If you could send a note back in time, back into your past, to your younger self, what would you say?
I turned 30 yesterday. I don’t feel old. But it’s clear I’m no longer the young guy. I have always been that young guy. At work, sports, religious life. Can’t claim that anymore. Now I’m just that middle aged guy. (What a sucky title!)
Looking back on the last decade of my life, what things would I pass on to my younger self? In frank honesty, if I could relay to the 20 year-old me life advice for the future, here’s what I’d say.
Always – yes, always – push yourself out of your comfort zone. Step out and try things you’re scared to do. Reach for something high, and it turns out you’ll often obtain it. Get out of your comfort zone. WAY out of your comfort zone. The result will be HUGELY rewarding. Think of it like a “big risk, big reward”, except the risk is only an illusion.
Some examples from my own life:
- Never went to social events, scared to death. Goes to social event, meets future wife.
- Freaked out about speaking in front of people. Volunteers to speak once in front of co-workers, make name for self by speaking at user groups and code camps. Now helps runs Twin Cities Code Camp, the largest grassroots software developer event in Minnesota.
- Couldn’t play an instrument. Picks up the guitar, now leads Messianic music service at a Hebrew Roots congregation.
- Would never, ever sing in front of anyone. Volunteers to play music and sing at religious service. Grow spiritually by leaps and bounds.
- Didn’t know how to use technology X. Takes technology X for a spin anyways, builds something useful for the Messianic community. Becomes the most popular Messianic radio on the web.
- Didn’t know how to write anything worthwhile. Starts writing a blog, becomes the longest-running Messianic blog on the web.
- Never wrote an article. Wrote one on said technology X, turns into a reusable technology that people want to pay for. Spins off into my own technology business.
- Scared to talk to strangers. Starts talking to guy who knows of you through the web (via your aforementioned writings). Develops into a friendship. Gets to stay at said friend’s house in Israel and hang out for a few days.
(This actually happened twice: my Israeli friend Ariel and his wife Dina, as well as my good friend Jonathan, whom I also stayed with for a few days in Jerusalem!)
I can’t think of any time where I stepped out of my comfort zone and it turned out badly. I have never regretted doing this. Even the times it didn’t work – reaching for that job I wanted – I don’t regret, because I learned from those failures and made myself a better person through them.
Pushing myself outside of the comfort zone has always turned out hugely rewarding in life-enriching ways inimitable through other means.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. Do stuff you think you can’t do. Do stuff you’re scared to do. Do it, and you’ll grow.
I could just stop right there. Because that’s the best life advice I can give. But here are some more things I’ve learned in the last decade, things I’d tell my 20 year old self:
Affirm people, not religious creeds. Religious people have a tendency to shut out people who disagree on theological grounds. Often times, these theological grounds are infinitesimally small, as if it’s a race to the bottom to be theologically pure…and utterly lonely.
I’d rather affirm a person who I’ve seen to live a good life, even if their religious beliefs don’t align with mine. God is not going to burn up the people who didn’t believe all the right things. God, if God is truly a just God, will judge justly. There will be many people in God’s kingdom who did not have all the right beliefs. How one lives his life, his works, his service, his helping people – that weighs so much more than a simple verbal affirmation of a contrived set of religious statements.
It’s not a big deal that you’re socially awkward. I remember worrying about this when I was young, fearing I’d never meet the right person to marry, or that I’d be that old guy male spinster. Those fears proved unfounded, I found my love for life, and, as it turns out, lots of people are socially awkward – some even more than you. So stop worrying and be yourself.
Take care of yourself. I’ve found that I have a tendency to care for people to the point of neglecting my own needs. In the end, it results in being a doormat. Taking care of oneself isn’t selfish. So take care of yourself and don’t feel bad about it.
Your kids need a father, not a friend. I likes kids. And kids tend to like me. (The secret to good relationships with kids is simple: don’t be condescending, talk to them straight.) But I have found that you absolutely cannot be a friend of your own kids. You have to be dad, who is the lawgiver of the house. The man who swings the ax when it needs to be swung. If you renege on those responsibilities, your home will be in disarray.
Sincerity pays off in spades. Without sincerity, it’s hard to make a connection with people. Humans are damn good at detecting bullshit. Be sincere, even if it’s awkward to do so. Along the same lines, telling the truth even when it’s painful to do so pays off in the long run.
High personal standards, but grace for others. This is a bane of religious people, and I’m only now learning it as a result of much wailing and gnashing of teeth. In fact, I’d say the inverse is true of a vast majority of religious people: grace for your own sins, but high personal standards and judgment for others. I could have saved many tears and bitterness if I knew the right way when I was young, had I learned patience and grace for people. I suspect very few practice this without first learning it the hard way. I learned the hard way.
Those are the bits I’d pass on to my 20 year old self. Lessons I had to live through to learn. Learned them in my 20s, plan on taking them into my 30s.
(Some of them may seem silly to you, but they absolutely weren’t to my 20 year old self! )
If you could travel back in time and talk to your 20 year old self, fine Kineti reader, what would you say?