I Wish I’d Known This When I Was Younger
It’s the beginning of another school year, and I watch the kids, getting on the bus, on the playground at lunch, happy to be with friends again.
I think back to those days in my life and how little I understood. How little I knew about the stories we humans tell ourselves; how we think, when we’re young, that we’re the only ones who feel insecure, or insignificant, or awkward. We think everyone else has life figured out, that all the other kids have their act together.
The truth is, of course, no one has life figured out. Some understand more than others. But especially when we’re young, we know so little. And we’re vulnerable to our beliefs, about how life works, about our worth, about what is true. We believe our self-talk.
I was 40…40!…before I learned to be comfortable in my own skin, learned to stop second guessing everything I did, stopped being my biggest critic. I didn’t turn a magic corner, didn’t suddenly become a perfect wife or mother or person. But I finally got that I was doing the best I could, and that was enough.
I finally understood that most of the time, all I could do was more than enough. And when it wasn’t…well, the world didn’t end, or even come close.
The sense of relief, of relaxing into myself, was real and healing.
Why does it take us so long to realize that the internal narrative of youth is a common one? That most people feel inadequate, “less-than,” scared of making a mistake? Sadly, sometimes that self-talk persists long past youth, follows us far into adult years and shapes us more than we want to acknowledge.
I don’t know if understanding that these thoughts are normal would change much. But if nothing else, we wouldn’t feel so alone, wouldn’t feel like we’re the only ones hiding behind a mask of adulthood as we grow up, trying to look like we know what we’re doing, trying to fit in, trying to meet the standard we feel judged by.
What I realized, at 40, was that it was better to live with realistic expectations of myself, and to acknowledge, as often as I needed to say it, that I didn’t have everything under control. There was something so freeing about confronting my old narrative, the one that kept me anxious and intimidated, and yet drove me to put a confident face on to hide my fears.
When I learned to let go, not because I didn’t care what others thought, but because I couldn’t control what others thought, I crossed a threshold and I’ve never looked back. The confidence became real, because I no longer had a front to maintain.
That’s what I wish I could share with the kids I see on the neighborhood playground. I wish I could save them years, maybe decades, of fear and anxiety. When you understand that we all, every single one of us, has an internal voice that judges and critiques and is never satisfied, you can begin to quiet that voice. You begin to put it into proper perspective.
Like I finally understood on my 40th birthday, knowing that the internal voice is just commentary and not authority can make all the difference. It turned out that my assessment of my life was wrong as often as it was right, but I believed it all like gospel.
Maybe it’s not possible to learn this when you’re young. I think about how I would have responded had someone tried to reassure me, and I know it wouldn’t have mattered. You have to do a certain amount of living before you can see beyond your fears, before you begin to trust your ability to sort things out. But still, I wish I’d had the benefit of this insight long before I did.
My narrative has changed over time. I no longer doubt myself, not because I’m mistake-free, but because I’m enough.
And that’s self-talk I can believe in.