a letter to a younger me.

A few month ago, I read Pete Sampras’ letter to his younger self. It made me want to write one.

While I’ve written letters to future me, I had never thought about writing one to past me. I ended up with three simple thoughts. Here they are written in faux-letter-to-younger-self-voice and all:

1) Show, don’t tell; Watch, don’t listen. All your life you’ll be trained to do as you’re told. Parents, teachers, bosses. Obedience is a pretty reliable path to a comfortable life. So it’s not surprising that you’ll, by default, want to believe people. You’ll be tempted to trust, take statements at face value, and let those words carry you off. But, trust me: without fail, when actions contradict words, the actions are more faithful. Words are powerfully potent. Don’t doubt or underestimate their ability to motivate, inspire, compel joy, or wound. Yet, the substance of words, this oh-so-magical tool, depends almost entirely on who wields them. As windows to the soul, or contrivances of convenience, words are without peer. Actions speak louder than words is popular for a reason. Actions are what happens when sentiment is tested by reality. Words are untested, but actions bear cost. It’s not just treachery that can diminish the fidelity of words, it’s human nature. That quality of human nature leads to my second thought…

2) Don’t settle for comfortable deceit. Oh my gosh, it’s so easy. You’ll basically lie to yourself every single day. It’s normal. It’s easier that way. When you don’t want to face, think about, or deal with something, your clever little brain will come up with all kinds of justifications, logic, and contortive answers to not have to. Don’t worry: it’s probably just fear. To paraphrase Yoda: “(unconscious) fear leads to suffering.” So, scrutinize the hell out of your thoughts and call out your bullshit. While it’s comfortable to always be the hero of your story, for your motives to be rooted in the right — there’s a good chance you’re really full of crap and there’s a self-centered nugget driving things. Not buying the deceit you try and sell yourself won’t fix everything or always lead to the right decision. But it does lead to a grasp of life rooted in reality, which is one of the greatest gifts you will ever give yourself. To tie the ribbon on the previous point, not fighting through these little pearls of haze will be what leads you to those moments of why did I say that? and why did I do that?

3) Go all in when you find something worthy. All that glitters is not gold. But if you’re paying attention to what’s actually happening and making an honest effort for truth, not comfort, you’ll occasionally come across a gold nugget. Your instinct will be to tread carefully or maybe hedge your bets. Don’t. Sell out. Go all in. It’s your fear of failure; you’re afraid. What if you went for it — really gave it your all — and you didn’t succeed? Wouldn’t that mean that you are inadequate? That’s probably the biggest fear out there. It’s a tough one, a concern that I still don’t have an antidote to, but I can tell you that it won’t matter. Hedging, not going for it, not admitting your true feeling, will do nothing to soften the blow. So, look with clear eyes at reality. Look with clear eyes at your feelings, actions, and motivations. When you still believe you have gold, go with gusto and all your heart.

originally sent in August via my monthly-ish newsletter