I was challenged by a fellow author to write ten things I would tell my younger self, if given the opportunity. While I can’t think of ten, I do have a few words of advice for that young girl.
It’s okay to listen more than you speak. It’s okay to be the quietest person in the room. It’s okay to save speaking for when it seems important, instead of just adding to the noise.
Yes, some will consider you cold, or stuck-up, or think there is something wrong with you, but remember those views of you aren’t based on knowing you. They are based on taking incomplete information and turning it into an opinion you can’t control. The world needs listeners, so it’s okay to perfect that skill. Some day you will be valued for that ability, and people will seek you out precisely because they know you are truly listening and trying to understand.
You may always prefer to have a limited number of close friends, and there is nothing wrong with that. You seek quality over quantity, and you seek depth over superficial. The hours you spend in your room, reading or thinking or writing allow you to have the energy you need to deal with life’s demands. It’s not unhealthy or antisocial, so don’t let anyone tell you it is.
Don’t let anyone push you into joining things you have no interest in. Don’t tell yourself you are flawed because you don’t go through life like those you see around you. There’s a place for everyone, and you’ll find yours. It’s okay to be a spectator until you decide what your passions are. When you get older, and the world demands more from you, be sure to carve out time for just you, to replenish, to recharge. It will be as necessary as air.
There are times you want to do something, but you’re afraid. Sometimes you can honor that fear and wait, but other times you will need to balance that fear with confidence and the belief you can take on the challenge.
Try to quiet that doubting inner voice in order to take small leaps. With each leap you can become more brave and confident. With each success, the fear will fade, and the next challenge won’t feel so overwhelming. You aren’t bad or stupid for being afraid. Fear is a natural emotion when faced with new and uncertain things. But it doesn’t have to put you in a choke hold; you can control the leash. That fear may never leave you entirely, but you can learn to soothe it, like a mistreated, distrustful dog.
Those tough experiences you are having — someday they can help you. They can help you understand others, and they can help you know exactly what you don’t want to do. They can help you choose the right husband, and the right friends. They can guide your work, and help you relate to distrusting kids. They can provide you with stories to tell others to let them know they are not alone in their pain. You can survive these experiences, and be stronger because of it. Yes, they will leave emotional scar tissue, but you can heal and use your healing to help others.
Those things you are being teased about — being too sensitive, easily being moved to tears — they may never go away. But you can learn to accept it and manage it. You can use that sensitivity to perceive things about others that are almost invisible; to tune into others at a deeper level, which can help you in your work as well as your relationships.
You may learn to hide your compassion behind a stoic face (that others will see as “resting b…. face”), in order to keep your eyes from leaking and embarrassing you. But the compassion will still be there, and can guide you in your choices. Don’t try to change these two things, despite the teasing, for they will ultimately be of value, and you can come to value them yourself.
I know you often feel as though you don’t “belong” anywhere, thinking you are different and don’t fit in. Belonging is a funny thing. And it’s not based on how big or full your world is. The sun needs a large solar system full of planets to belong. A seed needs an inch of dirt to rest in, and will grow regardless of any other plants around it. A mayfly will only live a few hours or a day, but it has a place in our ecosystem. Some animals are solitary and some are herd animals. But they all belong exactly where they are meant to be.
You belong where you are meant to be, and that may not involve groups of people. It only takes one other person to create a group, so don’t measure your worth by counting. Reach out as you think you can, and encourage from a distance when you need to. You get to be who you are, not what the world wants you to be. You are okay, just as you are.
All those vegetables you hate…one of these days you are going to eat them all, and love them. Just take my word for it.