Today, I turn 30 years old, which feels absolutely surreal. (Really? Thirty? But thirty-year-olds are adults!)
I swear that on the inside, I feel like the same person as the 15-year-old version of Becki. Except that 15-year-old Becki was very proud of her Union Bay khakis and Old Navy tech vest…which alone should demonstrate that I have at least somewhat evolved in a positive way over the past 15 years.
In this post, I intend to list 30 life lessons that I distinctly remember learning (read: repeatedly pounded into my head)…epiphanies (that maybe shouldn’t have been as surprising as they were), or adages that I repeat to myself on a regular basis. Some are about my career, some are about productivity, some are about ministry, and most have implications in my spiritual life. Any of them that contain an element of real truth belong to God’s grace.
The idea of listing 30 lessons learned in 30 years of life is not original to me. In fact, it’s a really popular blog post title if you search for it. I think one of the reasons is that thirty feels like the end of your expository chapter — a logical place to look back and reflect on the person you actually turned out to be.
Of course it could also be that thirty-year-olds tend to think that they have the world pretty figured out and feel particularly led to enlighten those around them. (Sounds about right, doesn’t it? Very Millennial of us?) But don’t worry – I’ll be back in ten years for my 40 Lessons I’ve Learned in My 40 Years post to walk back most of what I’ve said here.
Thank you for indulging me.
- People are just People.
One of my biggest regrets is the time I have wasted feeling intimidated by people because I thought they were smarter, more important, or more experienced. Don’t get me wrong — they often were more smart, important and experienced; and every person I come in contact with is an image of God and deserves my respect. But that doesn’t mean I have to shrink away and lose my own confidence. We all have strengths and weaknesses. No one is perfect. I’m learning to remember that God is the only one whose opinion really counts. Every person in the world is just a person: nothing more, nothing less.
- God is Worth Trusting.
Someone once shared with me that, though they believed God existed, they didn’t want to worship him because they didn’t want to look back at their life one day and find out that they had wasted their whole life on something that wasn’t worth it. This person didn’t trust God that giving up the pleasure of sin was worth the sacrifice. If I’ve learned anything in the past 30 years it’s this: I simply do not have the perspective to effectively decide what is worth spending my life on. If anything, the most risky move would be to trust my narrow experience! God does have the perspective we need. So we can trust him when he says that “blessed are the poor in spirit.” It may not make sense to us — but we can trust the one that created us to know what makes us happy better than we do.
- I Should Always Be Making My World Bigger
I’ve learned that I will never regret any time I’ve spent learning something new or doing something uncomfortable as long as it increases my understanding of the world in general. Life only gets boring and I only get set in my ways when I’ve refused new challenges. For more discussion on this topic, read my previous post here.
- Get Started. Keep Going.
Every single project, ministry, new habit, life change, world-altering movement — everything that ever has ever happened — began with these two steps. Two lethal temptations — procrastination and quitting — are the only things between me and doing what I’ve always wanted to do, or being the person I’ve always wanted to be. For more, read this.
- I’m a Bad Judge of What Makes Me Happy.
This is related to #2 above. Even though I’m not always victorious in my battle against instant gratification, I can’t deny that it’s always foolish to go my own way. Doing what feels good in the moment almost never makes us happy in the long run (or even the next day). God’s laws teach us how to please him, which in turn bring us pleasure and joy. It’s only to our own detriment when we are “wise in our own eyes.” I wrote more about this before.
- It’s the Gospel that Matters.
When I started teaching Sunday School 11 years ago, I had a lot of ideas and theories about what made a good Children’s Ministry. But as time has gone on, it has become clear that unless the gospel is being presented, nothing else will have its proper context. When you don’t focus on the cross, you rob yourself of joy. When your ministry doesn’t focus on the cross, it becomes a burden. At least twice in my life, I have been pulled out of a burned out funk by getting the opportunity to share the gospel. Both times, it was me who benefited most by hearing the gospel. For more on this, see this series of blog posts: Ministry Must Be Gospel-Powered, Gospel-Focused, and Gospel-Fueled
- An Environment that Looks Chaotic Will Become Chaotic.
