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12 Things I’d Tell My 25 Year Old Self (About How to Live and Lead Better)

Leadership / Personal Development //

I recently got a great email from Emily, a promising church leader in her 20s.

Emily asked me a great question: “What would you do differently if you were 25?”

The questions hasn’t left me and I so admire her for asking it.

There’s a bunch of stuff I would do differently. That like many of you, I’ve had to learn to do differently.

But as someone who cares passionately about young leaders and the next generation, I thought it was worth a post and conversation to which I hope you’ll contribute in the comments.

Because, like me, (even if you’re just pushing into your 30s) I’ll bet there are things you wish you’d done differently.

Dear 25 Year Old Self…Listen Up

I did a few things right as a leader, but nothing gives perspective like time and experience. Some mistakes you make as a young adult and leader are inevitable, but not all. In fact, I wish I would have applied or sometimes even known these 12 truths when I was 25.

I’m positive they would have helped me lead and live better earlier.

Here are 12 things I’d tell my 25 year old self:

1. Trust God more at his word

For almost my entire life, I have believed that the Word of God is just that – the Word of God. I always landed on the side of the authority of scripture.

But I would read certain passages and say to myself “Come on….really?” I thought I knew better.

Time and again I have seen God’s word proven to be true not just in principle but in experience. In everything from how husbands ought to treat their wives, to scriptural ethics about relationships, to insights about human nature, finances and leadership, the Bible proves itself accurate again and again.

Disobedience (even slight) comes with a cost that you and the people you love pay again and again.

2. Go to a counselor earlier to sort out your issues so they don’t come into your marriage and family

I got married at 25, and before I got married I swore I had no ‘issues’. When you live by yourself, it’s easy to get along.

Then as ‘issues’ emerged, I made the natural assumption that the blame lay with other people. Until, inevitably, I discovered I had a pile of issues (don’t we all?) I got counseling and help but not until after my wife and kids bore some of the cost of me not dealing with my issues earlier.

Go to a counselor earlier. Get into accountable community earlier. And deal with your issues as early as you can in life.

3. Trust other people earlier

I tend to be fairly trusting up front, but I was very reluctant to trust at a deep level.

I’ve realized most people are not out to get you. They care very deeply, and to the let the right people in early is just a fantastic way to live.

4. Be more selective about who you allow into leadership

I realize this sounds like a contradiction of point 3 above, but I don’t think it is.

Trusting deeply does not mean you should trust everyone deeply. And I lacked the discernment early on to know who to allow into leadership and who not to. In the name of being ‘nice’ or ‘fair’ I often failed to limit leadership to those most qualified to lead.

That always leaves the organization worse off. Not to mention what it does to you as a leader.

5. Drill down on your insecurity faster

Have you ever met a truly secure person? Chances are they didn’t start out that way.

Most of us are on a journey from some kind of insecurity to a deeper sense of security.

Two things would have helped with this. Drilling down on my issues faster would have helped. And study some of the (then) emerging field of emotional intelligence would have really helped.

6. Be less resistant to outside advice

As a leader you tend to have an opinion on everything. I still do.

But the difference between now and then is that now I realize my opinion is often wrong and that wisdom has many counselors. Sometimes I would listen, but it would take me years to implement what I had heard. I had someone tell me to have an assistant schedule my life. It took my almost a decade to fully implement that advice. It’s the only reason I can do everything I do and still do it well.

I wish I had been less defensive to outside ‘advice’ when I was starting out and had listened longer.

7. Take your physical health seriously

I only started taking my physical health more seriously a few years ago when I hit my forties.

My wife has always been healthy, but I consistently ignored healthier food options and exercise. The energy of youth can disguise a lot the damage you’re doing to your body by not eating right or working out. And, no, spiritual fitness does not override your need for physical fitness. We are called to love God with all our heart, mind soul and strength.

By the time I was in my late thirties, I was 40 pounds heavier than I was at 25. Fortunately, now I’m closing in on a few pounds of where I was in my mid 20s. Wish it hadn’t taken 20 years. And I’ve also discovered a love of cycling. I feel so much better.

8. Spend less time reinventing the wheel trying to be ‘unique’

I think most leaders want to quietly leave a little dent in the universe. At least some of us do.

What I figured out a decade into my leadership is that most of what I spend my days trying to do has been done by someone else, often better.

If there are synergies to be had by borrow a strategy from someone else, often it makes sense just to do that. I wish I had stopped trying to be so original earlier and copied what could easily be copied, focusing my creative strengths on those things that would bring the best and most unique value to our team and organization.

9. Find mentors earlier

I wish I had found more mentors earlier.

Two things fueled my hesitation:

I didn’t clearly see my need for them

Even when I did I was afraid to ask

Fortunately for me, three years into my time as a senior leader a mentor ‘adopted’ me and I began to see the value in mentorship. I just wish I had asked a few more people earlier. My life is so much better now for having half a dozen mentors in my life.

10. Focus on productivity, not just effort

I’ve always had a high capacity for work. But sometimes I would put in more hours than I need to.

I did too much solo early on, not employing a team. And often my methods meant I wasn’t as productive as I could have been.

You don’t get points for working 60 or 70 hour weeks. You get points for producing results.

I could have either shaved hours off my work week earlier or produced much more in the time I spent working by engaging a team earlier and focusing on productivity sooner.

11. Be comfortable being yourself

How much effort gets wasted wishing you were someone else, had a different gift set or been wired differently than you are? In my case, way too much.

In as much as you shouldn’t spin your wheels reinventing what you don’t need to (Point 8 above), there’s also a sense in which you need to become more of whom God designed you to be. Wisdom knows the difference between the two.

I wished I would have become more comfortable being who God designed me to be earlier.

12. Enjoy life more

At 25 I wish I would have enjoyed life more. I probably still struggle with this. I’m driven enough to spend my hours thinking about what could be rather than enjoying what is.

I would have enjoyed God more, life more, my kids more, people more, daily interactions more…and just maybe taken a breath.

Just because you’re driven doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy the life God has given you.

Those are 12 things I would definitely tell my 25 year old self.

What would you add to the list? Leave a comment!





About the Author

Carey Nieuwhof is lead pastor of Connexus Community Church and author of the best selling books, Leading Change Without Losing It and Parenting Beyond Your Capacity. Carey speaks to North American and global church leaders about change, leadership, and parenting. Follow Carey on Twitter: