5 Lessons I Wish I’d Learned by 25

5lessonsOne of life’s tragic comedies is that when you’re a teen, everyone’s a moron but you. You have it all figured out, and there’s no reason to listen to people twice your age.

As you crest 40, you realize how little you know, and the things you have learned, you’ve had to learn the hard way. You’d love to pass that wisdom on to your children . . . but they think you’re an idiot. By the time they figure out you weren’t, they’ll have learned the hard way, too.

Here are five lessons I wish I wouldn’t have learned by experience:

1. It’s easier to change when you’re young

Imagine your character as a slab of extremely slow-drying concrete. The moment you’re born it’s a sloppy wet soup that takes whatever form it’s poured into. As you mature, it begins to harden—becoming more pliable. There are many factors that contribute to the form it takes, factors like your environment, your surroundings, the people in your life, your will. . .

Despite the continued influence of other factors, the older you get, the more your will becomes the primary element determining the shape of your character—every decision solidifying it more and more. Because your decisions are solidifying your character, each time you make a choice—whether good or bad—it becomes harder not to make that choice again. Character is simply the by-product of repeated decisions conditioning the kind of decisions we’ll make in the future.

It’s easier when you’re younger to make changes to the kinds of decisions that are affecting your character. It’s not impossible to change when you’re older; it just becomes a lot more difficult.

Your character is no respecter of theology.

I know some of you are probably thinking, “Well, I’m a Christian and God’s promised me the fruit of the Spirit. I am always becoming a better and better person.” Wouldn’t it be great if it worked that way? I’m not so sure it does.

I think that the New Testament is pretty clear that God is not recreating us against our will. He is working in partnership with us. We still have to make decisions that enable the Spirit’s work. Spiritual disciplines are simply choices that provide an invitation for the Spirit to work, but they’re still choices we make.

If you you choose to lash out and scream at others when you feel you’ve been wronged, you are developing an undisciplined and angry character. If you’re a Christian who chooses to lash out and scream at others when you feel you’ve been wronged, guess what . . . you’re developing an undisciplined and angry character. Your character is no respecter of theology.

It’s never too late to decide what kind of character you want and make decisions that lead you in that direction. But it’s a lot easier when you’re younger.

2. Talent is a trap

I’ve always been a natural artist. I can play any instrument I pick up, I write pretty well, and I’ve always excelled at other creative endeavors. Trust me; I’m not bragging. I think are all born with natural proclivities in keeping with our personalities, gifts, and interests. Those talents can be a trap.

I love music more than anything and always wanted to pursue it as a career, but I was never disciplined about it. Since I could out perform my peers when I was younger, I didn’t see any reason to break my neck practicing hours a day or building up a network of contacts. The truth is that there are probably tons of professional musicians who are successful because they weren’t talented. They wanted it more than I did, and learned the value of working for it.

Talent isn’t enough. Follow your gifts and talents to learn how you’re wired and see where your interests lie, and then work your butt off.

Because here’s the thing:
Talent + Work = Success
Work – Talent = Success
Talent – Work ≠ Success

The driven will excel over the talented almost every time.

That’s right. You have a greater chance in succeeding with hard work and no natural ability than you do with tons of natural ability and no effort. The driven will excel over the talented almost every time.

There’s only one way to put your talents to work for you, and that’s to roll up your sleeves and get to work.

I wrote about this at length in a post titled 3 Ways Talent Will Undermine Your Success.

3. You are what you do

“My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done.”—Revelation 22:12

For the last couple millennium, the church has discussed—at great length—whether someone was saved by faith or works. Orthodoxy has always fallen on the side of faith, and because of that, we tend to think that what we are simply what we believe.

But throughout the New Testament, Jesus makes it clear that the people who followed him would be the kind of people who fed the hungry, visited the imprisoned, issue invitations to strangers, etc. Their faith would be displayed by what they did—not just what they thought.

This isn’t simply a lesson for Christians, it’s a lesson for everyone. We all tend to think that people should naturally see us as the genuinely industrious, kind, and compassionate people we imagine ourselves to be. But why should they? To everyone else in the world, you are as industrious, kind, and compassionate as your actions demonstrate.

Now don’t get me wrong. This has nothing to do with your value as a person. You are valuable apart from what you do. It’s just important to realize that, to the world at large, it doesn’t matter what kind of person you are inside—until they see it in your behavior.

Honest people tell the truth.
Compassionate people sacrifice for others.
Brave people do what they’re afraid of.
Diligent people follow a task to completion.
Industrious people work hard.
Loving people ascribe worth to others.

Every virtue has a corresponding action. I’ve found that, too often in my life, I’ve imagined that I possessed virtues without the actions that should accompany them—or sometimes even while manifesting behaviors that were in opposition to them.

But if I really want to know what kind of person I am, I need to start by looking at what I do.

4. Fear ruins everything it touches

There’s a reason that “do not fear” is one of the most often spoken commands in Scripture. We are consistently anxious about so many things:

  • Will people like me?
  • Will I fit in?
  • Will what I love be taken from me?
  • Will things change?

Every single fear diminishes us

It seems as if there’s no end to what we worry about, and every single fear diminishes us. There is no goodness without courage because there is no goodness without risk. Whether it’s potential unpopularity or loss, sometimes we have to make choices that place us in areas of uncertainty. It isn’t just that fear can prevent us from doing the right thing; fear can cause us to do terrible things.

There is power in the confidence that you’re stronger than you imagine yourself to be and that “that in all things God works for the good of those who love him . . .” (Rom. 8:28) Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it’s when you jump in spite of it.

Remember what we said earlier about choices and character? Every time we make the choice to allow fear to shape our decisions, the harder it will be to make a different choice next time.

The cost of learning this lesson the hard way is the realization that regret ultimately hurts more than facing our fears.

5. Trust is easier to maintain than it is to rebuild

There are a million different decisions that can destroy trust: unfaithfulness, breaking a confidence, unfulfilled promises . . . they can be made quickly and carelessly. As easy as it is to undermine trust, it’s so much easier to keep it than it is to fix it.

Trust is the key to all communication, and it is the one common element that ties together every relationship of merit. You can have trust without love, but you cannot have love without trust. It may, in fact, be the most important relational trait we can possess.

Trust me, this is a truth you don’t want to learn the hard way.

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