Twelve Lessons I Would Give To My Younger Self
You cannot rewrite the past, but you can learn from it and rewrite your future.
“Be the person you needed when you were younger. “ — Dave Delaney
If you could sit down and talk to your younger self, what would you say?
When I look back, there are many things I regret: ways I could have been better, chances I didn’t take, possible futures I let slip from my fingers without a second thought. Where I am today, good and bad, is thanks to what I did or did not do. Sometimes, I cannot help but wonder, did I waste it all? Did I waste those precious years? How much time did I throw away? How much priceless life?
It’s easy to regret. Hindsight is 20/20 vision jabbing you with a 50,000-volt taser between your shoulder blades. It shocks us with the realization that we could have done more. Do you feel the same way? I think we all do, one way or another. But that does not mean we need to punish ourselves with it.
Instead, look at your past with love.
When I look back on who I was, and leaf through old photographs, more than anything I feel the ache of love. We were all children once, and I think we all want the best for those little ones. Do you feel it when you see your own baby photographs? I do. I look at the innocent little boy and think, “I want him to be happy. I want him to be proud. I want his dreams to come true.” And we can do that by learning from our past and impressing upon ourselves the lessons we wish we could impart on our younger selves.
Without understanding our own personal history, we are doomed to repeat it.
1. Take more chances
You’re afraid of failing, I get it. Messing up leaves bruises and scars and other kids point at you and laugh. But there’s something worse than the wounds of failures: the ones left by chances not taken, doors not opened, and bridges not crossed.
You’re young. You’re meant to screw up! Do you know how many times you stumbled while learning how to walk? As many as it took! How about that bike you wiped out on more times than you can count? All of those were chances taken — and eventually, you won. Do the same with everything else. The worst that can happen is you fall over, and here’s the trick: you can get back up again. And again. And again. Eventually, one of those times, you will stay standing.
2. Tell your parents you love them, every day
There should not be anything awkward about tell your parents you love them. Yet I let it get that way. I rarely let myself express it, and the longer I held it back, the harder it became to express. It is like fear. The fears you do not face become walls, higher and higher each time. So get in the habit of saying, “I love you,” before you fall into the habit of keeping your mouth shut. They deserve it, and so do you.
3. Stop letting other people’s opinions of you determine your opinion of yourself
We both know how it feels to have a poor self-opinion. From our early elementary school years and onward, we were told things by our peers, bullied, and made fun of. I believed them, but that is foolish. I’m asking you NOT to believe those little sociopaths (and the non-sociopaths too). Self-esteem has a big clue in it: SELF. You do not have to give it others. You give it to yourself first and foremost.
As I learned from a Roman philosopher, what other people say is just an irrelevant clacking of tongues. They are human beings, rife with doubts, fears, insecurities, and loneliness. They are like you, and why should you let someone like that beat you down? Care less about what other people think of you, and start caring more about what you think of yourself.
4. Cherish your family, before it’s too late
My grandparents were salt of the earth folks, especially on my father’s side. Most of all Papa. I know you see him as a frail old man with constant tremors from Parkinson’s disease, who can barely smile due to how it limits his facial expressions, but he has such a big heart. I loved him. I know you do too. But how often do you see the visits to him and Grandma as a chore? You just want to study and play video games, not hang around in an old house that smells like moth balls. I get it. You’re a kid. But I want you to realize how precious it is to have him in your life. Because one day, it will be too late.
I got a phone call when I was in a university lecture. There had been an accident, and Papa was now on life support — and tomorrow, my family had decided he would be taken off. I still remember the last time I hugged him, how small and frail he was, how his smile was faint but there, and his love for me and his pride of having a family that loves him. One day, you’ll hold his hand as he lays in that whitewashed room, on a ventilator. And with your family all around you, you will watch him pass, and hear the heart-wrenching sound of agonal breathing. That’s it. It’s over.
The same goes for all of your grandparents, and your family too. It is easy to take people for granted, to imagine they’ll be around for a while. But life is a candle, short-lived and delicate. Cherish your life, and cherish the people you share it with and who share their lives with you. One day they will be gone, and the pain of too late is one I do not want you to feel.
5. Shave, and get a haircut for once
That chin strap and dirty stash and nightmarish mullet you’re wearing in high school? Consider an alternative you actually like. You’re scaring people (most of all, you’re scaring me, your future self). I know having facial hair is a big deal at your age, but be smart about it, get some feedback. Most of all, care enough about yourself to care about your personal hygiene. This is not an eighties rock band.
