When the year turned 2014 I began to reflect on my life, who I am, where I am and what I'm doing. Why should a simple year change cause such a mood to dawn on me? At the end of September I turned 30, it also happened to mark the 10 year anniversary since I left home and moved to university here in Cheltenham. These are two significant events in my life that mark the beginning and end of the last decade, one which has been full of happy times and inevitably it's fair share of low times. Rather than this become a telling of the story that has been my twenties, I thought it more productive to look at, if I can, thirty things I've learned in the last thirty years.
- Faith is important.
Where you put it and in whom you put it has the biggest influence on your life and how you live it. Don't waste it by putting it into things or people, they will only let you down. Instead, place it in Jesus, He is the only firm foundation that will never go away or let you down. My Faith has helped me through both the highs and lows of the last 10 years in a way which is incredibly hard to describe, but rest assured I will never place it in anything other than Christ.
- Family matters.
In just over the last 10 years (I know I'm breaking the rules slightly) I've lost 4 grandparents, they are all missed greatly and especially so when big events occur. If you have grandparents spend time with them. Find out about their life before you existed, who they were, what their dreams were when they were your age. Listen to them and invest in them as much as you do your parents and brothers and sisters. One of the things I treasure most is a letter my Granddad wrote when I was 11 telling me his experiences of the 2nd World War. When I read it I learn as much about my Granddad in that letter as I did when he was alive to speak to.
They will come and go, you will keep in touch with some, you will drift away from others, there's often nothing you can do about this (although often there is). Make the most of them while you can, go out of your way to help them, support them in all they do and in any way you can. You may never know how much it means to them.
- It's ok to be an introvert.
I used to, in fact I sometimes still do, struggle with the fact that I am a naturally quiet person. At school, even at uni, I used to see people who can easily strike up a conversation with someone they've never met before and feel like there was something wrong with me because I find it so hard to do. It's taken many years, a lot of reading and thinking, but the realisation that I get my energy from deeper friendships and not from a room full of strangers has been incredibly freeing. The trick is to not let this become a crutch when in a room full of strangers, I still need to work on stepping out my comfort zone, but at least I know what that zone is.
- Don't be afraid to tell your friends what they don't want to hear and don't be offended if they don't take it on board
My best mate has never shied away from giving the kind of advice I don't want to hear. I've not always acted on it, but on reflection months later I often find it was very good advice. I hope I've returned the favour.
- Be vulnerable
I don't mean go spilling your heart out for all and sundry, but getting to know people properly means you have to be vulnerable. It sometimes means sharing elements of your life you may not be very proud of, but it means your friends will be able to support you in ways you really need, and it means you'll find out who your friends really are.
Don't be so wrapped up in your own world that if you randomly make eye contact with someone you panic and look away. Instead, smile. Not a forced one, a genuine one. It'll make people feel like they matter and that they're not a repulsive monster.
- Work isn't the be all and end all that people make it out to be
If you're happy in it great, keep going. If you're not, put your all into it no matter how down you feel about it. You will probably meet more people through work than through anything else in your life and people can tell if you don't like your work, but people can tell more if you don't like it and don't care about it.
- Time Alone
I'm not being anti-social when I disappear off to my room/office. Time alone is incredibly valuable, too much of it can be a bad thing, but not enough of it can be very dangerous. It's ok to want to just spend time alone, doing my own thing. In fact I crave it sometimes, and when I don't get it I can be touchy, cranky, less enthusiastic about things and just generally drained.
- Not Knowing is OK
It's ok to not know where you're going. The world is full of people who give the impression they know exactly what they're doing and where they're going. Reality is they're probably just as lost as you are and just bumbling along in a slightly more concealed way than you feel you are.
- Having a Plan is OK
Expecting that plan to work out exactly how you want it to and the world to be a nice fairy tale ending isn't. That plan you had for your life at the age of 20 is very unlikely to work out, that's ok. Recognising you are not as in control as you think you are is a good thing. Surrendering to God and his plan is even better. Often it will take a big event to make you realise this, but it will bring you out the other side in a better position.
- Don't be too introspective
I realise this one is somewhat ironic coming from a guy who is looking back at his life and inward at himself as he reaches what feels like a significant milestone. It is important to reflect on life, the universe and everything, but doing it too often is a bad thing. It sets you up for failure as you inevitably compare yourself to your friends, the plan you had when you were 20… we are broken people and we naturally look at the negative in these circumstances. For every introspective moment, take a minute to look at the now, you're healthy, God has blessed you with another day on his beautiful creation, you have people you care about and who care about you. Dwell on that for a moment, then go and enjoy the day.
