There is a series in LinkedIn titled, “If I were 22 again . . .” My contribution to the discussion is below.
I was soon to begin my MDiv studies at SWBTS in 1997 at the age 22. At 41 years old today, my top 10 tips of advice, “If I were 22 again:”
- Be wise in marriage–Marriage can be such an incredible joy and add much solace to you. Seek a spouse to complement you in life but not have to bear the heavy burden of “completing you.” You are not there to make each other “happy.” If you cannot make yourself happy, your spouse will never fill your void. Find it in Christ for ultimate fulfillment. Don’t seek someone to solve your problems or rescue you. Too big a job for one human being. Our emotional bandwidth is only so long. Be careful in who you choose to become emotionally connected and take up your limited “bandwidth.” Seminary is a great time of laying roots for the long haul of marriage. Have fun, make memories, create investments in your relationship, and do not jump into vocational ministry too soon. Marriage is a gift but be wise.
- Make peace with your spiritual life. To be a truly healthy person with a keen perspective, recognize there is more to life than just the here and now. Even as the right reverend, dig deep and seek to find out what you truly believe. Wrestle with God over the your faith. Few issues in life are more important than these. A strong spiritual life can become deep roots for you to withstand the expected storms from all directions.
- Be bold, seek exceptional mentors. Seek the best in the fields you are interested in pursuing. Reach out to heroes in ministry. Don’t be afraid to ask their advice. I am a huge fan of Jim Collins and his Ten To-Dos for Young People. Build a personal board of directors for your life, selected for their character and integrity as Collins recommends.
- Build your emotional intelligence (EQ). Surround yourself with affirming, positive people. Life is hard enough than to be beat up by those closest to you. Focus on the positive and never give up hope. Read this great Fast Company article on 7 Habits of Highly Emotionally Intelligent People. Don’t waste time insulating your life with negative people.
- Be quick to forgive and learn how to get up again. This has been a hard one for me. People will beat you up. No one is exempt even ministers. Sometimes other ministers and even family will betray you. Honestly, you will want to curl up in the fetal position. Do so briefly but get up and move forward. If you allow a root of bitterness to fester in your life, all will “smell the aroma” of anger and unforgiveness in you. Let it go, seek help (yes, even pastors need counseling), and move forward. The only other options is you will remain stuck in the past. Link to a great excerpt from Dave Stoop’s outstanding book on forgiveness. It is well worth reading and changed my life.
- Multiply your ministry, one by one. Invest in the people, one by one. You may preach to the masses but if you are not investing your life intentionally into individuals, your legacy will be short. I have been surprised by how fast life is. Be intentional in connecting and investing in your closest friends and family. Verbally express your love to them, spend time together, and let your loved ones know you are grateful for them. Sadly, some may pass out of your life in an instant. Few things in life are more precious than loyal and faithful friends and family. Article I wrote about mine.
- Travel as much as possible. Seeing the incredible world God has created for us will expand your worldview, cause you to appreciate diversity, and expand your creativity due to the beauty of it all. Travel if at all possible before you have children! Trust me, it is brutal traveling with small children anywhere! It is also fun when you are young and seeing the world with your friends. It is a precious but a very brief window of time in life. Don’t miss it.
- Work out your life issues. Find a good, understanding counselor. Acknowledge we all have issues and things to resolve. Journal and work through them. Face hard truths, forgive those who have hurt you, and grieve your life losses. Your mental health depends upon it. It will make you more productive member of society, a healthier pastor, and easier to be around!
- Never, ever stop learning. I love reading now more than I ever have. Learning new ideas, seeing things from a different perspective, and having a light bulb go off in your head are truly life altering experiences. They affect every part of your life. Pursue degrees, expand your horizons, and do not allow others to talk you out of your dreams.
- Establish healthy life routines. Make exercise a consistent part of your life because it is far easier to exercise when it is a habit. Excellence is found in establishing routines and systems in your life. A more orderly and clear functioning life is a less stressful life. Routines help defuse stressful situations and cause us to keep going when life gets rough. Develop spiritual routines as a quiet time, journaling, having a spiritual retreat. When responsibilities build, you will depend upon the routines and “holy habits” you have previously developed. Find your happy place, develop it, and protect it. Relax, recharge your batteries, and make a healthy routine you treasure.
What has surprised me is just how incredibly fast life has gone by since I was 22. In the blink of an eye, I am 41 years old. I hope I am wiser, more understanding, and more caring to those around me. Thanks for reading!