30 Things I've Learned
I’ve just turned thirty. It crept up on me… I was planning a trip, doing normal life things and suddenly my golden birthday was upon me. I don’t have regrets, there’s nothing I would change, I just sort of felt guilty for not having given it any thought. That’s ok, it’s just a day. I am grateful for a season of contentment and busyness, but this momentous occasion is an excellent excuse for some good old Evan-style verbose thinking, aping the style of Sean Wes’s excellent post.
This started out as a simple bulleted list… but then I got stuck in LAX for a few hours. Sorry about that.
Here’s some thoughts in no particular order:
1. God is faithful.
If there’s one lesson I’ve learned, it that is He is faithful. He will never leave me nor forsake me, and He has walked with me and worked through me. I am so grateful that he did not leave me where I was when I was twenty, and I can look forward with confidence and joy towards the next ten years because He is faithful.
2. Be kind.
Kindness is easy when it stares you in the face… I’m talking about courageous and creative kindness. Teaching your heart to see others and their needs and to meet them. Not only is it obedience (Eph 4:32) but it often pays off in this life. I’m grateful that my parents instilled some of this early… I’m still reaping the rewards professionally and personally.
3. Introversion is no excuse to avoid blessing others.
I was guilty of this. I chose to not take opportunities to serve and bless other people, hiding behind my personality type. Fortunately, the Lord started teaching me to overcome this, but it really hit home in the last few years when my friend Aaron told me that fear is no reason to avoid blessing others. Great advice.
4. Study is better than grazing.
I don’t remember the thousands of articles I’ve read over the years through Google reader. I do remember the few books I’ve made notes on. I can’t tell you what I read in my feed reader this morning… unless I shared it with a friend.
The “grazing” behavior of fifteen second clips and rivers of thumbnails feels like learning, it feels like progress. It tickles the neural pathways that encourage us to learn and grow… but it doesn’t take root. It doesn’t make a difference. It promises endless quick fixes to deeper problems, and maybe if I scroll a little more I’ll be satisfied… lies.
I’m quitting the graze, and trying to study intentionally that which is worth my time.
5. Marriage is a blessing from the Lord.
I knew marriage would be wonderful… but I had no idea that it would be this wonderful. A good woman is a blessing from God… and I am greatly blessed.
Guys… trust the Lord, wait on Him. She is worth the wait.
6. Focus is a skill that can be gained… and lost.
Like many I feel that my ability to focus has atrophied since I got a smartphone… but I’m fighting back and trying to rebuild this skill. I have already dealt with reducing distraction and regaining time almost ten years ago, when I went from subscribing to over 10k RSS feed items a day to under 150. The decrease in information back pressure had me subconsciously refreshing Google Reader (remember that?) constantly. I’m dealing with a similar thing now… and slowly reprogramming my brain to avoid endlessly refreshing my dead feeds and start creating.
More on that later…
7. Contentment is a secret that can be found.
A few years back, I set this as my goal and study… really started praying and thinking about contentment because I was single and very discontent. I think there’s a certain amount of “godly discontent” that can go with singleness, but I had a problem. I’m happy to say that through a year of praying and seeking the Lord, he did give me true contentment with where he had me in life.
Not very long after that, he brought Sarah into my life, but that’s a longer story.
Contentment doesn’t come from having your hearts desire… it comes from having your heart’s desire be the Lord. I can still struggle with contentment even now, but I know the secret a little better than I did before.
8. God answers prayer.
I started keeping a prayer journal. After a year or two it was humbling to go back through it and remember how the Lord answered. I highly recommend the practice, it’s a source of great joy.
9. Journaling has a lot of value.
I started journaling in earnest five or so years ago… I had always done a sort of first of the year or birthday journal entry, always intending to make it work.
At first the journal was a cathartic thing… a way to get it all out, but as the Lord worked in my heart (see also the notes on contentment) I slowly started to record all the good that He brought into my life… sunsets, good food, conversations with friends, good days at work… my journaling has become a way to build an Ebenezer of gratitude to remind me that God is sovereign and despite my cynical mind’s first impression… things aren’t as bad as they seem.
