Equipping My 17-Year-Old Self with 5 Hard-Earned Lessons to Overcome Life Obstacles and Navigate with Resilience

Published on
April 18, 2024

On August 31, 2023, I retired after completing 21 years of military service in the Marine Corps, Army National Guard, and Navy Chaplaincy. On September 1, I began a new chapter - post-military life.

I wrote this post on Labor Day, 2023 - my first after military retirement. This seems like a good time to write about the life lessons I have learned over the last 40 years. This is a long post. Please stick with me and invest in your future.

Forty years ago, I was 17. I’ve never been good at receiving advice from peers and those more seasoned than me. I always thought:

  • I’ve got it figured out. They are too old for me to learn anything from them.
  • Things are different now.
  • They don’t understand how different things are for me than when they were my age.

Now that I am a couple of years past my mid-fifties, I must pass along things I’ve learned over the past forty years to rising generations.

I’ve spent two decades serving people in a professional capacity. I offered life advice, hearing their stories and walking them through their struggles. I spent most of those years serving as a Navy Chaplain. Generation Z (ages 17-25) makes up 52% of the military force, and about 43% are Millennials (27-42).

My children are both Millennials (20 and 24). Though I am 57, my professional and personal life required me to understand the mindset of young leaders.

I’ve learned a few things along my journey, personally and professionally. I contend that if you will implement the following life lessons built over the last 40 years, you will accelerate your life. You will unlock hard-earned, experience-based wisdom.

Now, let's dive in.

Life Lesson #1: Make Decisions Slowly

In our fast-paced world, making decisions quickly has become the norm. We are constantly bombarded with choices and expectations, leaving little time for careful consideration.

There is great value in taking a step back and making decisions slowly. This life lesson is not about procrastination or indecisiveness but rather about giving ourselves the time and space to make well-thought-out choices.

Why does this matter? Making decisions slowly allows us to evaluate our options and consider the potential consequences fully. It will enable us to gather more information, seek advice from others, and reflect on our values and priorities. We avoid impulsive decisions that lead to regret or negative outcomes by thinking things through.

Let me share a quick story that illustrates the importance of making decisions slowly. Meet Laura, a young professional offered a job promotion with a significant pay raise. Excited by the prospect of more money and prestige, she immediately accepted without considering other aspects such as work-life balance or job satisfaction.

On the other hand, Mark was offered a similar promotion but decided to take his time before answering. He considered the financial benefits and how the promotion aligned with his long-term goals and personal values.

Fast forward six months later:

  • Laura finds herself overwhelmed with work demands, sacrificing her personal life for career advancement. She regrets not considering all aspects of her decision before accepting the promotion.
  • Mark feels fulfilled in his new role because he made an informed decision based on careful consideration. He researched and reflected on the job offer, considering factors such as work-life balance, growth opportunities, and personal interests, resulting in a career that brings them fulfillment and satisfaction.

Someone who doesn't make decisions slowly may choose based on immediate gratification or external pressures such as societal expectations or financial gains alone.

This can lead to dissatisfaction in various aspects of life - whether it's career choices that don't align with personal values or relationships formed too hastily without proper evaluation.

On the other hand, someone who practices making decisions slowly experiences a mini-transformation. They become more self-aware, confident, and in tune with their needs and desires. They develop the ability to make choices that align with their values and long-term goals. By taking the time to make decisions slowly, they are more likely to find fulfillment and success in their endeavors.

Making decisions slowly is a valuable life lesson that allows us to make thoughtful choices. By giving ourselves the gift of time and reflection, we can avoid impulsive decisions and instead make choices that align with our values and aspirations.

Practicing the art of making decisions slowly is transformative. We empower ourselves with clarity and confidence in making choices that align with our values and ultimately contribute positively towards our overall well-being and success.

The next time you face an important decision, take a step back, breathe, and give yourself time for thoughtful consideration. Slow decision-making will make a powerful, positive impact on your life.

Life Lesson #2: Know Your Life Vision

Knowing your life vision is a powerful tool that will shape the course of your life. A straightforward life vision matters. It leads to personal fulfillment and success.

A clear sense of our life vision provides us with direction and purpose.

Imagine driving without knowing your destination. You may go in circles, wasting time and energy on roads that lead nowhere.