A messy desk produces messy work, a messy room produces fitful sleep, a messy classroom produces distracted students. If you’ve ever seen my desk or room, you might question whether I actually have “learned” this one…but I promise, I know it’s true. (Now if I could just get around to applying it in all areas of my life). When the rest of my life is cleaned up, I write better code, I design better, I’m more relaxed. Read more here: Chaos Begets Chaos
- There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Contrast
This is a design rule I learned in college, and I use it all the time. It’s not so much a life lesson — just a very practical rule of thumb for document, graphic, and web design. Pictures and explanation here: There’s No Such Thing as Too Much Contrast
- Emphasizing Everything = Emphasizing Nothing
This is a rule that also applies most readily to visual design, but can be applied in other contexts as well. It’s basically the concept of “choose your battles” or “admit you have a hierarchy of priorities”. The truth is, if you highlight every page in the book, you really haven’t helped yourself at all when you come back to study later. If you yell everything at your husband, he won’t be able to tell what’s actually is the most important. If you mark every email as urgent, people are going to start thinking you’re “the boy who cried wolf!”. My previous blog post that is one of my favorite ones I’ve ever written, so check that out.
- Design Relies Upon Consistency
Even good designs will look bad if they lack consistency, and bad designs can be elevated with consistency. Explanation and pictures here: Design Relies Upon Consistency
- Work is Not Done Until the Person Who Asked for it is Notified.
When your boss or customer asks you to do something, it doesn’t matter how quickly you got it done, or how much you sacrificed to finish it, if they have to continually wonder if it got done, or worry that it will get missed. The story goes like this: a boss asks his employee to fix an urgent problem at Customer A’s office. The employee has another appointment with Customer B in the afternoon, but in order to please both his boss and customer, the employee skips lunch and fixes the problem at Customer A before going to Customer B. The next day, the boss is angry. “I thought I told you to go to Customer A’s office!” At this point, it will not make the boss happy to be told “I did it when you told me to,” even though the Employee made a sacrifice to get it done. The truth is, the boss has been worrying about this problem all night, and now they have expended unneeded energy. It doesn’t take much effort to respond to an email with a simple “Done!” — but I have found the good will it builds with people is noticeable. All of a sudden you are viewed as reliable and “someone who gets things done.” Credit for this lesson goes to the Manager Tools podcast. It’s great career advice that I think about all the time.
- Anything Done Well is Done a Certain Way
This is another lesson from Manager Tools, I think. Basically, it’s the idea that no one does a good job on accident. Something that is done very well is always done intentionally. So, when I want to do something consistently well, I always try to think of a way to “systematize it.” How can I take this reoccurring task and make it so I don’t have to think hard about it every time? How can I best take advantage of my time? Usually the answer is a checklist, schedule, table, or flow chart. *begins singing These are a few of my favorite things…*
- Being a “Learner” is More Valuable Than a “Knower”
I think I have been particularly blessed to feel considerably out of my depth at every job I have ever had. Always feeling like I had a lot to learn made me become better at learning — and I do believe learning itself is a learn-able skill. In my experience, my willingness to learn new things or figure out things no one else knew how to do has always worked in my favor. At one job, I became the “Microsoft Word” person. (Honestly, all I ever did was Google things until I figured it out.) But somehow, this set me a part as a “go-to” person to figure out other things too. Being teachable is more useful than being smart, and the person that is willing to learn new skills is always a valuable member to the team.
- “Done” Trumps “Perfection”
It doesn’t matter how perfect your art is if no one will ever see it because you never finish it. If you are too much of a perfectionist to let yourself be exposed, you will never learn. Goes along with Lesson #4. (Interesting aside: It’s 2:00 a.m. and I just want this post finished, so I’m applying this lesson first hand).
- “Some” Beats “None”
Goes along with Lesson #14 above. If you can’t run a whole 5K, that shouldn’t stop you from running completely. Can’t read your Bible for a whole hour every morning? How about 15 minutes. Don’t have time to make your husband homemade bread every evening? How about hot dogs and macaroni and cheese instead. Just because you aren’t perfect doesn’t mean you have to throw the whole idea out. Which leads to lesson #16:
- Be Patient with Yourself
Every expert was once a beginner. Your ability will grow, but it will grow slowly, so allow yourself the room to fail, make mistakes, and mess up royally. If you don’t, you won’t get anywhere. In other words, Your Ability Will Not Immediately Match Your Taste.
- Never Say No to Something Because it is too Scary or Hard
There are a lot of good reasons not to do something, but fear shouldn’t be one of them. Letting the fear of the unknown, or the fear of hard work, stop you from doing a good thing is ultimately idolatry, because you are trusting in your own ability rather than God’s sovereignty.
- When You Don’t Where to Start – Clean Up
This is a lesson gleaned from David Allen’s Getting Things Done. If you feel completely overwhelmed and you’re not sure what to do next, just clean up whatever is in front of you. Maybe it’s your coffee table. Maybe it’s the dishes. Maybe it’s your inbox. Once you’ve got whatever it is cleaned up, the “rush” of accomplishment will inspire you to continue on to the next thing. Once everything in your life is clean, you will end up with an accurate picture of where you stand in the world, and what commitments you truly hold. When these are in place, your mind will feel free to brainstorm and think about the future.
