Yup, you guessed it — it’s my birthday. Another year passed by and today I’m 25 years old. I’ve had wonderful opportunities in my life and I’ve put myself through some hard knocks too. Here are 25 lessons I’ve taken away from my 25 years.
1. Family is an amazing gift. It has been so easy to take my family for granted over the years – especially growing up. But with every minute I spend invested in conversation and caring with my family, my appreciation for their contribution to my life grows.
2. Faith serves as a wonderful compass. I have not always had the strongest faith. I neglected that aspect of my life for a long time. Taking the time to explore it and integrate it into my life has served as a great compass for important decisions and small matters alike.
3. Passion is transient, but extremely important. I know my passions will change over time. It is in the nature of passion to shift and mold to new circumstances and new interests. Nonetheless, passion serves as a powerful motivator and a key indicator of whether I am pursuing work that matters.
4. Purpose comes from self-exploration. Finding purpose has always seemed like such an elusive thing. What I have found for me is that my sense of purpose has come from A LOT of time exploring my soul and learning about myself. Pairing that with learning about the world around me has allowed me to understand where I can contribute most and what I feel most called to do.
5. The desire to learn is a powerful tool. Speaking of learning about myself and the world, I have found that my desire to learn new things constantly has become one of the most important and powerful tools I have. I know that I can and will always learn in the pursuit of mastery and use the knowledge to serve others.
6. Service to others puts my own life in perspective. This lesson has presented itself repeatedly, and often at just the right time. This year I was challenged beyond my capacity to serve, which pushed my limits to new heights. Last year I was challenged to leave my job and pursue something more true to myself. I know that no matter what I am facing in life, time spent away in service will always serve as the perfect reset button to put life in perspective.
7. Leadership has its consequences. Through informal and formal leadership roles, I have learned that decisions are rarely easy and never will everyone be happy with my course of action. Leadership has opened me up to painful criticisms, self-doubt, and sometime repercussions. My litmus test is always whether I feel I have done the right thing, but at times it has been very hard to face the consequences of my decisions.
8. Leadership also brings great reward. I’ve made mistakes and I’ve faced consequences of leadership, but the ultimate reason I continue pursuing leadership opportunities is the reward of impact. The reward comes when, years later, a person will send me a note or see me in a store and tell me about the impact I had on them or their thoughts on some long-forgotten decision. It always drives home the fact that people are listening and feeling and being impacted by the things I do and say. It increases the burden, but also reminds me of why I do the things I do.
9. Close relationships make a world of difference. Having a wonderful girlfriend by my side has been so important for enjoying life and staying confident in moments of doubt. My closest friends have been stalwarts for me, delivering never ending love, respect, and support. Mentors have proven to be one of the most valuable sources of advice and guidance, helping me make important decisions and asking me the right questions.
10.Finding the right outlets for my competitive side is crucial. I thrive on competition in so many ways, and yet I don’t like competing with my teammates, business partners, or customers. I’ve found a sort of outlet in competing against my potential, but in reality I still need a real outlet. I find that outlet in sports – basketball, baseball, golf, etc. It’s so important for my wellbeing to have at least one of those outlets in my life at all times.
11.Failure sucks, but it’s a necessary evil. Ah, failure. How many times I’ve looked that sucker directly in the face and accepted the fact that I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do. In just the last year I’ve failed repeatedly in building Living for Monday. When I think back across life, I can remember failure after failure – and yet the lessons are what I remember most about each of those experiences. Failure sucks in the moment, but it has taught me the most valuable lessons I have learned in my life. I’m ok with that.
12.Books are like fuel for my mind and passion. In the aggregate, I have always been an avid reader. But in the details, there was a period of several years when I was too cool for books and learning – what a true pity it is that I didn’t invest in myself during that period of my life. When I found my way back to reading during my semester at Oxford it was like a light being turned back on inside of me. My intrigue returned and my desire to learn was ignited. Books have fueled my mental growth and my sense of passion for the past several years, and I know they will continue to in the future.
13.Prestige means very little when it comes time to do the work. I mostly learned this lesson the hard way. Coming out of school I was all about the prestige and pay of the jobs I was pursuing. Management consulting was this heralded industry for an undergrad to get into (at least in my mind). What I learned was that when it came time to do the actual work – the prestige meant very little. It was all about culture, teamwork, and belief in what we were accomplishing. If those things don’t exist, the work doesn’t matter for me.
14. The most interesting jobs aren’t advertised. I didn’t learn this one until I really started digging in to the recruiting, careers, and coaching spaces. The more I researched and the more former coachees had success in the marketplace, the more I realized that the most interesting jobs don’t get blasted over a loud speaker. Companies with truly interesting jobs are going out and finding the right people intentionally, not just plastering job boards with advertisements, job descriptions, and selling points. Are there exceptions to this? Almost certainly. But a given person’s dream job is hardly ever sitting on a job board waiting for them to apply and be chosen.
