Some dear old friends of mine recently had their oldest son graduate high school. It took me by surprise how old that made me feel. It got me thinking about how many things we learn along the road of life, and how many times I had wished someone had told me this or that. On the other hand, I am not sure how much I would have taken to heart if they had. At any rate, I felt compelled to write a letter recalling some of the bigger lessons I had learned (some as soon as the past 6 months- there is a reason why my tag-line is “thoughts from a late bloomer”). The letter, slightly altered, is posted below:
I am not usually one to give advice. Especially unsolicited advice. However, as I have known you from the time of your birth, and your parents are dear old friends, I will take the liberty of sharing a few things I have learned. Most of these things I learned later in life, and wish I had learned them sooner. I guess that’s part of life itself, but if I can pass some of these thoughts onto you I hope it may be of help to you sooner than it was for me.
- You don’t have to have it all figured out and you can fail: You will mess up. You will make mistakes. You will fail… and you will be better for it. I was so afraid of failing at anything for so long in my life, that at times it kept me from testing my limits and trying new things. It also kept me from making the better decisions I should have made as I was afraid to fail at them or disappoint someone. Guess what? I did fail. I did disappoint. Sometimes in colossal proportions. But I also found that I learned far better, deeper, and more valuable lessons from my failures than I ever did my successes. Failure is still painful. It is still difficult. But life will continue. New opportunities will appear. And you will have a much better view of yourself and the world because of those failures- be that in relationships, jobs, or really bonking on a half marathon. Our failures teach us great lessons. Like my wife says, “We can do hard things.” Don’t be afraid of the hard things.
- Try new things, think outside of the box: This dovetails with #1. For a long time, I feared ever trying something new or thinking differently from those around me. It seems cliché, but there are very few who try to think for themselves, test their limits, or try something new. I didn’t start to run until I was nearly 30- mostly because I didn’t think I could. I didn’t start bike commuting until the past few years, even though for most of my career I have lived about 5 miles from my job. Try something different, and think outside of your box. Look for a new way to look at things. Look for areas to grow in. Be curious about life and life around you. Curiosity and wonder at the world around us is one of the secrets to appreciating the life we have and the world we live in. Be it the hummingbird floating around, or the fact that Venus can be seen sometimes as the morning star, and sometimes as the evening star- we live in a world of wonder and fascinating things. Enjoy what is out there, try something new in it, and try to look at it differently than you had before.
- Learn to live on less: I wish I had made my world smaller in college- and just had a bike and lived on less. Likewise, as I started to earn a living, I wish I had learned to save 50% of my paycheck and invested it. Yes, 50% if you can do it. It will allow for much greater opportunities in life in 10 years. 10 years seems like forever, but seriously, it is nothing when it comes to this. Learning to live on less also allows you to appreciate what you have, to fully utilize what you own, and to not be tethered to the material world so much. Investing 50% of what you make, with compounded interest will give you a great financial cushion as well, which in turn gives you greater life flexibility down the road. It may allow you to be more with your kids, your wife, or just doing something you truly enjoy. Also, stay out of debt as much as humanly possible.
- Life is so much more than things: If you think back to your two most positive memories growing up, I very much doubt they have anything to do with a material object. They most likely have to do with a moment in time with someone you love or who loved you. Think about it. It’s our connection to those we love that really matters. Foster those things in life.
- If everyone likes you all the time, you might be doing something wrong: I am a people pleaser by nature, so this one was and still can be hard for me. However, I am learning that in life, sometimes the decisions you make will not be agreeable by everyone around you. Certainly, take the thoughts and ideas of those around you into consideration, but this is your life. You are the one living it. You are the one who has to make the decisions and then live with those consequences. Worrying too much about what others think about you is like giving them a permission slip to define who you are and what you are worth. No one can really do that, so don’t let them. Not everyone is going to like you all the time. That’s ok, they don’t have to. That may disappoint someone for some reason. That’s ok too. It’s your life. Live it.
- Getting to know your Savior as an adult- asking big questions, and making it your own: Ask hard questions, read books, and be malleable. Some of what you have learned or absorbed either by growing up in white middle-class America, or by growing up in the church is misguided, or worse- flat out wrong. Likewise, the world and its philosophies, although interesting, offer very little hope of any kind (especially post-modernism and secular humanism which is the predominant thought of our time and will be the dominant thought in college). However, to read through these things, to think through them, and then to find your way to God’s grace only deepens your appreciation for Him and widens your scope of the hope He offers to you and the world. I was afraid to ask big questions for a long time. Asking big questions isn’t wrong. Take the time to find big answers as well and think through them. That can also be difficult. It’s also good to know that for some things, there just are not good answers. Some of life is, and will remain a mystery.
- Travel: I learned so much about our world and myself through travel. Go to as many places as you can. Meet as many different people as you can. Eat different food, see different customs. Learn a few new foreign language phrases (that might impress a girl someday, you never know). Travel truly allows you to know the world and yourself better. Traveling solo at this age is super fun too! You meet some very interesting people if you are open to it.
- You are capable of far more than you think: You have wonderful parents who love you, and I’m sure have already drilled this into your head, but it bears repeating: you are a highly talented, thoughtful, wonderful man. You have talents, skills, and abilities you may not even know are there. Other skills may not come as naturally, but can be cultivated and grown with some practice, work and mentoring. Do things even though you may not be good at them initially. Much of what we are capable of comes to us by way of hard work and practice, so don’t shy away from doing something just because it is not immediately successful or natural, or if it is initially difficult.
- You are of unfathomable worth, and loved beyond what you could imagine by God and by your parents: If we truly understood this, many of our insecurities, struggles, and much of our pain would greatly diminish. At your lowest point, know that God sees you there, and is with you there. And still… no matter what shame you feel, no matter what hurt you have, He still loves you and wishes to heal and restore you. This is true for every human being. If we could only see the hope that Jesus brings us. We are all messes without him. All of us. You, me, your parents, your siblings, our pastors, our co-workers, our spouses, and the homeless person on the street. This perspective not only allows you to be healed, loved, and renewed, but gives hope to those who hurt you and opens the doors for forgiveness. It also allows you to have compassion on others in life when you realize we are all broken, hurting people. This is what makes Jesus, and the biblical narrative so remarkable. It is hope. Hope in a desperate, hurting, broken world.
I wish you the best Russ. I am proud of who you are and have become, and look forward to seeing where these new paths take you in life.