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Three Things I’ve Learned in Three Decades

On Monday, I turned 30.

It’s kind of bizarre to think about.  In a lot of ways, I’m more than ready to leave my 20s behind.  30 feels like the final transition into full-on adulthood.  Then there’s also the melancholy recognition of time passing and all that.  But rather than write about my current state of navel-gazing, I thought I’d boil down three decades of experience into a few short riffs.  Here’s what I’ve learned thus far in my journey.

Tenacity opens more doors than anything else

Just about every step forward or success in my life can be attributed, at least in part, to tenacity.  Showing up, raising the hand, asking the question, sticking around.  A few years ago a career move started by stepping forward and saying “how can I help?” even though I was pretty clueless.  I’ve been very fortunate to have had people along the way take me in under their wing and show me the ropes, but that wouldn’t have been the case if I’d just checked out when I found myself in over my head and blindly stumbling forward.

I use “tenacity” over “perseverance” for a reason.  To me, perseverance is steady movement in the same direction; an action.  But that can get you into trouble if that direction is wrong, or it can close you off to new, potentially disruptive perspectives.  Tenacity, though, is a posture.  It’s an attitude.  It’s continually showing up, knowing that you’ll make mistakes and make a fool of yourself.  You just keep throwing yourself into the ring, because while perseverance is focused on the success at the end of the difficulty, tenacity revels in the process itself, regardless of outcome.  It’s in Peter saying “where else would I go?”  It’s in Camus’ rebel that Pete Rollins describes.  It’s in Bob Goff’s “go get your books” story.  It’s in Michelle Obama’s parenting philosophy.  See what I mean?

Peace is precious

I can’t think of a more potent force in the world than peace.  Not just the absence of conflict, but the “shalom” type peace, where everything wrong is made right and dissonance is caressed into harmony.  Peace is the social outcome of love in action.  Peace is also a protest, a resistance to letting fear or anger rule our decisions.  And it’s one of  those things that when you catch glimpses of it, or experience small moments of it, you realize what a precious thing it is.

This is why I sign off with “Peace and Tenacity.”  Working to increase peace (or you could call it justice) takes tenacity, and there’s not much of a point of having tenacity if it’s not moving in the direction of peace.

Stories are powerful

The last major thing I’ve learned in these last three decades is the power of story.  Not just a story, but listening to the stories people find themselves in.  Nothing changes opinions, mine included, more powerfully than listening to someone else’s experience.  This has happened to me over and over, and there’s actually some good science behind it.  Our brains actually sync up with the storyteller’s.  I mean just sit with someone and hear them tell you what the world looks like from their point of view.  Spend some time scrolling through the Humans of New York instagram account.  You can’t walk away from an encounter like that unmoved.

One of my favorite musicians talks about it this way:

What is an accomplishment?  I’ll build a big organization and a lot of people will know my name?  In the end, none of that stuff feels as good as sitting across the table from somebody, telling a story, laughing a little, crying a little, raising a glass and hearing that little thing go “bing.”  So I’ve decided that all of life is inside that sound: “bing.” Fellowship and love and laughter and all the things we live for, and are alive for, and are saved for, and are healed for, include sitting down at a table, looking at a person, and going – “bing.” ~John Mark McMillan

So those are a few things that I’ve learned in my first trio of decades on this earth.  In many ways it feels like the journey is just getting started.  Can’t wait to see what 2046 brings.

Peace and Tenacity