Similarly, without a clear life vision, you may be drifting aimlessly through life, lacking direction and purpose.

Let me share a quick story illustrating the importance of knowing your life vision.

Meet Joan and John - two individuals at different stages of their lives.

  • Joan has always had a clear vision of what she wants to achieve - she dreams of becoming an accomplished writer and making a positive impact through her words.
  • John has never taken the time to define his life vision; he goes with the flow, taking on whatever opportunities come his way.

Joan diligently works towards her writing goals every day. She invests time in honing her skills, seeking opportunities to publish her work, and connecting with like-minded individuals in the industry.

As a result, she experiences a sense of fulfillment and joy as she sees her dreams turning into reality.

In contrast, John constantly jumps from one job to another without real satisfaction or purpose. He feels stuck in an endless cycle of monotony and lacks motivation to pursue his passions.

Joan can make decisions aligned with her goals and values due to her life vision. She knows what truly matters to her and can prioritize accordingly.

John feels overwhelmed by the multitude of choices available to him because he hasn't defined what he truly wants out of life.

Knowing your life vision:

  • Is a necessity for personal growth and fulfillment.
  • Allows you to set meaningful goals that align with your values and aspirations.
  • Provides clarity amidst uncertainty and helps you navigate through life's challenges with a sense of purpose
  • Gives you the motivation and drive to overcome obstacles and stay focused on your path.
  • Guides you towards meaningful experiences and achievements.

The transformation that occurs when you know your life vision is remarkable. You become more confident in your choices based on a deep understanding of who you are and what you want to achieve. You develop a sense of inner peace and fulfillment, knowing that every step you take leads you closer to your desired destination.

Take the time to reflect on what truly matters to you and define your life vision. You will gain a roadmap that guides you toward a future filled with joy, satisfaction, and personal growth.

Watch as it transforms your life in ways you never thought possible.

Life Lesson #3: Be Teachable

Being teachable is a valuable trait that profoundly impacts our personal and professional growth. In a constantly evolving world, being open to learning and embracing new ideas is essential for success.

This life lesson matters. It allows us to expand our knowledge, improve our skills, and adapt to change.

Let me share with you a quick story that illustrates the importance of being teachable:

Imagine two young Marines reporting to their first day at a new command.

  • Marine A approaches his role in the command with a closed mindset, believing he already knows everything there is to know. He resists feedback and is unwilling to learn from others. His young career stalls, and he is not promoted
  • Marine B embraces a teachable attitude; she actively seeks colleague guidance and eagerly absorbs new information. As time goes on, Marine B demonstrates remarkable growth, quickly becomes an invaluable member of the team, is recognized as a leader, and begins to promote

Someone who isn’t teachable finds themselves stuck in their ways or unable to adapt when faced with change. They may miss valuable growth opportunities simply because they are unwilling to learn from others.

Those who embrace being teachable experience numerous benefits:

  • They acquire new knowledge and skills to enhance their personal and professional lives. By seeking guidance from experts or mentors in their respective fields, they gain insights that can propel them forward.
  • Being teachable allows individuals to develop better relationships with others. When we show humility by acknowledging that we don't know everything, we create an environment where collaboration thrives. By valuing the perspectives of others and remaining open-minded during discussions or debates, we foster stronger connections with colleagues and friends alike.
  • Embracing a teachable spirit leads to personal growth and self-improvement. It encourages us to step out of our comfort zones, confront our weaknesses, and challenge ourselves to become better versions of ourselves. We overcome obstacles and achieve our goals through continuous learning and a willingness to adapt.

By adopting a teachable mindset, one undergoes a mini-transformation within themselves. They become more receptive to new ideas and perspectives, fostering personal and professional growth.

Being teachable allows individuals to cultivate humility as they acknowledge that they don't have all the answers. It encourages a sense of curiosity and a willingness to explore new possibilities.

With each new lesson learned, teachable individuals become more resilient, adaptable, and better equipped to navigate life's challenges.

True wisdom comes from what we know and recognize how much more remains to learn.

Life Lesson #4: Be a Life-Long-Learner

In this fast-paced and ever-changing world, being a lifelong learner cannot be emphasized enough. Pursuing knowledge and continuous learning is beneficial and essential for personal growth, development, and success.

Why does this matter?

