Monday, December 07, 2015

Thirty (or, Life Lessons part 2)

In a few hours I will begin a new decade of life. It would be difficult for me to proclaim my twenties as the "best" years of my life, because every year of life is it's own unique "best"; but overall my twenties were pretty excellent, and I will mourn their passing.

Since I expect the barrage of Facebook well-wishes to begin soon, I thought perhaps I might put up a blog post for everyone to read. A year ago I wrote a short treatise called "Life Lessons I've Learned," and since then I've been compiling a list of more lessons that I forgot to write about the first time. In my personal opinion, that blog post and this one you're about to read constitute the best of my wisdom, but, I should add disclaimers: your mileage may vary; use only as directed; keep yourself well ventilated; resemblance to real persons 100% intentional; some assembly & effort required.

Personal growth advice and lessons-learned

First, advice from my mother: "I strive for perfection, but often have to settle for good enough."

Don't wait on other people in order to live your own life. A trivial example: I spent years waiting to go back to DisneyWorld until I finally had a "significant other" to bring with. This year I decided, "I'm going, whether or not I'm in a relationship." Don't wait on someone else in order to schedule that vacation you've been thinking about, or starting grad school out of state, or buying your first house. Live your own life, do your own thing. If someone else comes into your life that would alter your plan, guess what, you can change the plan.

This is closely related to a life-lesson from last year's post: don't be afraid to do things on your own. Last year when I visited friends in Los Angeles for example, I went on my own to the LA Zoo Christmas lights show, and on the Paramount studio tour, and had a great time at both.

I mentioned this one in last year's list as well, but it's worth re-iterating: schedule "me time" and guard it. The amount required will look different depending where you fall on the introvert-extrovert spectrum.

Also schedule project time (writing, movie-making, music-composing, card-writing, home-improving, whatever it may be), and do a better job guarding that time in your calendar than I've been doing lately.

Find your own voice, and avoid assuming every opinion you hear from your teachers, friends, mentors, or pastors is true.

Optimism is a daily choice. And being able to laugh every day sure feels good.

Find a todo-list manager that works for you, be it electronic or paper. The specific tool doesn't matter as much as whether it's something you can use every day to help keep you on track. My current todo-list manager of choice is OmniFocus, though before I've also used Wunderlist and Apple's Reminders. (Also I get really excited when I talk about todo lists and todo list software, so if you need a more technical run-down on any of these options, let's chat!)

Exercise is important, but I still don't enjoy it. Harrumph.

Re-iterating another lesson from my previous post: it never hurts to ask, and the worst that can happen is someone says "no." You may be surprised how far this mentality can bring you.

Interpersonal advice and lessons-learned

I still struggle with this one, but: if you're listening to someone and you realize your only intent in listening is to prove them wrong, stop. No one wants to be listened to just for the sake of being told why they're wrong. (except on the rare occasion when someone actually does ask you for this, like if they ask, "tell me where my thinking is wrong here," which is a completely different situation).

Don't assume that other people are learning the same spiritual or life lessons that you are at the exact same time. Everyone is at their own spot in the journey and we also learn lessons in different orders. Definitely do share your lessons-learned anyway, because you might plant a seed for later on, but don't feel too disappointed if your huge breakthrough turns out not to be immediately applicable by the other person.

Listen to the opinions of people who are older than you. This does not necessarily mean you need to agree with them or adopt their opinions, but even if they're wrong, they have had many more years of life experience that inform that wrong opinion that you have had; at the very least, it's an opportunity for a conversation.

Beware of the "if only"s. "If only that person had done such and such, I'd be less angry" or "if only they would... " Every permutation of those phrases is a trap (cue Admiral Ackbar). People make mistakes, and even if they had done your "if only," you'd still be upset (because the "if only" would move to a new requirement).

Theological advice and lessons-learned

Theology is not black and white, and you can justify anything you want from the Bible. I believe God gave us brains with the expectation we would use them, rather than becoming lemmings. Jesus talks about having faith like a child - now admittedly I don't have children of my own, but one thing I've noticed in others is that they're always asking "why? why? why?" Asking questions about why and what you believe can be scary, but it should never be taboo. If it is, may I suggest you examine what kind of foundation your faith is built on, because if asking one question can bring the whole thing crashing down, that doesn't sound like a very sturdy foundation.

Following on to that, the Kingdom of God has and also requires all kinds of people, including some of the ones you (and I) disagree with. God loves Donald Trump as much as God loves Mother Theresa, or you, or me.

And following on to both of those, make time to spend time with God. My current solution is to read Jesus Calling and a Bible chapter each morning first thing when I wake up, before reading email, when I'm still groggy in bed. While God may not be getting my best at that time of day, God *is* getting my first.

There are certain things that I believe you should be certain of: God's existence, God's love for you, and Easter. Beyond that, if you can remain open to the possibility that your current understanding of the world or theology might not be ultimate truth (which is not to say that you *are* wrong, but just that you're open to the possibility that you don't know everything, or that there might be a deeper understanding than what you have), you will be more mature than pretty much everyone else you ever come into contact with. This also isn't to say that you should doubt everything you know or believe, but rather to acknowledge there exists a possibility that there's more than what you know.

When traveling out of town, try to find a church to visit in your destination city; it's a cool way to explore other forms of worship.

Go on physical walks around the block and invite God to come along, in whatever form you best relate to God. And if you're feeling brave, engage in an out-loud conversation, and be open to hearing back from God in your heart. This idea I got from the movie Harvey, which has nothing specifically to do with God, unless you believe God is a giant invisible and mischievous bunny rabbit.

Financial advice and lessons-learned

Set up a simple budget. If you need a starting point as an example, mine includes separate savings accounts for: rainy-day savings, vacation, home improvement, insurance & property tax, car maintenance & new car fund, love and ministry, child sponsorships, gift-giving, and pre-tax deductions to my 401(k) and FSA. The amounts don't really matter as much as simply saving *something*. Every paycheck, dollars are automatically pulled from my checking account into each of those savings accounts, and then whatever's left I know is available for spending. Also you can have up to 30 free savings accounts at, so, really, no excuses.

If you need to rent a car, I discovered can actually work out to name your own price. Last year I saved $60 on my LA rental, and another sum (I forget the exact number) on a car when I visited Denver. The only caution is that you can't change the reservation.

I've discovered that public libraries have audiobooks you can check out for FREE. I've since canceled my account, which had been a $200+/year expense. The drawbacks are that the OverDrive app isn't as stable as Audible's app, nor as full-featured, and sometimes you have to wait before a book becomes available (just like any popular paperback may have a waiting list), but, did I mention the audiobooks are FREE? (Including a ton of Star Wars books...)

Lessons I hope to learn in the next decade

I hope to choose being pleasant over being smart. To quote Jimmy Stewart's character from one of my favorite movies, Harvey:

"Years ago my mother used to say to me, she'd say, 'In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.' Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me." - Elwood P. Dowd

I hope to continue finessing my balancing act of busy-ness, between friends, family, work, relaxation, projects that are important to me, and leaving more room for God, because right now I think I've largely crowded God out of my busy schedule.

I hope to learn that my money and resources are not entirely my own, and how to honor that reality.

I hope to better understand people who are different from me.

Relatedly, I hope to learn how to use my own white privilege and upper class privilege to further some societal justice outside of myself.

I hope to start assuming positive intent.

I hope to continue working at my life's goal, which is to point people to God through Jesus, and to do this by the way I live my life, leaving a wake of Good, and leaving people better than I found them.

In less than half an hour I turn 30. I'm ready.