15. The power of a team is immense. I’m not sure what I really expected of this whole entrepreneurial experience when I set out. I can’t recall if I really knew whether I wanted to be a one man show or a leader of a full team and company. What I know now thanks to plenty of great questioning from friends, family, and mentors is that I want a team running in the same direction as me. I thrive on the opportunity to interact with great minds and be inspired by the people around me. I want to provide jobs to great people who want to make the world a better place and I want to treat them like kings.
I’ve been really fortunate to find a few people that really believe in what we’re up to at Living for Monday and have jumped on board early with no pay or glamour. Those people have made this journey so much more enjoyable and our goals so much more real.
16. “Sex, drugs, and alcohol” were much more entertaining in the absence of purpose. I had a rough few years there beginning with the end of high school and continuing through the beginning of college. I’m not sure I made a ton of lasting friendships and I know I acted like an idiot more than I care to remember. All those idiotic things that occupied my mind and took my energy and time were able to do that because I had a complete lack of purpose.
In the absence of a concentrated effort and a mission to drive me, I succumbed to vices that were easy to fall into. Thankfully, I began to find my feet and my purpose once I found myself in leadership roles that had other people looking to me for advice, example, etc. I finally realized that life needed to be more and I needed to give it more than I had been. This brings me to my next lesson…
17. A life with out values is a wandering life. Values have been my guiding light ever since they came into my life in my junior year of college. Paired with purpose, my values have allowed me to focus on ‘how I will measure my life’ as Clay Christensen puts it. It was easy to wander for years at a time because I hadn’t decided how I wanted to live or what I wanted to be remembered by. I still falter and go off the path created by my values, but at least now I know where my center is and I know what makes me most fulfilled.
18. Communication, whether written or verbal, is a necessity of leadership. I got lucky in developing speaking skills – I simply got placed in front of groups over and over and ended up having to develop the ability to speak to multiple people at a time. But my writing was horrendous. I never once had a class in my business curriculum that taught me how to write or communicate effectively. NEVER ONCE! What is that about? Luckily I ended up in programs that forced me to express myself on paper, especially the UGA at Oxford study abroad program. What I learned from all that happenstance is that the most valuable things (when it comes to work) I have to my name at this point are my written and verbal communication skills. They need a lot of work, but they also are my saving grace.
19. Hours are finite – they are to be used wisely. Wow. This has come up a lot again lately. As an entrepreneur it’s so easy to stay busy. The same goes for college students, professionals, and even kids these days. I’ve learned that simplicity and clarity, combined with good balance make the hours go a lot farther than they would otherwise. What do I mean by that? I mean that taking an hour to exercise actually makes every other hour way more productive. And taking time to read for pleasure gives me new ideas and ways of executing that I wouldn’t think of on my own. Spending time with family, friends, and Nicole gives me the fuel I need to get things done. Clear goals allow me to focus on the things that actually matter and not on the things that take up ridiculous amounts of time for no reason.
20. Energy is diminishing although renewable – saying no is important. Just like time, my energy gets depleted. There’s only so much effort I can put in before I need a recharge every day. I still have to challenge myself to say no and remember that I have limitations. I’ll never forget the feeling of having so much going on that I did nothing well. I want to be excellent at what I do, and I know that energy is what it takes to make that happen.
21. Money is not nearly as important as I think. I have to temper this one with a comment my mother made yesterday. She said that the reason some people my age think money is not important is because we have been taken care for much of our lives. I’m not sure if that’s the whole picture, but I will say that there is a certain level of income that we all need to live, obviously. Beyond that, we have a choice as to how much we need.
Money beyond the basic level of need can do a lot of things to a person. One is often referred to as lifestyle inflation and I don’t know that I want that to happen to me. Alternatively, money can also allow me to give back and travel and explore the world around me. For me, I want to take care of the basic needs of my family and I want to be able to invest in others and travel. But as a determining factor in the work I do, money is not the most important consideration for me.
22. Health and fitness bear confidence and fulfillment. Man, health and fitness are huge in my life. Every time I’ve let my health and fitness get shoved to the back seat I’ve been less than happy with myself. I’ve realized that I am more happy, fulfilled, confident, and energetic when I exercise regularly and eat well.
23. I was meant to be outside. Being outside focuses my mind and renews my energy supply. I don’t know what there is about it that hits me in the gut, but being out in nature, whether up in the mountains or fishing or on a lake somewhere, really gets me going. It just seems like the way life is supposed to be for me.
24. Integrity always wins in the long term. Integrity means two things to me. First, it’s doing the right thing for the right reasons. Second, it’s being true to my purpose, values, and passions. I’ve learned that doing the right thing can mean different things to different people, and it is hard most of the time. I’ve learned that it can be equally hard to be true to myself. Despite that, I know that doing both in the long run will make me proud of the life I live.
25. Life is good, it should be cherished and not taken for granted.
Thanks for reading this long post on my birthday. Let me know what you think about my lessons learned and share one of yours in the comments as well.
P.S. If you’d like to help me celebrate my birthday, it would mean the world if you contributed $5, $25, $250, or whatever makes sense to you for my birthday campaign for Charity:Water. You can check it out here:
Quick fact as to why it matters: “MORE PEOPLE DIE FROM LACK OF CLEAN WATER AND SANITATION each year than are killed by all forms of violence, including war.” That’s the real deal.