- Accept a Compliment Without Self Deprecation
Goes with Lesson #1 above — Confidence is attractive. Arguing with someone who compliments you comes across as fishing for more compliments. Just say smile “thank you”.
- Accept Criticism Without Self Righteousness
Just as (or more) important than accepting a compliment well, graciously accepting criticism is an all-important skill if you want to become a better person. If we aren’t able to accept feedback that isn’t complimentary, how are we taking advantage of “iron sharpening iron”? Even an enemy’s words can have lifesaving implications if we understand them in light of God’s sovereign hand.
- Being the First to Apologize Puts you in a Position of Strength, not Weakness
Even when I am only 10% at fault, the discomfort of a conflict can consume me. But if I am willing to apologize, the fear of the conflict disappears…it takes away the “power” I had allowed the person to reign in my heart. The humbling experience of asking for forgiveness can be painful, but it aligns our self-image with the truth of our sin, and when we do so, we are walking in the light. When we admit we are wrong on our own accord, we are saving ourselves of the shame that is experienced when we are forced to admit we are wrong.
- Hurt People Hurt People
People who make rude comments, complain all the time, and hurl angry insults are almost always dealing with their own insecurities, anxieties, and pain. It makes sense why God asks us to pray for our enemies. Chances are, they need it.
- The Right/Best Option is Usually is the Hardest
The last few days I have found myself using the following thought process: What should I do next? Well, what do I want to do least? I should probably do that thing. As sinners, our natural desires rarely line up with the right thing to do. But if we go through the hard work, by God’s grace, we find true satisfaction. In other words: “We must all suffer from one of two pains: the pain of discipline or the pain of regret. The difference is discipline weighs ounces while regret weighs tons.” –Jim Rohn
- Good Leaders Do Hard/Not Fun Things
Along with Lesson #23 above, I have learned that good leaders do all of the hard work no one wants to do, make difficult decisions no one wants to be held accountable for, have difficult conversations no one else wants to have, and let others take the credit when it pays off. It’s what I want my leaders to do, so it’s the kind of leader I want to be.
- Pair Your Critiques with Assertions
It’s a lot easier (and fun) to point out what is wrong with an idea (or design, or ministry, or product, or argument, or theory) than it is to come up with a substitute idea. So if you’re going to critique, be ready to assert an alternative option. It isn’t helpful to the team to just poke holes in ideas…until you know how to patch them.
- Everything that is Now Easy was Once Hard
…so never give up because it feels hard. No skill or ability comes with no practice. Babies have to learn how to walk and talk. Third graders have to learn their multiplication facts. Teenagers have to learn how to drive. Brain surgeons had to learn how to do brain surgery. And you know what? Once brain surgeons master their craft, it’s not very hard for them anymore. So whatever you’re working on right now, don’t give up. Someday it will be easy.
- Sin is Worse than You Think
So often we rationalize our sin. We describe it as a “victim-less crime” or we truly think that if no one finds out, no one gets hurt. The truth is, sin is much, much worse than we think. I know this because it was sin that necessitated the God of the universe to take drastic action to pay the penalty for it. As I age, I hope I never stop learning the depth of my sin — and the vastness of God’s grace. Please read my post on Sin is its Own Punishment.
- Eternity > Temporary
Thirty years happened a lot faster than I expected. Sometimes the days are long, but the years are short. They are especially short when you consider the concept of eternity. Because our life here is so short, I feel particularly motivated to invest in that which is eternal rather than that which is temporary. This life is a pretty small price to pay for an eternity of joy. Please read my post: Life is Short
- Dread Forgets Grace
After watching the move Inside Out, everyone in the family agreed that “Sadness” is my spirit animal. I am so good at being sad and pessimistic. I can be downright creative when it comes to things to worry about or dread. But God is teaching me that I do not need to dread the future. God promises me grace sufficient for today (and today only). That means if something horrible does happen in the future, God’s grace will be sufficient for me then. But I don’t have the grace needed for that moment because I’m in this moment. So there is no utility in spending energy dreading it until you get there. God has always been faithful to me in the past. Do I really think he will abandon me now? Read my post: Dread Forgets Grace
- The Best is Yet to Come
It’s hard to believe that after the beautiful 30 years I have spent on this earth so far, there is anything left to look forward to. (See? I told you I am really creative when it comes to being pessimistic!) But the truth is, I know the best is yet to come, because God has not finished his work in me yet. I am still here for a purpose. And after that, I have an eternity with Jesus. So much to look forward to. 🙂 Read my post: The Best is Yet to Come