My Top Ten Life Lessons at Age 40 Reaching a Milestone
Yesterday was a memorable day in my life: I turned 40 years old! Ouch. And drum roll please…
I proposed to my girlfriend. Joanne Haddad, thank you for agreeing to spend your life with me! I will introduce her to you on the blog in the near future.
As the ominous date of January 3rd loomed nearer, I reflected on life and extracted the top 10 lessons I have learned. As I share them with you here, I hope they add value to your journey.
I thank God for keeping me safe as I lived through the civil war in Lebanon as a boy, immigrated to the United States as a teenager, and endured a grueling medical residency to become a physician at age 30. I am grateful for those who have loved me, worked with me, supported me, and believed in me these 40 years. As I look back over my life, the relationships which mean the most to me are those defined by love. To my mom and dad, my siblings, and my close friends, family, and work partners, I especially want you to know I am so blessed to have you in my life.
- Only God matters: Pursue Him incessantly; obey Him consistently. I could die tomorrow. Actually I could die before I even turn 40. (I draft my blogs two weeks before they publish.) I may live to 97 like my grandfather, or to 65 like my father. I don’t know. No one can guarantee his or her next breath. Therefore we must be mindful of eternity and see the value of our life through the lens of heaven. In the Bible, Solomon clearly states that nothing matters except God, but I seem to forget it. In Ecclesiastes, he says, “I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Even though he asked God for wisdom and was the wisest man who ever lived, Solomon says even wisdom is meaningless. In Ecclesiastes 12:13, he sums it up for us, “Here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments.” For me, Fear God means to acknowledge, revere, and honor Him. The book of Ecclesiastes is chock full of life wisdom. I encourage you to make it your goal to read it in 2016. As leaders, it is easy to ignore God as we pursue our dreams or when success derails our life focus. Many times in my life I have neglected my relationship with God and His leading. Though God was always there, He was not first in my life. We must guard against that.
- Prioritize your life: Don’t let opportunities hijack your priorities. Success in one area can divert us from experiencing success in the rest. For the last 20 years, my career often overtook my life. I often ignored other important priorities like my health, my friends, or even my family. As leaders, our tendency may be to pour ourselves into our successes and neglect other areas of importance. One of the most common examples I see is when one experiences success in their career at the expense of their marriage and family. Why do we avoid areas where we are less successful? Because it does not feel good to remain steadfast in our failures. It’s natural to avoid them. I have learned we must courageously identify our priorities, write them down, and review them weekly. We must be mindful to allocate our time, efforts, and resources to see that our priorities are nurtured and healthy.
- Grow yourself intentionally: Be a master student. Fall in love with reading. We must remember to keep ourselves in the “I Don’t Know” zone. Otherwise, overconfidence produces ignorance. Work harder on yourself than anything else you do, and remember that growth is not automatic. It requires that we have a plan and systems in place to keep us intentionally developing. The level of impact you can make in life mirrors the level of your growth. When we grow, our world will change for the better. Socrates says that the unexamined life is not worth living. Plato says that the highest success in life is victory over self. What kind of growth is required? Spiritual, relational, emotional, our character, thinking, and our ability to teach others—really, every area of importance to you. If you have a problem in your life, it’s truly an opportunity for growth. Rather than living a life speculating where others need to grow, I have learned to take my own growth very seriously.
- Love people deeply: Love everyone like you love your children. Is that possible? Yes, and I believe it should be our aim. The Bible teaches unconditional, sacrificial love, and is modeled by our Father. When you love others in this way, healing occurs. Without question, love is the secret to successful leadership. When people feel loved, they almost always come with you; they will do anything for you because they know you will do anything for them. Sometimes we feel we are unable to love. We are hurting and don’t feel like we have much to give to others. Therefore, we must constantly work on our character and our focus. Let us seek to love more deeply, to love everyone, and to love in all circumstances—especially when others are hurting us. Think about it this way: when your kids say hurtful things to you, do you still love them? Most of us would say yes. This is the same level we should aim to love others. May God increase my capacity to love more.
- Understand your emotions: If you don’t control your emotions, you will always be bound. I landed in tornadic weather at DFW Airport last week. It was the same night North Texas was devastated by several weather-related deaths. Our plane was getting pummeled by strong winds. The pilot had to abort the landing and take another approach on a different runway. Thank God we landed safely. This is how emotions can be: strong forces that can take us down and destroy us. How we feel is real, my friend. Strong emotions affect our neurologic biology so much that they always distort reality. So, we must be aware of our emotional state and guard our thinking, our words, and our decisions during highly-emotional times. Sometimes I feel defeated, like I cannot “go on” anymore. It doesn’t happen frequently, but sometimes the feeling can last for days. I am careful not to make a lot of decisions when I am experiencing those feelings. I wait until it passes. I’ve learned we should spend our lives understanding how emotions work and how we can manage them effectively.
- Discipline your thoughts: If you think good thoughts, you will live a great life. For years, I didn’t know I could choose what to think about. Thoughts do not have to be automatic, like birds flying in the sky and landing on your brain without permission. It takes practice to block certain thoughts, especially when we are elevated emotionally. It requires practice to implant other thoughts. While our thoughts can run rampant and wild, we can stop them and tame them.
- Live a life of giving, not getting: Give everything you can to anyone you can. When we start out in life, we are given everything: sustenance, comfort, entertainment, education, and relationships. At some point in life we have to decide we want to start giving. What do we give? Whatever we have. And giving is most precious, not just when giving material things, but giving of our time, effort, and love. Even a warm hug that says “I love you” is so rare. When our story is written, and the book of our life is closed, what will be said of us? He gave a lot? Or he got a lot?
- Dream big: Aim high and don’t fear failure. Fight hard. Listen to the critics, then ignore them if you decide to move in another direction. Failure is profitable if you use it to your advantage. Of course failure resulting from laziness is not good. But if I am doing my best to try something new, failure is great. You fail when you don’t fail. Many are the forces that tell us to stop dreaming, to get real, to be practical. We must choose to rise above those forces and dedicate ourselves to see our dreams through to reality.
- Elevate others: When others around you rise, success is around the corner. The reality is that we could all use a hand from time to time. We all need encouragement and an uplifting word. The best of us are those who make it their business to make the rest of us better. Make it a practice to see others succeed.
- Enjoy life: Stop, slow down, and be grateful. In our pursuit of great things, we often miss opportunities to pause. I have failed in this so often, but we must resist this habit, particularly as leaders. Train your mind to be present and engaged. Smile deeply. Embrace the people around you. Invest yourself into people by becoming a good listener. Thank others and thank God for their impact in your life. To enjoy the moment and truly value those around us is practiced by the wisest among us.
Thanks to each of you for allowing me to be part of your journey! I am honored.
What I Am Reading Now: JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and Sino-Indian War by Bruce Riedel
For Further Reading: