In 1990 I returned from doing mission work in New Zealand and it was time to buy a car. I was young, inexperienced, and ill equipped for the task. I went to a local used car dealership and bought an old conversion van that ended up costing me far more in headaches and repairs than the few dollars I thought I was saving. It was the first car lot and first car I looked at – mistake. This week we shopped for a good used car and I spent weeks scouring the internet, driving different vehicles, and reviewing dealerships – in the end we feel we bought a really good car. Some things you only learn through experience. Here are ten lessons I learned at the school of hard knocks (in no particular order).
- Pay yourself first. When we are young there are so many things we want and money is tight. There is no way to save when you can hardly make ends meet. WRONG! Pay yourself first. Set aside a few dollars for savings, retirement, or a rainy day fund and you will never regret it. I learned if my savings come out first, I quickly learn to adjust to living on what is left.
- Give to good works. There is a lot of “prosperity doctrine” being taught in the world today, but that isn’t the reason we give. If I only give so that I can get something in return, I haven’t developed a charitable heart. Giving is about nurturing what is good and honorable in our lives.
- People are paying attention. Whether it’s your children, or friends at church, or the people you work with – people are paying attention. You have influence, even if it’s only doing your job to the best of your ability. After 55 years I am constantly amazed at the things people remember about me. Stories from my youth, people I worked with decades ago, it never ceases to amaze me what people remember.
- Don’t burn bridges. I can only think of one job in my entire career where I wouldn’t be invited back. I have always tried to do a respectable job and leave on good terms. Even when the situation or environment isn’t exactly nurturing those relationships are important. People talk in any industry and that can be a blessing or a curse. I was recently offered a job in an area I lived in 18 years ago. The opportunity came simply because I maintained a good relationship with all my friends and co-workers dating back decades.
- Know when to compromise and when to stand. This is a tough one. There are times that you have to compromise if you are going to succeed in this world. Marriage requires compromise, working on a team requires compromise, deciding which movie to watch can require compromise. There are however times you cannot compromise! If you are to remain a person of principle and character, there are times you must not bend. Here are a few of mine: a) My faith is non-negotiable. I believe in God. I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible and I believe that God’s way is better than my way. b) Don’t mess with the people I love. I will defend them to the death – enough said. c) Don’t expect me to change my core values – God, country, family, guns, and moral decency (just to name a few).
- Unchecked power corrupts. Whether you are talking about politics, religion, or the workplace – the world needs a system of checks and balances. Even good people will surrender to their baser nature if you put them in situations that are unregulated. Put safeguards in place for people in power.
- Err on the side of benevolence. We see people selling papers on the street corner, or a homeless person approaches you in a parking lot and our first reaction might be, “get a job.” A dear friend coined those words years ago when I was struggling with all the panhandlers who came by the church, “err on the side of benevolence.” Does it really kill me to buy them lunch, or show a little kindness? Be wise, but be compassionate.
- Step outside your comfort zone. Those are the areas of growth. It is like a blade of grass pushing through the cracks in the concrete reaching for the light. Accept that life is a challenge that calls us to growth, strength, and greater maturity.
- Be careful with the advice you give. I have heard well-meaning people give foolish advice in order to “make someone feel better.” Marriage is the best example. A couple is struggling and people will say things like, “take care of yourself,” or “move on if your not happy.” In situations where they don’t know the depths of the issues they are preaching platitudes that may be more destructive than helpful.
- Find a source of catharsis. We all need to blow of steam, but it needs to be a healthy release. Kicking the dog and yelling at the kids is not a healthy approach to handling stress. I use sports or a trip to the gym, others like a hot bath or massage – figure out what works for you.
I am sure we have all learned some lessons on life – please share one or two of the lessons life teaches you.