46 thoughts on my 46th birthday

Some thoughts from an aging man offered in the hope that a few of them help you.

Inspired by Kevin Kelly’s 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice, here are 46 thoughts which occur to me on my 46th birthday.

These are not the most important things I believe nor are they ranked. They’re what came to mind, and I offer them in the hope you’ll find at least one or two nuggets useful. Yes, I am aware that many of these are not original to me.

  1. Leaders should be examples and not exceptions. Don’t impose rules upon others you are not willing to follow yourself.
  2. When you’re looking for mentors, look for people at least a decade older than you who have succeeded in at least two different environments. Someone who succeeded once often has a hard time distinguishing what was luck versus what was wise. Someone who has succeeded more than once is more likely to have learned principles.
  3. Wisdom is wanting the right things, knowing how to get them, and pursuing them wholeheartedly.
  4. There are two ways to gain wisdom: from your own experience or from the experience of others. Do as much of the latter as you can. Read widely, talk to interesting people, and in general be a sponge for wisdom.
  5. Ask people who have what you want how they got it. For example, I see single people talking to each other all the time about how to tell if someone is right for them or not. That’s fine, but also ask someone who is happily married how they made their decision. I see new parents give one another advice on child rearing philosophies. I suppose that’s inevitable, but also ask the parents of admirable teenagers or grown children what they did.
  6. People on the left distrust big business. People on the right distrust big government. Maybe we should be suspicious of all big institutions and make sure they have proper checks and balances.
  7. Most people who disagree with you politically are reasonable people who have had different experiences than you.
  8. No matter what you believe (about religion, about politics, about some issue within your profession), there are people smarter and better-informed than you who disagree with you. That doesn’t mean you are wrong, but it does mean you should be humble.
  9. America really is a remarkable nation. Love it enough to keep improving it.
  10. The deliciousness of a cuisine is generally proportional to the number of people who eat that cuisine at home. This is why Chinese food is better than British food.
  11. The best handful of books on a subject can teach you most of what you need to know about it. You can often find great books on a subject by googling “SUBJECT syllabus” and skimming through four or five college syllabi and noting recurring titles.
  12. In college take professors not classes. Find the best professors and take whatever they are teaching.
  13. You are not obligated to finish a book simply because you began it. Give a book 100 pages minus your age to grab your attention.
  14. The consensus view of well-informed people is usually right, but when it is wrong it is hugely wrong.
  15. The cost of maintenance is far less than the cost of repair. Change the oil, brush your teeth, stay in shape, etc.  When relevant, put recurring maintenance tasks on your calendar.
  16. When a task is important, get the tools you need to do it right. Don’t just get by with something that sort of works.
  17. Just get started. Implement and iterate. Beginning on a grade B plan now is (usually) better than waiting to devise a grade A plan you can start on next year. If you just begin with an okay plan and improve it as you go along you’ll be doing something far superior a year from now than if you spent endless hours dreaming about The Best Way. The big exception is things that are not easily reversible (like tearing down a wall in a house – spend as much time thinking that one through as you need).
  18. Money is a tool. Like all tools, there are a lot of problems it can’t solve. But the problems it can solve it solves very effectively. Go read the Reddit personal finance wiki.
  19. Accept that writing is revising. It is okay if your first draft is horrible. Just get your thoughts down onto paper and then you can work to make them better.
  20. Life is the laboratory of philosophy. Just as in science, lots of theories sound good until they are put to the test. You will discover that some things can be thought but not lived and you should reject them.
  21. Be generous. Not only is it kind, it is prudent.
  22. A Christian is someone who believes in the resurrection of Jesus from the grave and lives in light of its implications. Realizing Jesus has risen changes everything.
  23. Everyone is amazing, at least potentially. If you can’t see the awesome (or the potential) in someone you probably don’t know them well enough yet.
  24. A failure to appreciate beauty is a moral failing. If you can’t see the beauty in something that many others can, try to figure out why. It may expose an area of potential growth.