Imagine a stagnant pond versus a flowing river. The stagnant pond remains unchanged, while the river constantly adapts and evolves.

Individuals who embrace lifelong learning are like the flowing river - they are open to new ideas, experiences, and perspectives.

Allow me to share a quick story to illustrate this point. Meet Sarah and Bill l - two individuals with different approaches to learning.

Sarah is a lifelong learner; she actively seeks opportunities to expand her knowledge through books, courses, workshops, and conversations with experts in various fields.

Bill is content with what he already knows; he believes his existing knowledge is sufficient to navigate life.

The result?

  • Sarah's thirst for knowledge enables her to gain wisdom in different areas of life - from career advancements to personal relationships. She becomes adaptable and resilient as she acquires new skills and stays updated on industry trends.
  • Bill finds himself stuck in his comfort zone; his lack of curiosity limits his growth potential. He is quickly left behind in his organization.

Life becomes stagnant for someone like Bill, who resists learning opportunities outside his comfort zone. They will struggle to adapt to technological changes or society's evolving demands.

For those who choose to be lifelong learners like Sarah, mini-transformations occur along their journey. They become more confident as they acquire new knowledge and skills. They develop critical thinking abilities that enable them to approach problems differently.

The transformation that occurs when we commit ourselves as lifelong learners is remarkable - a journey of personal growth and self-discovery. We become more confident, insightful, and capable of making informed decisions.

Learning becomes a joyful pursuit rather than a chore as we realize that knowledge is not just power but an endless source of inspiration.

By embracing lifelong learning, individuals open themselves to endless personal and professional development possibilities. Embrace the role of lifelong learners and embark on a journey of discovery that will enrich your life.

Life Lesson #5: Build a Rhythm of Life

In our fast-paced and ever-changing world, it's easy to get caught up in the chaos and lose sight of what truly matters. Building a rhythm of life is crucial for our overall well-being and happiness.

Why does building a rhythm of life matter? Imagine trying to dance without any sense of rhythm or attempting to play a musical instrument without understanding the beat. It would be chaotic, disjointed, and ultimately unsatisfying.

We risk burning out when we constantly push ourselves without giving our bodies and minds time to rest and recharge.

Building a rhythm of life allows us to find a balance between work, play, and self-care, ensuring that we have enough energy to navigate life's challenges.

Without a life rhythm, we will quickly become overwhelmed, stressed, and burnt out.

Let me illustrate:

  • Meet Elizabeth, an ambitious professional who constantly pushed herself to work long hours and take on more responsibilities. She rarely took breaks or allowed herself time for self-care. As a result, Elizabeth found herself constantly exhausted, emotionally drained, and struggling to find joy in her work.
  • Then there's Alex. He is someone who consciously built a rhythm into their life. Alex recognized the importance of taking regular breaks throughout the day and prioritizing self-care activities such as exercise and spending quality time with loved ones. Despite having similar workloads as Elizabeth, Alex could approach tasks with renewed energy and focus due to their well-established rhythms.

Someone who doesn't build a life rhythm like Alex may experience heightened stress levels and decreased productivity over time due to burnout or lack of motivation. They may struggle with maintaining healthy relationships or finding fulfillment in their daily activities.

By incorporating small changes into our daily routines - such as setting aside regular breaks throughout the day and scheduling time for hobbies - we can experience mini-transformations in our lives. We will feel more energized during the day, able to handle stress better, and have more clarity in decision-making processes.

Building a rhythm of life is not about achieving perfection but finding what works best for you. It's about prioritizing self-care, setting boundaries, and creating sustainable habits that nourish your body and mind. You will cultivate resilience, find joy in your daily routines, and lead more fulfilling lives.

My Hope for You

So five life lessons for my 17-year-old self:

Lesson 1: Make Decisions Slowly

Lesson 2: Know Your Life Vision

Lesson 3: Be Teachable

Lesson 4: Be a Life-Long Learner

Lesson 5: Build a Rhythm of Life

These hard-learned lessons have served me well over the last 40 years. It took years for me to embrace most of them. Some I’m still working on.

Friends, embrace these lessons earlier in your life than I did. Your future self will thank you.

Practicing all five lessons is a worthy investment regardless of age and will lead you toward your best life.

I wish you well in your life journey.

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