A letter to my kids
I make a lot of mistakes.
Writing about my mistakes helps me capture the lesson contained in each failure. Life is about making mistakes. I can’t protect my kids from making their own, but I sure would like to help them avoid some of the dumb ones I have made.
Unfortunately, as every dad knows, even the best-intentioned teaching session will often fall on deaf ears. They just aren’t ready to hear it yet. I’m not sure how to fix that exactly, but I am going to start posting here in the hopes they will find them when they are ready.
Let’s start with the note I wrote them a couple of years ago when I turned 40:
To my amazing three daughters and two sons,
Thanks for making my 40th birthday so awesome this week. I am so lucky to be your dad.
Believe it or not, I wasn’t excited about turning 40. It feels old, and I don’t feel old. I don’t want to be old. Your mom did a good job of pulling me out of my pity party by reminding me how blessed I am to have had the 40 years that I have. God willing, I still have forty more. This is just the halfway point.
I keep finding cool stories about amazing people who didn’t really start their best work until they were 40. People like Immanuel Kant. I’ve had a great first 40, but I want to be better in my second 40. So seeing as this is kind of a significant moment in my little life, I wanted to give you some thoughts that I hope will make your road to 40 smoother than mine.
As I look back on my first 40 years my primary takeaway is that way too much of that time was about me. My wants, my performance, my achievements, my failures, my success. Me, me, me.
You don’t know who you are . . . yet.
It’s frustrating to look back and realize the lens I viewed the world through was so “me” colored, but I don’t think I am unique in that regard. In fact, I think we should get a pass until we are 25. Research shows that our brains aren’t fully developed until then, so it makes sense that we spend our first 25 years figuring out who we are and how we fit into this world. I know you care about others. I know you are in a hurry to solve hard problems. Good! Stay at it, but don’t beat yourself up for spending a lot of time learning about yourself. It’s better to over-invest early on and figure it out by 25 then dragging the process into your 30’s like I did.
At somewhere around 25 years old it is a race to see how quickly you fully wake up and realize that life (this whole story) isn’t about you. Continued focus on self is not where joy, peace and contentment come from. They can’t be found there.
It’s convicting and embarrassing to admit that I really didn’t fully understand that until about 5 years ago. That’s ten years later than necessary. Not good. Be better than me please.
I know you don’t see it, but your dad is very much a work in progress. That much is certain. It seems like most of the lessons I have learned along the way certainly the most important lessons anyway) have been learned through failure, much of it painful. So it is not as a perfect parent nor an intellectual giant that I offer up 40* of those lessons. I’m writing as a humble dad that hopes you learn from some of my mistakes.
*Bonus lesson: You don’t have to be an original thinker to add value. Take the good ideas of others and put them to use. The lessons below are not original to me. It’s possible the combination is. I know for certain the experience learning them has been.
40 at 40
- It feels fitting that the first lesson is that growth comes through failure and sometimes pain.
- There are few things in life more important than 8 hours of sleep.
- 99% of marital problems tie back to the “Love and Respect” cycle.
- Meals with friends are way underrated. It’s where relationships grow and life is lived.
- Those meals are 10x better when no one has a phone.
- We humans are a lot more alike than we sometimes think and the world will tell you. Every person that you have ever been impressed by, intimidated by, scared of, or in awe of is just a guy/girl with their own set of insecurities, fears, and baggage. They all have hopes, and they all want to be loved and validated. That is also true of all the people you have ever looked down on. Remember that.
- Life is better when you have real relationships with people that are as different than you as possible.
- Kids are fragile. Push them to succeed and get comfortable with failure as a path to growth, but protect them against stress and trauma that their developing brains aren’t ready for.
- Giving a great gift > Getting a great gift.
- Sometimes the best gifts cost $0. The two best gifts I received at 40 cost $0 combined.
- Money is not evil, but it can make people do evil things. Life is better with enough money, but life is not about money.
- Your brain will work against you sometimes. It likes to take short cuts and will close itself off to new ideas or ideas that differ from what it has already decided is true. Avoid echo chambers and practice arguing the other side.
- Buying a car stinks. It is hard and dangerous. Proceed with caution.
- Choosing to spend time outside is always a good decision. Make “go outside” the default option when you have free time.
- Study the brain. When you start to understand how it works, the world makes more sense. Especially all of these weirdos we share it with.
- Alcohol isn’t nearly as cool as everyone says. Avoid it if you can.
- When you have trouble stopping something (scrolling on your phone, drinking, smoking, checking your email, shopping, gambling, weighing yourself) that’s bad. It’s called an idol. Take drastic action.
- Always be honest. Seriously. It’s often harder, but always better.
- Try new things and meet new people. Life is more interesting that way.
- Avoid listing pros and cons when considering a change or you will never change.
- Asking yourself “Will I regret this when I am 70?” is a good way to evaluate decisions.
- Force yourself to become a good writer.
- Exercise. Every day.
- Encourage someone. Every day.
- The world is in desperate need of capable leaders. Be a leader. Better still, be a servant leader.
- Everyone is broken. The level of brokenness may vary, but we all have junk. The gross kind that is embarrassing and hard to talk about. It’s not just you.
- Everyone needs someone to lift them up when they are down, even the ones that try to hide it. Be that someone, even when it’s awkward.
- Your life will not be defined by your resume, but instead by the lives you touch while building it.
- You have more power and influence than you realize.
- What other people think about you is none of your business.
- Be present. Look people in the eye when they are speaking to you. Listen to what they say and repeat it back to them. It forces you to be present and people like being heard.
- It is a total waste of time to argue with someone who is being controlled by their Amygdala. Just don’t.
- If your life gets super comfortable, then something is wrong. We weren’t put here to be comfortable, but we have a natural bent towards pursuing it. It’s the easiest way to get your priorities out of whack.
- Speaking of priorities. You only get one today. I get one 8/24/18. I won’t ever get it back. Ruthlessly prioritize your time, because busy is your enemy and just because something is good doesn’t make it important. (Old people are usually better about having the right priorities. Live life like you don’t have much time left.)
- You are so blessed. Be grateful.
- Read a lot. Never Stop.
- Travel a lot. Go to weird places and eat weird food.
- Work hard to develop a close group of friends that you can be real with (even the gross embarrassing stuff), that will hold you accountable and challenge you to grow. This will be really difficult and full of frustration. People will let you down. But you need it. It is worth it.
- God is good and he loves you. So do I.
- You were bought at a price. You are here for a reason. You have a purpose. That reason and that purpose isn’t about you. You are not your own.
Thanks for putting up with me and all of the times I screw up and fall short. It’s my prayer that when you are forty, we can sit down and laugh at how simple life is and how often we get it wrong. Here’s to us getting it right more between now and then.