Life happens fast, doesn’t it? As I outlined this blog post I found myself thinking, “Wow, it seems like I was just 18 not that long ago!” And yet, on the other hand, it seems like a lifetime ago!
I’m in my 50’s now, with two grown sons, and my wife and I recently celebrated our 25th anniversary. My greatest desire in life is to see my sons grow into men of God who live their life with passion and purpose. I’ve had and have a wonderful life – but it’s not exactly what or how I expected it to turn out.
I’ve done some things right because I have a great Mom & Dad and been blessed in numerous ways, but I’ve made my mistakes along the way, too. If I could go back and teach myself some lessons about life, here’s a few of them I might try and pass on (and that I hope my boys learn early on in their own lives):
11 Things I Would Tell My 18 Year Old Self About Life
1. God ~ Family ~ Career really does work.
I remember hearing this over and over when I was younger. College professors, mentors, etc. would often put forward some form of this sentiment: “God first, family second, career last”. I always thought it was kind of corny, and it’s still not a perfect analogy, but it is true!
God, in fact, is not only first, but is in everything. We can’t separate our faith from everything else in life. Being a Christ-follower isn’t about a one-time decision, it’s about a lifelong commitment in everything we do. And any true impact we hope to have needs to flow from our relationship with God.
And, as men, family can often get pushed behind career. However, I heard something that has stuck with me for years, and that’s this: “I cannot sacrifice my family on the altar of my ministry.” That was relevant for me as I pursued full-time ministry, but you can replace that word “ministry” with any work you do. Family comes first.
2. Achieving your goals may not happen like you expect, but don’t give up on the worthy ones.
Life rarely unfolds like we expect. But there are things worth pursuing regardless of what the path looks like as we try to accomplish them. As an example, I’m about to complete an MA degree. I thought I’d have that box checked off
years … decades… ago.
Don’t give up!
3. You don’t know as much as you think you know.
It’s true! I thought I knew pretty much everything coming out of college.
4. You know more than you think you know.
There were times I held myself back because I couldn’t articulate what I knew…or I wasn’t willing to risk looking dumb…or I just plain wasn’t willing to risk failure. But looking back, I knew enough to take the plunge more than I did. Don’t be afraid to take some risks – you might find you know enough to accomplish more things than you think you can.
5. When those big crises hit…it’s going to be OK.
When…not if…those big crises hit. They are going to happen, because life happens. And it might seem like the end of the world, like your stripped of everything that’s important. It might be the end of life as you know it, but it’s not the end of the world. Life goes on, and God has an amazing way of bringing about healing. Community has an amazing way of surrounding and supporting you if you let them. And time has an amazing way of reshaping our thoughts and healing our wounds.
6. Work harder than those around you while you learn to work smarter. Then work hard and smart.
I have found that it really isn’t that difficult to stand out (although I admit I haven’t always done so). Most people are not willing to do what it takes, so those who are willing to work hard will probably end up in the top 20% just because of effort. But learn to work smart along the way. Manage your time, emotions and energy. Give yourself time to think. Be as concerned about “being” as you are about “doing”. Add “smart” to working hard and you will succeed – I promise!
7. Learn how to play small and big.
I’m not very good about playing, although I’ve gotten a lot better at it. But what I’ve found is that I need to play small – find ways to relax and have fun in the small, everyday things (I watch sports, go for walks with my wife, and read historical fiction).
But I also need to play big – meaning I need to create fun experiences in life that stand out. Taking my family on a missions trip to Africa (twice!) when we really didn’t have the money, or creating a family tradition by going to Hume Lake nearly every summer for the past 15 years, or allowing myself to spend time and money on something that’s important to me. Big things create lasting memories that all who participate in can hold on to. Experiences trump possessions every time.
8. Find your “happy place” and visit it often.
This is similar to #7, but a little bit different. There are things leaders need to do every day. These are refreshing and renewing, and your “happy place” is probably going to be found within one or more of these areas. For me, early morning is my happy place. Whether I’m on vacation or at home before a work day, I love getting up early to enjoy the quiet, be in God’s Word, pray, or literally just sit quietly as the sun comes up. We all have those happy places. Find them, guard them fiercely, and visit them often.
9. Money is far from everything, but it is important.
Oh, I wish I’d learned this early on. But, truth be told, I honestly couldn’t care less about money! It’s never been important to me and never been a goal of mine. I would just as soon spend it on my boys or give it away as I would put it away for a rainy day.
Not a good strategy! And, fortunately, I’ve got a wife who is good with money and has made sure we do ok in that area. I wish, however, that I would have taken greater initiative in understanding the value and power of finances earlier on in life, mainly because it would have allowed me to be wiser for the purpose of doing more.
There has never been a time with more distractions, more options, or more voices trying to speak in to our lives. It’s easy to be pulled from distraction to distraction and never accomplish anything. But once we’ve identified what we’re called to do, prioritize your work, focus on one thing at a time, and finish.
11. Significance matters more ~ a lot more ~ than success!
My Dad, by the world’s standards, would probably not be considered terribly “successful”. He doesn’t have a lot of money in the bank (hmmm…maybe that’s where I got it from!), he’s not famous, and he’s never wielded a lot of power. But he’s one of the most significant men I know. There are, literally, hundreds if not thousands of people around the world who have been spiritually influenced by my Dad. There’s a church in Tasmania, Australia that he started 35 years ago that is still sharing the gospel and discipling many. There are pastors in Africa who were mentored by him (and who still call him regularly for advice) years ago. There are marriages who are still together and going strong because of the counsel he provided. And I could go on and on and on.
Successful? Maybe not so much. Significant? Absolutely. And that matters so much more.
So what would you tell your 18 year old self?