My problem now is that I have too many journals… (last count… five?) I’ll let you know when I figure that out.
10. Invest in your friends.
I guess this is also related to #3. In my teens through early twenties, there’s a lot of social arenas in which to build relationships. As I was warned, I have found that as life continues one must take initiative to forge new relationships and strengthen old ones.
I’m being pretty aggressive about it at the moment… left to myself I wouldn’t ever reach out, so I have a running list of people to visit with and set a reminder every two weeks or so to pull someone off the list and give them a call.
11. Invite people to invest in you.
Giving is good… but you need people pouring into you as well. On one of my birthdays, my dad invited a group of men he respected to write me letters to encourage me and give me advice. Half a decade later, I still revisit those letters for encouragement and rely on those same men for counsel. I am working on making this a more regular thing… starting first with the wise men in my family.
12. Exercise makes life better.
I was kind of a wuss as a kid. I didn’t like getting sweaty or dirty, I wasn’t good at sports, I was content to stay inside in the AC and read books and play games.
I was not sporty. I did not want to work out. That was for “other people.”
Later in life, a friend introduced me to rock climbing, a hobby which I found I really enjoyed. I went from climbing one hour a week to climbing an hour 5 times a week, with a workout at the end to strengthen my core so that I’d be better equipped to climb more.
My sleep improved. My appetite changed. My mood became more positive. I found I was able to focus more at work. While regular climbing is a little far away for family life, I still workout pretty much every single day.
If nothing else, starting the day with a “hard thing” is a great way to build discipline and personal integrity. Keep that promise to yourself… be faithful in the little things.
13. Writing is an essential life skill.
Every job requires communication. Most communication these days is written in emails and texts. Even if you don’t write for a living, the ability to clearly and concisely relay information is critical.
If you are a software developer, this is probably the single best skill that you can use to take your career to the next level. Ever notice how your development heroes have blogs and write regularly? Yep. Ever notice how the really good developers in your office take time on documentation and git commits? That’s a good hint.
I’m sure students of grammar will find lots of tense mistakes and run-on sentences in this piece… I’m still learning.
14. Discipline is freedom.
This is a new phrase for me for a concept that I’ve been slowly learning over the past five years.
I would never have characterized myself as a disciplined person. I hated waking up. I hated working out. I didn’t enjoy doing hard things.
Then my little brothers grew up into disciplined men. I watched and admired how their focus and drive enabled them to succeed and grow… and inspired… starting reading and changing my life a little bit at a time.
I still don’t like waking up. I still don’t enjoy working out. But I like the person I’m becoming. I have more ability to serve others and enjoy God’s creation. And I hope that by being more faithful in the small things… I will build a character quality that will honor One whose name is Faithful and True.
15. Leadership is hard.
When I was young… I decided I didn’t even want to be the oldest kid and my younger brother happily stepped up to the plate. (Long story, that.)
But you can’t always abdicate that easily. Leadership is part of life and serving others. Just when I think I’m getting the hang of being the leader at work, in a community, or in my family I find a new wrinkle that challenges and scares the stink out of me.
Thanks to #14 and #25… running away isn’t an option any more. I have so much too learn.
16. Adventures are everywhere.
With the right mix of courage and care, you don’t have to travel anywhere exotic to have an adventure. Usually it just requires looking someone in the face and listening.
If you catch yourself saying “ha, I would never do that…” you are saying no to an adventure.
(Be wise though… there are “adventures” you shouldn’t take.)
17. I waste more time “researching” than doing.
If reading about ways to get six-pack abs could give you six-pack abs… I’d have six-pack abs.
Pretty much every skill I have ever wanted to acquire, I spend about 72 hours watching beginner youtube videos and reading reviews and spend about… fifteen minutes practicing with the tools I have now.
This is dumb. I am going to stop. (See also grazing.)
18. There is no substitute for face to face.
As someone who tends to introvert, it is so tempting to try and deal with conflict or confession over a screen via text or email. It is always a mistake.
19. Communication is an art that requires practice.
Two years ago or so, I would have characterized myself as being a really great communicator.
Oh boy was I wrong.
