26 Things I Didn’t Know So Well at 25

A birthday letter to myself, a year ago

I turned 26 last week.

If I were playing Major League Baseball, I should be in your prime now. Spoiler alert: That hasn’t happened to me yet but don’t worry life is actually pretty good. The past year was a thrill ride. I went back to South Africa, I got to see most to the South, I finally got that dog I’ve wanted for decades, oh, and there was something about a half-marathon. Whattt????

I’ll get back to that later. That pales in comparison to the big event of my 25th year, which was getting married. If I could talk to myself a year ago, I’d tell me that I’d have a lot to look forward to, that the first year of marriage will consist of me and Deanna continuing to be best friends, going on adventure together. I’d also say to myself  that will be a good challenge here and there, but you’ll make it. You couldn’t ask for anything more.

Dear 25 year old Philippe,

You’ve got a lot to look forward to over the next 365 days. Don’t rush through them too fast. Most of them are good days.

Here’s some of the stuff you’ll learn:

1. Marriage isn’t easy. Marriage isn’t hard. Also, stop trying to put marriage on a spectrum of difficulty. Marriage is worthwhile. Marriage is an adventure. And it’s not some sort of school assignment or video game level you can just evaluate on a level of difficulty like that. There’s so much more to it than that.

2. Learning how to appreciate the other person’s needs and how to be honest about your own helps a lot in marriage. You have a high need for adventures and new experiences. Deanna’s needs are more social than yours. Nobody’s is “better,” but be honest about that difference. It’ll really help you care for each other.

3. When the world feels the ugliest and meanest is probably when it’s crying out the loudest for you to be relentlessly positive. So, there’s this election coming up, I’m sure you know, and people will generally be a lot less pleasant to talk to. Just remember, your positivity will be that much more refreshing to the world.

4. Never take “normal” for granted. You never know when an accident or illness can land someone in the hospital, when you could lose a car or a house or an appendage, when you could suddenly suffer a financial crisis. Heck, sometimes it just takes a really stuffy nose to make you truly miss the times when your nose wasn’t stuffy that you took for granted.

5. The adventures you enjoy are awesome, and they’ll pale in comparison to the adventure inside you. The adventure within, they say. And it’s so true. Keep journaling and writing down the discoveries you make.

6. Keep leaving room open in your life for more road trips. They’re brilliant metaphors for life.

7. Your parents are human, and that’s so wonderful and fantastic. You know, probably better than anyone, all their flaws as parents and all the things they probably could’ve done better. Do you ever think about the time they found out they were expecting you and suddenly worried if they were ready for a child? Or the moments they saw something concerning and wondered if they might screw it all up? Make peace with their human side, and you’ll love it. You won’t have them forever, but there’s enough time left to be worth enjoying a vibrant relationship with them.

8. When a situation seems pretty desperate, just solve one problem at a time. You’ll find yourself on a bus to Swaziland this upcoming year with no address of where you’re going to, and no idea what’ll happen. It’ll all work out in the end, like it did before in Morocco and Germany. When you seem lost or something like that, just make one important decision at a time and you’ll get there.

9. Adopting and training a dog will be a really rewarding experience. You will adopt a crazy energetic puppy, who’s also a fast learner. She’ll be a handful so much of the time, but she’ll also increase your daily laughter by like six thousand percent.

10. Take more siestas. The appeal of taking a little mid-afternoon recess shouldn’t take too much explaining, but it’s a good way to recalibrate your day and get back on track to make sure you’re spending it well.

11. Also, set aside one day each week to be deliberately inspired. Sundays work well for you. Don’t plan for tasks, don’t answer emails or calls. Take time to read the books on your nightstand, or those articles you’ve saved that need more time to sink in. Take out a notebook and brainstorm whatever. A future trip. A business plan. Just draw. Watch the sort of movie that makes you ponder so much you just need to sit in silence and stare at the credits afterwards. Get lost in preparing an elaborate meal.

12. In Madagascar, time is perceived as something entering through the back of your head, and unrolling in front of your eyes, as a scroll. I can’t say I exactly know what bigger implications this fun fact has, but it’s fun to think about the different ways people have about processing the flow of time. It’s also a really fun fact.

13. Believe it or not, you actually can run a half-marathon. And you will. Deanna will convince you. She’ll say that everyone is physically capable of running a half-marathon, and she’ll manage to get you to do one, so she must be correct.

