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30 Tips For My 20-Year-Old Self

By Nick Brzozowski

I turn 30 this week, so it's given me a chance to look back. Here are some of the things I might say if I could go back 10 years and talk to my younger self.

Tip 1: Try to buy a house.

When I was 20, I assumed buying a house was impossible without looking into it. Thinking back, we probably could have afforded a 3% downpayment and would have had several years accruing equity in the home. Maybe we weren’t making enough to be approved for a loan, but I wish we would have given it a try.

Tip 2: Get a dishwasher.

I don’t care how you do it. Just do it.

Tip 3: You aren’t sinning just because you are angry.

I was constantly frustrated - mostly at myself. I couldn’t keep up with all my obligations. I couldn’t keep the weight off. I couldn’t manage to get up at 5:00am like I promised myself. But, I was also frustrated with ministry - why aren’t we more effective? I would get frustrated with Hannah, wondering why she doesn’t understand the pressures I feel. The problem was I never went very deep with my feelings. I would confess to God - “Lord, I’m sorry for getting mad and having a fight with Hannah.” But, that is as far as it went. By equating my anger to sin, I didn’t reflect enough on the deeper reasons I was so frustrated. Only later, I came to realize just how unrealistic my expectations where — especially, the expectations I put on Hannah.

Tip 4: Stand up for yourself.

Growing up without a dad, I have been intimidated by older men and authority figures. I needed to know that it is ok to disappoint them every once in a while. And it is ok to say “no,” to set limits, to assert myself, or to negotiate, even with bosses.

Tip 5: Start running.

You’ll actually be good at it. It will boost your confidence when you can go further and further.

Tip 6: Don’t use tape when painting edges.

Trust me. Learn to free hand it.

Tip 7: Celebrate wins.

Gratitude is a spiritual discipline. It’s vital for your soul and your brain. God is doing good things around you all the time. Be grateful and recognize them.

Tip 8: Learn to love failure.

I would have really liked to get a head start on this one. We aren’t growing without failure. But, man, I took failure so hard. Slowly, I am improving. Like losing in a video game, failure is helping me want to get better next time.

Tip 9: Ask Hannah what’s bothering her, but don’t fix it.

Anyone who has been married for some time learns this mystery. Sometimes people just need to talk through their problems, without resolving them. Hannah is smart and capable to solve her problems. Seriously, she doesn't need me saving her! But, asking how she is and what is bothering her has been a huge way to serve her.

Tip 10: Learn to think in funnels.

When we started out with Anchor Church, one of the first things I did was ask salespeople and business people questions. And every single one of them not only knew about funnels, but that was the way they understood their work. They all constantly had an idea (if not, a data base) of who they were reaching out to and at what level their potential clients were at. Leveraging funnels-thinking has been indispensable for Anchor and could have helped me in youth ministry as well. But, not only in business or ministry, but in any relationship. Thinking in funnels means that it is a win to spend time with a non-Christian, not just to convert them.

Tip 11: Map out friendships.

Growing up in a drug-abuse home, relationships did not naturally to me. I knew they mattered, but I was just too goal-oriented. So, it would have helped to map out my friendships. Who are the friends that I trust the most and most want to emulate? Am I spending the most time with them?

Tip 12: Family is forever.

Friendships will come and go, but your family doesn’t go anywhere. Invest in your relationships with your family as much as possible.

Tip 13: Pick up a Marvel comic book.

Marvel is going to take up much of your life. It is going to get big! So, get a comic book and you’ll make the movies even more fun.

Tip 14: Create regular to-don’t lists.

I got this one from Craig Groeschel. We can never reach our full potential if we keep adding on one commitment after another. If I could go back, I would force myself to say “no” to so many things, even just for the practice. Do you really need to lead two small groups in your house? Do you really need to read every page from that book? Do you have to go on every retreat or missions trip? Do you have to buy every book on the syllabus? Saying “no” will take a level of skill, so learn negotiation skills.

Tip 15: Be more curious and less judgmental.

I always tended to get along with anyone. But, looking back, I was a bit judgmental. I wish I knew how much I could learn from anyone, especially people who thought differently than me.

Tip 16: Focus 98% on input goals.

Don’t worry about attendance. Focus on growth builders. Don’t worry about your weight. Focus on being calorie deficient. Don’t worry about how well you preached one time. Focus on what you are doing to improve your preaching ten years from now. Don’t worry so much about your grade. Focus on learning and growing. Don’t worry about saving people. Focus on serving people.

Tip 17: You don’t need people to think that you are perfect.

