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When I was in my mid-twenties, my assistant gave me a book for my birthday. The book had nothing in it—the pages were blank.

In the note that accompanied this gift, my assistant offered some wonderful advice. The gift of her message was this: "John, settle who you are and what you believe in, and then fill these pages up."

In other words, she was encouraging me to develop my philosophy of life early, and to put it on paper so I would never forget it. What was really important to me? What was I willing to die for? What was non-negotiable and what was optional in my career and my relationships?

The sooner I settled all this, the better off I would be.

As my assistant understood there is tremendous value in starting early—when it comes to determining your overall vision and attitude about life, as well as in many other areas.

When you're young, it's hard to imagine how critical this is—you think you have your whole life ahead of you to figure everything out. Maybe so, but all things being equal, a person who gets out of the block quickly has infinitely more potential for success than someone who doesn't.

When I was 40, I put together a list of 10 powerful, practical things every young leader should do early in life—by the time he or she turns 40, at the latest.

We've already discussed the first one: Develop your philosophy of life. In part one, I'll cover four more, and in part two, I'll complete the list. Here we go:
  1. Know yourself. This isn't some philosophical mystery; it's actually quite simple. Knowing yourself means being acutely aware of your strengths and weaknesses. It means knowing what you do well and what you don't do so well.

    That way, you can work in your strength zone, where your most significant opportunity for growth and success lies, as opposed to focusing on your weak zone, where all you'll find is frustration and stagnation.
  2. Settle your family life. Identify the issues that are affecting your family and figure out how to deal with them. Marriage always takes work, but it's pretty sad when two 40-year-olds are still struggling with the same problems they had when they got married 18 years ago.

    You may not resolve every issue entirely; you and your spouse may have to agree to disagree on some items. The key is to be comfortable with your differences so you can move forward together.
  3. Determine your priorities. By the time you hit 40, you should have your priorities set. You should know how you want to spend your time and to what you want to devote your life.
  4. Get physically fit. Early in life, people give up their health to gain wealth; later in their life, they give up their wealth to regain their health. That's how it often works, but it doesn't have to be that way. I'm not saying you have to be able to run a marathon.

    Just exercise and get yourself in decent shape. Don't put it off until later; start today. Trust me—whatever sacrifice this requires will pay dividends later.
You won't get these issues resolved overnight—they take time, thought, and in some cases, a great deal of sweat. But don't let the complexity of the task discourage you from starting the process.

Remember, the sooner you settle all this, the better off you'll be.

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's
free monthly e-newsletter: Leadership Wired
available at

Author Biography

John C. Maxwell
Web site: Injoy Group
John Maxwell grew up in the 1950s in the small Midwestern city of Circleville, Ohio. John's earliest childhood memory is of knowing that he would someday be a pastor. He professed faith in Christ at the age of three, and reaffirmed that commitment when he was 13. At age 17, John began preparing for the ministry. He attended Circleville Bible College, earning his bachelor's degree in 1969. In June of that same year, he married his sweetheart, Margaret, and moved to tiny Hillham, Indiana, where he began his first pastorate.

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