it calls the “success sequence”—that is, who get an education, find work, marry, then have children, in that order—are not in poverty by the time they reach their prime young adult years (ages 28-34).

Failing to perform this sequence in the correct order results in difficulties in life and makes a life of poverty more likely.

(If you have already made mistakes, see our online article “From Failure to Success” for help in turning things around.)

Get an education

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest”—Benjamin Franklin.

A wise person prepares a plan and the means of steady income before building a home and family (Proverbs 24:27). In our modern world education is a foundational part of the plan. Whether it takes the form of a degree from a higher education institution or an apprenticeship in a trade, education leads to a better job, higher earnings, better health, reduced stress, and greater social and psychological skills.

On the other hand, leaving high school before graduating will close doors to many occupations and can limit you to low-skilled jobs. Not only that, you will likely have the added stress of needing more than one job just to make ends meet. Not getting a proper education will likely result in a life of poverty.

And it can close doors not only for employment opportunities but also on the marriage front. Fairy tales like to portray marriage across socioeconomic classes—Aladdin weds Princess Jasmine, Cinderella marries Prince Charming—but in reality, these are few and far between.

A wise person seeks out knowledge and how to apply it based on God’s Word (Proverbs 18:15; John 17:17). Education is a key to living a more successful and happier life. Young people should seek the best possible education they can access and achieve.

Work, and work hard

“A dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work”—Colin Powell.

We live in a world of instant everything; everything is at our fingertips—except success. That comes only through work, and hard work at that.

Take, for instance, the basketball star Michael Jordan. He was so good that he made success look easy. But behind his success was a lot of hard work.

In his early years failing to make his high school varsity team taught him valuable lessons. He said, “I think that not making the varsity team drove me to really work at my game, and also taught me that if you set goals, and work hard to achieve them, the hard work can pay off.”

So he practiced, practiced and practiced, and he practiced hard, just like he would play the game. Years later he became one of the greatest basketball players ever.

King Solomon’s comparison of the lazy worker with the hard worker shows how our actions affect our outcomes: laziness leads to poverty, hard work leads to wealth (Proverbs 10:4). If we do poor work, we can’t expect success in life, but hard work and diligence will lead us there—especially when we choose our work wisely, according to God’s standards.

Marriage

At one time marriage was the norm for young people, but now there are more singles than married people in this age group.

Millennials are more likely than older generations to delay both marriage and parenthood, and the most likely to live together with a partner before or instead of marrying.

When God’s laws and way of life guide our walk in every aspect of life, we can find ultimate, eternal success.So why are people postponing or skipping marriage? Some are looking for the right person; some are no longer married due to death or divorce; and some feel the responsibilities and risks of marriage are too overwhelming. Living together is seen as an acceptable alternative, as are casual hook-ups.

God says otherwise. Though the Bible does not require marriage or marrying by a certain age, it does tell us that marriage should come before sex and having children.

The Bible shows that marriage, if done right, can be a wonderful blessing. Marriages fail for a number of reasons, including poor financial management, abuse, interference from others, immaturity, violence, anger, unfaithfulness, jealousy and irresponsibility. God’s way requires maturity, which minimizes those risks.

Only then have children

“We may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future”—Franklin D. Roosevelt.

The report shows that Millennials who followed the sequence by having children within marriage were the most successful. Unfortunately, the increasing trend is to have children before or outside of marriage. A third of Millennials aged 28 to 34 have had a baby outside of or before marriage (up from 20 percent of the Baby Boomer generation). And if you look at just those with children, the percentage goes up to 55 percent.

According to the report, young men and women who had a baby first are much more likely to be poor—28 percent of young adults who had a baby before or without getting married are in poverty, compared with just 5 percent of their peers who married first.

Today’s norm is to have sex, move in together, get pregnant and become financially entangled before being wed. This pitfall of doing things in the wrong order leads to unhappiness and poverty.

The missing element is the commitment for life that comes with marriage. God designed sex to be a bond between partners who are married, and He intended children to be raised within that stable family.

There is much joy to be found in a committed, loving marriage (Proverbs 5:18-19) with children being a reward from God (Psalm 127:3).

Another step to permanent success

This success sequence can lead us to a temporary success, but to achieve permanent success, another step is needed. The report was unable to pick up this step, since it must be spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). This step is the ultimate adult decision: bringing God into our lives.

When God’s laws and way of life guide our walk in every aspect of life, we can find ultimate, eternal success. Even if we have made mistakes in our lives—even if we have not followed the success sequence—the process of changing to follow Him makes true success possible.

To learn more, visit the Life, Hope & Truth website and read “What Is Conversion?

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