One reason why I have a hard time recovering from negative news and disappointment is because I worry too much about what others think of me. This line, I repeat to myself every single day to rewire my brain.

Tip 18: Rest is like deodorant - you can’t live without it.

So much of my early twenties, I was drained, burnt out, and not feeling it. I was in full time ministry and full time school, and I felt it. I pushed myself to my limits constantly. It actually took me years after graduating TEDS to finally begin to feel rested and calm and at peace, without having to always be producing something. I would tell my 20 year old self to get your full 8 hours of sleep, take a full day off, and take more breaks.

Tip 19: Enjoy God’s presence.

So much of my relationship with God was what I did for him. So, with my Bible reading and prayer, it was still checking off a list. I probably would have been better spending five minutes a day quietly meditating on his love and maybe one verse than spending an hour a day reading and praying with all intensity. My relationship with God isn't supposed to be a to do list - it's a relationship.

Tip 20: You will actually like your dog, eventually.

Actually, I really love my dog. Don’t tell Hannah!

Tip 21: Lower your expectations.

My late teens and early twenties were all about dreaming big, BHAG goals and believing in a God who could make the sun stand still. All this was good, but way too much. Recently, I asked an executive pastor from Eaglebrook in Minnesota (one of the country’s largest churches) how they choose goals that would be motivating. What he said was powerful. “It all depends.” Does the team need small, quick wins? Or is the team already winning and needs a big, intimidating challenge? Most of my twenties, I just needed quick wins. Instead, my wins came few and far between, giving me a sinking sense of dread and a constant feeling of anxiety, knowing that I was trying to do more than I was able. As I have learned to lower my expectations, I now end events celebrating that it was a success, instead of fixating on it for a week that three more people didn’t come.

Tip 22: Ask for help.

Don’t see asking as weakness. Don’t see it as bothering. See it as blessing. See it as a skill to foster.

Tip 23: Go big with appreciation.

You will never regret thanking people too much or giving gifts with too much creativity.

Tip 24: Stop blowing so much money on eating out.

For anniversaries, Hannah likes cute cafes more than expensive restaurants! And you don’t have to eat out three times a week just because you are asked to hang out with friends.

Tip 25: Attendance is not your identity.

Stepping into the world of ministry, it is difficult to know how I was doing. Much of my 20’s, I would know exactly where I stood in school, getting new grades every week. But, how did I know if I was a good youth pastor? Just like school, my grades came every week when we counted how many teens showed up at the building. So, I threw myself into every way I could to grow the youth group year after year. And I managed to grow it from 60 all the way up to 30. Here’s the problem with letting attendance dictate your identity: it sucks. I was miserable. I was anxious. My confidence was crushed. And what I know now is that so many factors that go into attendance were outside of my control. There was a lot happening in the rest of the church that contributed to attendance dropping. There was a lot happening in the rest of the culture that also contributed. And even if the reason was that I was a bad youth pastor, so what? I can be good at other things. It is just not worth it. Being a good pastor isn't my identity. My identity before God is much more important and he calls me "his".

Tip 26: Add laughing and fun to your checklist.

This stuff boosts creativity and energy and improves mood. Take it seriously. Tell jokes for fun. Shoot hoops. Don’t feel bad when you are playing video games.

Tip 27: Learn some memory techniques.

Your studying will be way more efficient and enjoyable if you learn some of the different techniques out there. Don’t waste your time mindlessly writing out your Greek vocabulary and grammar. Instead, challenge yourself. Come up with pneumonic devices. You will learn way better that way in less time.

Tip 28: You are never too busy to show Hannah that she matters.

So much of our fights had to do with me being too busy for Hannah. Looking back, I was too busy. I could've said “no” more often. But, I also could’ve still honored Hannah without skipping out on my homework. My whole demeanor, from the tone of my voice to the facial expression I gave, told Hannah that I was too busy for her, that I am dealing with more important things, that she should feel bad for interrupting me. Years of that took a pretty nice toll on her. In counseling, I learned something pretty obvious. Even without changing my plans and schedules and goals, I could still show Hannah honor. Instead of an “I’m busy” look, I could stop for two minutes to explain what I am doing and assure her that I love her and would much rather be watching a movie with her. I was never too busy for that.

Tip 29: Start new habits.

Learning how to form new habits is way more fun and will serve you better than trying to be more disciplined. Apply all the techniques you can to make habit-forming simple, easy and enjoyable. Working out will only be a daily routine when you learn to make it fun (and discover podcasts!).

Tip 30: That negative voice in your head is not God.

God loves you deeply. He is proud of you. He is for you. And you are enough.


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