  25. Beliefs drive behavior. If you want to change the way you act, first change the way you think.
  26. All behavior makes sense. If someone does something you don’t understand it is because they were thinking something you find incomprehensible. To them it seemed like their best option. Figuring out what they were thinking doesn’t necessarily excuse their behavior, but it does make it sensible.
  27. Root for your team to win, not for the other team to lose.
  28. Chesterton was right: no one should be allowed to remove a fence who cannot explain why it was put there in the first place.
  29. In your profession there are a handful of people you should stalk. You are looking for people who have the same basic strengths as you but who are operating at a higher level with them than you are. Read everything they’ve written, listen to every speech they’ve given, and talk to everyone who knows them. If befriending them is possible, go for it.
  30. Someday you will stand before the Judge, so don’t play the fool with Him now. Fear God like you fear electricity or fire — respect His power.
  31. Trying to be cool is like applying for an off-brand credit card. Even if you attain it, you can’t spend it anywhere it matters.
  32. For my fellow ministers: the purpose of a sermon is to help people believe, understand, and obey God’s Word. You probably naturally emphasize one of these – be sure to deliberately include the other two as well. Strive to preach so that your message is persuasive to a skeptic, comprehensible to a new believer, and applicable to daily life.
  33. A few years ago I heard someone say you should argue like you are right and listen like you are wrong. That’s pretty good advice.
  34. Bad news is like milk not wine; it does not improve with age. Open that bill, read that letter from the IRS, respond to that “we need to talk” text. You can only find the way out once you know where you’re starting from.
  35. Are you single? A first date is only an interview for a second date, so if in doubt ask them out. Have you been asked out? If in doubt, say yes. The question is not: “Do I think I could marry them?” The question is: “Do I find them interesting enough to want to spend a few hours with?” The threshold for going from date 1 to 2 is a little higher, and from 2 to 3 is higher yet.
  36. Footnotes are better than end notes. Side notes rule them all.
  37. There are a few books and authors you will see mentioned repeatedly by the authors you respect the most. Level up and begin reading the authors your authors are reading.
  38. Losing weight is very hard for some people, but don’t assume it is for you until you try it. Resolve that you will be okay with feeling hungry and set a simple rule that you follow ruthlessly. For me, I decided that I would not eat more than 600 calories at any meal and that I would only eat three meals a day with no snacks. It worked really well.
  39. One of the keys to a good beard is shaving your neck. Avoid neck hair.
  40. International students are amazing people. They left everything behind in pursuit of knowledge. Get to know them and be excellent hosts to them.
  41. Forgiveness is about erasing debts. If you forgive a loan, that means that you don’t expect it to be repaid. Likewise, to forgive an offense is to give up your expectation it will be made right. When you have a hard time forgiving someone, ask yourself what it is that you believe you are owed. You might discover you are still holding on to expectations (of an apology, of restitution, of changed behavior, of vengeance, of reconciliation, etc). Put your expectations behind you and move on. If you find you can’t, pray for God to help you. If you can’t even do that then pray, “Lord, I am not yet willing to forgive them. But I am willing to be made willing. Help me.”
  42. Forgiveness is not the same as reconciliation. You can forgive someone without trusting them again.
  43. Not everyone should marry. Singleness is a noble lifestyle. However, most people will marry and who you marry will wind up being far more important than what you do for a living. Do you know what you call a CEO with a failing marriage? Miserable. If you spend a ton of energy and time preparing for a high-impact career while assuming that a good marriage will just happen you are being foolish.
  44. Calendars are better than to-do lists. When you get a task, put it on your calendar. If there’s no time on your calendar you’re just making a false promise by putting that task on your to-do list.
  45. Avoid temptation. When temptation does come your way, flee. Resisting temptation is a fool’s game. Just as flowing water wears down rock, so constant temptation can wear down the strongest willpower.
  46. We are supposed to worship God, love people, and use things. But we often worship things and use people or we idolize people and love things. Keep God first and everything else will fall to its proper place.

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