I turned 40 this month and obviously, I knew this birthday was coming. I had heard from several people that this birthday puts you over the edge, that it makes you depressed and then others told me it was only the beginning of the most significant part of my life.
Over the last year, I’ve tried to spend more time reflecting, processing and thinking about life and what matters most, what I’ve learned, what is happening in me, in my body, etc.
I thought, as part of my birthday month I would share what I would tell my 25-year-old self. In hopes that maybe this will help you learn from some of my many mistakes and a few things, I got right along the way.
I realize this might seem silly because I can’t tell my 25-year-old self anything and I know that at 25, I’m not sure I would’ve listened to all of the advice, but I think it’s still essential.
So, I’m going to take the significant parts of my life and share some insights (in no particular order):
1. What you think is a big deal now, won’t be later. This applies to more than just leadership, as many of these do, but I spent a lot of times in my 20’s, and 30’s worrying about things, stressing, not sleeping, thinking about things that no longer matter. Emails, calls, meetings, and conversations that I stressed about don’t matter anymore. That doesn’t mean you stop caring, but it helps to keep things in perspective. Just like, most of the people you hung out with in high school, you have no idea where they are.
2. Focus on friendships over tasks and results. As an introvert and Enneagram 8, I am a task and results motivated. It is how I measure things and find fulfillment in life. So I’ve had to work at prioritizing relationships with those around me. Letting people in and moving closer to them in friendships. I’ve had to learn how to turn work off, not talk about the next thing and not read a book about ministry. In your 20’s, you think you have all kinds of time for friendships, but the older you get (and the more kids you have), the harder this becomes.
3. Those friendships will lead to some of your deepest scars but also your most life-giving moments. My darkest and hardest moments as a leader have been at the hands of other people. Having staff members or elders betray me, decide to leave to plant their church and take people with them, being blamed for things I didn’t do. It hurts. And if you sign up for leadership, you sign up for this as well. If you’re a pastor, when you put someone in the role of elder, you are placing yourself, your church and your family in their care and they may not do a good job or hurt you (intentionally or not).
Those friendships will also be life-giving, to you and your spouse.
This was seen clearly for me the other night. Katie and I had a dinner party for our birthday’s, and it was amazing sitting outside with friends from work and our gym. We laughed until it hurt, ate great food and just enjoyed each other. Much of that came from deciding that it doesn’t have to be lonely as a leader.
4. Remember that you will retire from your job one day, so don’t take yourself so seriously. This is hard for pastors because being a pastor is a calling, but it is also a job. So, it is both (so don’t @ me). You will retire from your job one day (or be fired). So plan accordingly. Work accordingly. Think for the future. What comes after retirement, how you will live, etc. Don’t wait to get your financial house in order.
5. Your wife has one husband, and your kids have one father, but the people who follow you can find another leader, and another church. If you’ve been a pastor for any length of time, you have had people leave your church. It is usually surprising who goes and why they leave. The people who have left our church over the years were often ones I didn’t expect and for reasons that sometimes made me fall out of a chair.
One of our goals, when we started our church, was that our kids would experience life as healthy as possible. I asked our teenage daughter the other day if it was weird being a pastors kid. She looked at me and said, “No, is it supposed to be?” Honestly, that was one of the most beautiful things anyone has ever said to me.
I want my kids to love (that might be a strong word), but at least not hate, that I was a pastor. I want my wife to enjoy the church she attends because I’m the pastor of that church. What an honor if you can retire from your church and your family can say they loved being a part of it.
6. Prioritize your inner world. This goes well with #1, but in my 20’s and early 30’s, I was an unhealthy leader. I love to control things, and that reared its head in some ways that were damaging to me and those around me. My team was gracious as I grew and continue to grow.
What helped me the most? Understanding how I’m wired, and learning what it is like to be on the other side of me in a relationship.
We tell couples this, but the same applies to pastors: deal with your junk as fast as possible. Work through the hurt you’ve experienced in life, walk through it, not around it. And yes, you should probably get a counselor. A counselor for Katie and I have been incredibly helpful.
7. Prioritize sleep. Sleep is a secret weapon that we are losing in our culture. But decide today, to sleep as close to 8 hours as possible. If you can, don’t set the alarm and wake up when your body wakes up. Yes, you should still work all your hours and get your job done.
There are seasons where sleep is harder when kids walk in your room at midnight and wake you up. People laugh at us when we tell them that we only watch 4-5 shows at a time and have to take one away if we add a new one. Part of that is, so we get enough sleep. The studies on this are enormous now, so don’t miss it.
8. Prioritize fun. You might be good at fun, but it doesn’t come naturally for me. I have to think through it. I’m often too serious about everything. Make sure you have hobbies as a leader, that you have fun with your team, that you take all your vacation and that you laugh, a lot.
9. Don’t underestimate what you can accomplish in your life. It is easy to look at other more “successful” leaders and feel like you aren’t making any impact. If you look at your life, the people who made an impact on you were faithful, and they stuck around. They made an impact on your life when maybe no one else saw. I can point to key men and women who changed my life, and very few people know their names. If you make a list of those people, I’d encourage you to tell them.
But as you look at your life, don’t give up if you think you aren’t making an impact.
10. Your most significant influence and impact will come much later in your life than you expect. I heard Ravi Zacharias that your most significant impact as a leader comes in your 60’s and 70’s. It has been interesting for me to watch leaders like Tim Keller whose influence has only grown as he’s gotten older.
In your 30’s, you wonder if you missed it or if you’re too late to the party. You aren’t. Your influence and success will look different than you expected it to look.