top of page

Jon Koonsman turned 50. And here are a few things he has learned.

Jon Koonsman

I turned 50 this week.

I expect I’ve lived a relatively simple life by most standards. I’ve fought fires, gathered renegades, guided hunters, built things with my hands. My tools are equally as simple: a horse, a hose, a hammer, a gun. A pen.

Certainly I’m no sophisticate. I’m somewhat turned off – even put off - by technology.

When possible, I still prefer to engage people eye to eye. I want to shake their hand. A fist bump is not a handshake. Not even close.

Over three decades ago, I had a favorite teacher who told me that I had a special mind – that the world would expect more from me. She was right. And that’s what I did.


The cool thing about turning fifty is that you make the transition from offering unsolicited advice to 'imparting wisdom'.

I've been waiting for this day.

Here’s some of what I’ve learned in those 50 years:

Having written hundreds of thousands of words over the years, I’ll be remembered for just four: “Ya’ll love each other.” That’s ok with me.

After 30 years in the fire service, I still want to be the first one off the truck. I want to be kicking doors, dragging a handline, peeling the lid, outworking the youngsters. Still. Feel that way about something.

Learn to win with humility. Learn to lose with grace. Never learn to quit. Never.

It’s not enough to ‘love’ nature. You can’t watch it from a window. You must engage nature. Then love it. And teach a child to love it.

Don’t choose your friends based on their politics. Engage people with whom you disagree. With civility. Listen to dissenting opinions. In silence.

Make an argument with reason. Do it with passion. Not emotion.

Believing something doesn’t make it true.

Call bullshit what it is. Bullshit.

Sleep in a tent.

Climb a mountain. Not a little mountain on good legs, but a huge mountain on shaky legs, bad knees, bad hips.

Stand on the edge. Not because you’re brave, but because you’re scared.

Listen to beautiful music. Not in the background. Listen.

Throw your leg across a horse that you’re a little bit scared of. Then trust him.

Visit places that make you feel small. Then leave them alone.

Love somebody with whom you have nothing in common.

Learn the value of presence - not presents.

Give to a charity you believe in. Give your time. You’re not that busy.

Learn CPR.

Be willing to protect those you love with your last dying breath. If you ain't willing – it ain’t love.

Hold the hand of a dying child - without fear in your eyes. And smile.

Whoever you love – do it shamelessly. I didn’t say ‘whatever’. I said ‘whoever’. Love people. Not things.

Have more in common with your spouse than your address and your children. Love passionately. Be faithful.

Honor your parents while they’re still here. Then prove it after they’re gone.

The only people you should love unconditionally are your children. Don’t have big dreams for them. Let them do it.

Being right isn’t always the most important thing.

Do the right thing because it’s the right thing. Without any other expectation.

Stop humanizing animals and de-humanizing people. I know it’s easier. But stop it.

Don’t be an asshole.

James 2:14 – ‘Faith without works is dead’. Live by it. Do good things. Stop doing things you need to be forgiven for.

And most importantly of all: Ya’ll love each other.


bottom of page