The motivation for this article is partly because it's the New Year and everyone loves a good list, but it's also partly because of a talk that I heard when I was 17. The talk was given to the youth group I attended and it was entitled 'things I wish I knew before I was 30,' the guy speaking was someone we all looked up to, and the talk has stuck with me ever since.
Ask more questions
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so I'm sure he won't mind me stealing at least one of his ideas, which was to always ask more questions. His advice was: when meeting new people or having conversations with anyone, you should always try to ask lots of questions, and to act genuinely interested in them, to create and develop an inquisitive mind. Sparking up a conversation with a stranger after forming this habit will seem strangely easy. This little piece of advice changed my life; I in turn became a journalist.
Not only career defining for me, being comfortable at small talk can help to avoid social awkwardness, and being actively interested in people means you'll never be short of friends. The French theologian Abélard points out that in Luke's Gospel, the little boy Jesus is sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. If Jesus can listen and ask questions, Abélard says, who are we to think we are better than him?
Converse well with someone at least 10 years your senior
Talking to people who you like and relate to easily is one thing, but people you've always considered to be older or wiser is something most teenagers or young twenty-something's may choose to avoid. I found in my school and university years that teachers, professors or bosses seemed to be on another level of social standing, and they'd rarely meet at the same level of conversation with a few great exceptions. It was perhaps mostly my fault for being too shy and not listening to my own advice from point number one.
For most students whose world has been solely their peers for 22 or more odd years, it can be a huge adjustment entering the workforce, being forced to rub shoulders with people much older. It's taken me some time to be able to talk more in-depth and comfortably with people much older, but I've found these are the people that often have the most to offer.
Pick a new genre
If you read and learn about the things you're already well clued up on, it's easy to become a one trick pony; people will avoid a conversation with you about "that" topic, because that's all you care about. When you don't have to research and read widely for any particular study, purpose or something external to your own preferences, you can find yourself in a rut and one of the branches of your knowledge tree may become far bigger than the rest. Although, it's ok to have a hobby horse, a big goal of mine for 2014, is to be more balanced in my reading, and to learn things I know nothing about.
Write a note to say something to someone you wouldn't normally do in person
Here's one of those tricky practical ones you will no doubt want to avoid. It's easy to write a note to a close friend or family member, but choosing to write a note of substance, saying how much you're sorry or how much you care about someone when there's some tension or past hurts there will take some courage to put the pen to paper. As a kiwi bloke, this certainly comes under the heading of "do something that scares you every day."
About two months ago at the prompting of a group of friends, I wrote my younger brother who I haven't seen much of in a while a small letter that I posted in the mail saying how much he meant to me, and how I wanted to be able to hang out more and see more of him and his new wife. The idea of it seemed daunting, but at the same time after the letter was sent, freeing. It was a simple letter, but it said something I'd struggle to verbalise.
I've learnt you can actually have a good fight, a good battle of words that leaves both parties feeling heard, validated and not at each other's throats. Angry conversation in turn creates an angry attitude. With maturity and assertiveness you can argue well with it looking more like a chess game than a boxing bout.
I'm a classic people-pleasing peacemaker; when someone starts a verbal sparring match, or I'm faced with an ignorant statement that I disagree with, my first reaction is to ignore, deflect or possibly change the subject. Voicing your opinion in a debate I've learnt is actually just part of life and it can be done well using the right techniques and dose of humility, remembering that it's ok to agree to disagree and it's ok to say: yea you're right, I'm wrong.
Taking the blinders off
Possibly the biggest mark of maturity I've noticed in people leaving that late teens, early twenties age, is the recognition that life is not all about them. The theory is well known, but the application takes time and effort, and sadly some people miss the memo all together. To understand that everyone is autonomous, that everyone has their own interesting way of looking at life, and discovering that sometimes your opinions and ideas are simply misguided or wrong can taste a little like humble pie, but it's the true indicator of someone who thinks outside themselves with a wider perspective.
It's like when you jump into a cold shower; it feels freezing, and you lose your breath because of the temperature change. At my family's favourite camping spot at the beach however, after a swim or surf in the crisp ocean, I go from that cooler environment to the cold shower on the walk back to the camp site. The cold shower feels amazing, it feels warm, my perspective of it is has completely changed. Submerging yourself in the ocean is like immersing yourself into someone else's point of view, or some other culture and you can see things from their angle. Once you're there things start to make sense, you can connect, you can communicate and things feel different.
If everyone took the time to do this, then I'm of the opinion the world would be a better place. The opposite surely just breeds contempt with an egotistical 'me first' view of the world. A wise person once wrote that your eye is the lamp to the body. How you see, is what you see.
On second thought
If I am to throw a spanner into the main theme of this article, and If I'm to add a spiritual spin to these things I wish I knew before I turned 27, I would have to say in hindsight that I actually don't wish I knew all of this when I was younger. I think the journey of learning these things in its due course has been essential. It would be nice to not have to learn the hard way, but if I was to be told these things at 21 by my now 27 year old self, I probably wouldn't have listened. I would have been too caught up in my latest girlfriend, passing emotion or latest fad, or been simply unaware of anything other than what was in front of me.
As the blinders continue to be pulled back, and as I understand more of who I am, as I ask more questions and realise that the older I get, the more I know I don't know, the more I'm actually ok with that mystery.
If I must be a little more pragmatic though, I think good, healthy spiritual change and inward growth should always create an outward, patient and compassionate view of the world and of others. That's got to be a good marker of maturity and development.
It's taken 27 years of growing, and of immersing myself in colder waters to get to this point.
Bring on 37.
First published January 24, 201
Brad Mills enjoys the outdoors, and almost any sport. For a day job he's a journalist who works at Rhema Media in Auckland New Zealand.
Brad Mill's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/brad-mills.html