I have so much more to learn about effective and kind communication… and I’m excited to strengthen my abilities and fix my weaknesses, if only for my family’s sake.
20. Being organized is great.
I always thought of myself as one of those people that’s just not organized… “my brain doesn’t work that way,” or “I don’t need that.”
Yeah. I needed it. Real bad. I’m probably going overboard at the moment and need to pull back and be more measured, but I’m really benefiting from a task manager and some more disciplined scheduling.
21. Time does speed up.
I haven’t read all the research to figure out why… but the aphorism holds true. Time really does change on you. The past year of our daughter’s life has flown by… I could see blinking a few more times and she’ll be asking for my keys. How we invest our hours is how we spend our years… I want to be a good steward of the time.
22. Travel is awesome.
I’m a bit of a lazy homebody… but the times I’ve gotten out of my comfort zone and spent time with my friends and family in a new place have been some of the best times of my life. Definitely something I want to carry into the next decade.
23. Nothing you do is secret.
This is true three ways: God sees all. People are always watching. Even your fake social media account will be found by the person you least want to see it.
Also… to live in a confessional community of believers… or at least within your family… it’s so good to be known and forgiven.
24. I enjoy building tools.
Looking back over the past ten years of work, I have realized that the projects that have most captured my interest have been around building tools to help myself or others work. Fortunately, that’s also my day job at the moment.
25. I need a growth mindset.
I’ve spent a lot of time coasting on the latent ability God has given me… taking pride in my strengths and avoiding or excusing my weaknesses. While I haven’t finished reading the Mindset book, I have become more exposed to the idea and have realized how I have had a bad “fixed” mindset for too long. I aim to change that. I’m not a bad cook. I’m just not yet a good cook. :P
26. I celebrate my strengths and excuse my weaknesses
This is a relatively new discovery for me. As a high “S” on the DISC… I tend to have a hard time communicating decisions. I excused this behavior as part of my “being humble and nice.” While there is some truth to this, I now understand how frustrating my “kind” behavior can be. I also realize that the way I excused my indecisiveness is the same fond way other personality types can feel about their weaknesses… which has raised my compassion.
27. You will become like your heroes.
When Is as a kid, I thought Hawkeye from The Last of the Mohicans was awesome. I spent hours reading about how to read trail signs and practicing walking quietly through the woods.
As a result… 18 years later I still accidentally scare people because I walk quietly.
My closet and gear chest are filled with things that my heroes have worn and bought. I adopt podcaster’s mannerisms and jokes, I buy the backpack I see on a cool blog, I use the plugins that I see on someone’s screencast… you may not think you have any heroes, but ask your family. Evaluate their effect on you.
28. You need less than you think.
When I was a little boy… my brothers and I would hoard a Cabela’s catalog and plan what we’d need to have an amazing river camping trip. I want this catamaran with this backpack, and this tent, and these knives… I would plan small businesses, movies, projects that all depended upon acquiring gear and stuff in order to start.
The few hobbies and projects that I actually started before I had got everything on my list have affected my life dramatically: photography, web development, blogs… the ones that I was shopping for stayed dreams and cobwebs.
I need a lot less than is on my wishlist and in my closet. I probably need to find a way to put that on my Amazon homepage. :P
29. My heart is an idol factory.
In order to live the Christian life I have to put off and put on. I wish that I could say I’ve spent the right amount of time and energy into putting on the new man… but I sure have found a lot of encumbering things that needed to be put off.
There’s an idol hiding in nearly ever other point in this document… still fighting and submitting myself to Christ.
30. Start it now.
Whatever “it” is… start it. Don’t wait till it “feels right” or you have enough morale… set a time tomorrow and start. I have wasted years waiting for the “right time.” It never comes. Today is the right time.
Well… this post isn’t perfect, but neither am I. I wrote most of it on planes, layovers, and over a week… then I put it down, picked it up again a month later… it’s all over the place. I’d still like to know what you think.
I’m so grateful to God for this path.
I’m so thankful for the family that he placed me in. The parents that loved and guided me, the siblings who have encouraged me.
I’m overcome by the blessings that he has lavished on me through my wife and little family.
I’m ready for the next ten years.