Take care of your appearance. Reject apathy. The more you take care of yourself, the more you’ll take care of other things too. Everything is interconnected.
6. Good grades matter, but so do good friends
I understand that academic performance matters most to you. People might make fun of you for your looks or your shyness, or how terrible you are at sports, but they sure as hell can’t call you stupid. You get a sense of safety and validation from being the “Smart Kid.” That’s all well and good, but it can go too far. The library isn’t a prison. You can leave it too, and beyond it there are clubs, social groups, and activities. Most of all, there are people. Your friends. I worked too hard in school and neglected my relationships, and looking back on it now, I realize it was possible to strike a healthy balance — and I didn’t.
Being social does not have to mean going to parties and doing stupid shit, but it does mean taking the time and the effort to step outside of your comfort zone and realize the treasure that’s around you — the people you share this life with. Beautiful relationships matter more than most things in life. Sure, grades matter too. Why not both?
7. Say yes to opportunities that scare you, instead of talking yourself out of them
As you grow up, you’ll realize that more than anyone or anything else, the greatest enemy you can face is yourself. I’ve talked myself out of more opportunities than I care to count. Why? Because I was scared. Because I thought I couldn’t do it, or that I wasn’t worthy of trying. Opportunity can paralyze you — but only if you let it. Instead of talking yourself out of things, remind yourself that fear makes for a poor life coach.
8. Take a year off to figure things out
One of the biggest mistakes I made was rushing into university when I had no idea what the hell I wanted to do. It was hard, since academically I was “good” at everything. But what did I LIKE to do? I did not know. While my friends were choosing fields and getting psyched about their career paths, I could only shrug. All those straight As, but no direction to apply them.
Yes, a fancy piece of paper matters (though less than you’d think). But what matters more is a direction in your heart.
There’s no rush. If anything, you should do the opposite. Take a year off. Travel. Expose yourself to new ideas, places, and people. Volunteer. Work with people three times your age. Shadow people doing things that interest you. Start a side gig. And most of all, be aware of yourself: who are you, and what do you really want for your life? The answers are there, waiting.
9. Learn about money as soon as you can
Money, investing, and budgeting are not something only adults should think about. The earlier you’re on it, the better. For most of my teens my financial sense was comparable to that of certain political figures I will not name. Learn what to do with a dollar, and start doing it, even if it is with your allowance or the money you earned shoveling driveways. Being wise with small sums of money is predictive of financial success when the sums are larger.
10. You find the people you love by doing the things you love
This is one of the most important things I have learned: the best relationships often come from activities you do not for the sake of meeting people, but for the sake of doing something you love. More than anything else, relationships form the zest of life. There is no victory to be had if you are alone. You may think meeting people is hard, and you may think it even harder to make friends. The best way to hack it is to do things you enjoy doing and find a way to do it with others. You’ll be surprised by who you might meet.
11. Don’t be so afraid
We made it this far, haven’t we? Don’t sweat it so much. Take life seriously, but don’t let it drive you up a wall or into a corner. Don’t be afraid of what might happen tomorrow, or next month, or next year. Focus instead on becoming the sort of person who, no matter what happens, makes the best out of what is.
12. Forgive yourself
You made mistakes. Welcome to the club. I know it’s easy to blame yourself, and easier still to hate yourself for the things you did or did not do, but I’m telling it isn’t worth it. We all make mistakes. We’re all human. What matters is if we learn from them — and that we can have the courage to forgive ourselves, and move on. Forgive yourself. Learn, and live on. We only have a short span of life to live. Do not waste it punishing yourself for being human.
Living With Yourself
“The hardest part of living is making peace with your past. Most of all, it’s making peace with yourself.” — Sherrilyn Kenyon
The past is immutable. We cannot change who we were, and neither can we dwell in the past and expect for things to better. The best thing we can do is look at our younger selves and determine the lessons we wish we had learned — and then make sure that we have truly learned them now. Learn from the past. Learn from who you were. Become the person you needed when you were younger. Become your own hero.
Your today will be your past soon enough, and once more, you will be looking back on your younger self. Whether you look back with pride or regret depends on what you do today, not what you did yesterday. So live with who you are, learn from who you were, and act now in the best interests of who you wish to be.
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