14. If you want to live a rewarding life, you’ll need to take on a few challenges. It’s been a little while since you’ve had a season of being faced with a bunch of challenges, but believe me, one is on its way. And you know what? That tension is necessary for life to have it’s beauty. Songs, films, or books without tension just aren’t interesting. Why should life be any different?

15. A good, healthy, and sincere relationship with God doesn’t need fireworks all the time. In many ways you may still be coming off the high of rediscovering your faith and constantly feeling like you’re having spiritual epiphanies. Your relationship with God, much like a good friendship, shouldn’t be entirely dependent on those mountaintop experiences. Just keep a peaceful and open heart.

16. With God, there’s no such thing as wasted time. I know that there have been moments where you’ve questioned living in Eugene… wondering if that was the right move. You will start to see more clearly that the challenges that came with this move have given you a new vision for the future and strengthened the foundation for your relationship with Deanna. And nobody builds a strong foundation without further plans to build on top of it.

17. A lot of times in life you’ll feel like you’re just waiting for some big change to occur. Don’t think of it as waiting around, time is a huge advantage. Even Oh The Places You’ll Go talks about how sometimes you end up in a season of life where you’re just waiting for things to pass. Time can be an advantage. It turns some invested capital into a good sum of money. It makes a seed into food. Think of things that you can do with that amount of time to prep you for whatever’s next.

18. One of the most rewarding feelings in life is being able to work hard in order to help provide opportunities for other people. Think of your many family members. Auntie Ella. And so on. Your own parents. They came to the U.S. with very limited resources and a powerful work ethic. It took crazy hard work, but they’ve lived beautiful lives. You’re starting out at an advantage; put in the hard work and see what happens.

19. Even if you have your dream job, it’s important to have a life you love outside of it. No job is 100 percent great all the time and a job should never really be priority number one, anyways. Being able to step away from what goes on between Mondays and Fridays and tend to the rest of you is extremely important. They not only refresh the body and psyche, but the identity.

20. Never stop asking yourself what you want to do when you grow up. You’ll be surprised how late in life you’ll continue to ask this question, and don’t be threatened by it. If your job isn’t your identity, you’ll be fine holding things loosely and looking at a number of different ways to provide for your family and life.

21. Start asking yourself “How can I help people?” As much as we love to hate on businesses, the ones that succeed are the ones that help us have the life we want. The world is fueled by helping. At this point, you’ve probably thought of your career in terms of what you’d enjoy doing, but if you want to market your skills or your endeavors, you need to add value to people’s lives.

22. A central human need is for people to feel like they’re “good guys” in the story of the world, and they’ll arrange the way they see the world around that need. Remember to always affirm this desire among people to connect themselves with goodness. You know that people aren’t all good, and that there’s actually brokenness in everybody. But be gentle. People get extremely defensive when you threaten the viewpoint that has them positioned as the good guys. Nobody likes to be accused or lectured at, no matter how brilliant your ideas about intersectionality and racial hegemony are, and so forth. People leap at a chance to be on the right side of history. Offer that instead.

23. What one person sees as “an unhealthy dependency,” might actually be seen as a community where everyone else helps each other. You’ll notice that when you return to South Africa. Certain parts of the population will be criticized for relying on hand-outs and one working person to provide for a whole family, and some people will paint entire groups as lazy and entitled. Then again, when we see an internet meme about ubuntu and African children sharing a contest prize because “no one can be happy while others are suffering” we get all gaga over it. Keep an open mind.

24. Life leaves us with a lot more room for adventure than we usually assume. You’ll still manage plenty of camping trips and travels after marriage. But even on those in-between days, you’ll find adventures in the things you cook, the books you read, and the people you meet. Don’t overlook those days.

25. The best moments of life all surround being with the people who matter most. This is gonna sound silly, but bear with me. You and Deanna will start watching this show on Netflix called Jane the Virgin and it’s actually a really good show. There will be a scene where a baby is born and the mom is surrounded in waves by all the people that care about her. Think about the people in your life you’ll want around when you have a moment like that. Build the rest of life around that.

26. The passing of time can be a beautiful thing. I know you currently think time goes by way too fast, and that everyone gets old and life changes too quickly. That’s valid. But also, you need time to pass in order to see yours and Deanna’s friendship turn to marriage, to see Luke learn to talk and Simon learn to read, to see your long time friendships age and go through different stages. Seriously, don’t neglect the beauty of passing time.

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