Trust people. This is, on some level, linked with point 6. You can not be vulnerable with people you don't trust, but equally you can not get to the point of vulnerability without trusting someone first. So trust people. Don't be naive, there are people out there who will abuse your trust to get something they want. In my experience, you'll work out who they are before it's too late and the ones you don't, you'll learn a lot from. In those cases it will be painful for a while after, but in the long run probably worth it.
- Don't let fear beat you
That girl you've got your eye on, go speak to her. Don't let the fear of what might happen, or the fear of failing stop you from doing things. Stop thinking of the negative what if's and focus on the positives. Go, do and learn. This isn't easy. In fact of all the things in this list it's probably the thing I struggle with most and it's also probably the thing I get most frustrated about because I have no clue how to beat it.
- Be disciplined
You’ll never get what you want done in life without being disciplined in some way. Without a bit of discipline you’ll spend most of your time doing what’s easy.
When I was growing up I used to read a lot. When I got to my twenties what I was reading changed from books to websites. The last couple of years I’ve been actively trying to reverse that change. I still read blogs, but I’m picky about which ones and I make a lot more effort to read books (and my bible). Books have more substance. They’ve taken hundreds of hours to write, been refined over and are written by people who are experts about the topic they’re on.
Think about things. Think about topics of importance, take time to dwell on them and to understand them.
- Don’t apologise for who you are
You’re who you are because God made you that way, don’t be ashamed of that. I’m thirty and have grey hair. I’ve never once, despite the recommendations of some of the youth I’ve worked with on beach mission in Wales, been tempted to dye it. God made me and He said I was “very good”. Why would I try and change that?
- Drink lots of water
The last couple of months I’ve consciously been trying to drink more water. It’s had an interesting effect, I’ve felt more alert and able to concentrate much better. My skin has been clearer and I’ve lost weight as well.
- Stop checking Facebook at every available opportunity
Just don’t. Your life will be better off without the constant stream of people filtering their lives to make themselves feel better.
- Keep a journal
I wish someone had encouraged me at the age of 20 to keep a near daily journal. There have been several spells over the last few years where I’ve kept a journal. Most of those times have been to help me through difficult times. One day I might read them, but I’d much rather read them and be reminded of happy times and fun times that will help me when I’m going through the difficult times.
- Speak to your friends
That might seem like something that goes without saying, but bare with me. We live in a world that relies on technology so much that it’s tempting to fall into the trap that it’s the best method of communication. My best mate lives 4 hours drive away, in fact for the 9 years that I’ve known him we’ve only lived in the same place for 2 years. Had we just relied on technology (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the odd text) to keep in touch we likely wouldn’t still be the friends we are. Friendships can only be maintained over a distance by putting in effort to speak regularly. Pick up the phone and give your friends a call. Speak to them.
Find people who make you laugh. Find people who will laugh with (at) you when you do something stupid. Find people who will do things stupid that you can laugh with (at).
Don’t just sit on your backside all day, get the endorphins going. Get on your bike, go for a run, walk really quick, whatever, just exercise.
You spend time with friends, so spend time with God.
- Have perspective
Don’t just look down at your feet. If you’re so focussed on the now, you’ll forget what’s been and miss what’s to come. Look up. Look back. Look forward. This was the phrase I ended the student bible study with last week. Look up at God because you belong to Him for He bought you at great cost. Look back at Christ and remember what He did for you on the cross. Look forward to the day when Christ will return in glory.
Get enough sleep. If I don’t get enough sleep I get tired (well duh). I can’t concentrate on my work, I lose focus when talking to friends, it affects me in many other ways and I see it in others as well.
- Organise yourself
Make lists or use a todo app, but do whatever it takes for you to be organised. You’ll never do all the things you want to do if you don’t know what you’ve got to do.
- Shoulders back, head up
It's amazing how many people I see walking down the street looking at the ground or staring at their phones. Get your shoulders back and your head up, be confidant and move with purpose, the very least it will do is make you feel confidant. It also means those people with clipboards are less likely to bother you.
Be willing to listen to other people's thoughts and opinions, especially if they are opposite to yours. Show respect to what they are saying and they will show respect to you when you share your opinion. Never shut people down with a blanket statement that dismisses their opinion as wrong and closes down any discussion, it is neither productive nor constructive.