What Would You Say to Your Younger Self?

Surely the right path since it’s straight and narrow?

Just about everyone grows up with pressure to look, think, communicate and act in certain ways. The expectations may have been your parents’ wishes, the culture of your extended family, based on religious beliefs or a national/ethnic identity, based on where you lived or how much money you had, or they could have been self-imposed – among thousands of influences. Not to mention society at large.

If I could visit my younger self and give myself some friendly advice, here are some of the topics I’d address.

It’s OK to be quiet.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been told how shy, quiet and serious I am. I can’t count the number of times I failed to make small talk and a jovial relative said, “What’s the matter? Cat got your tongue?” No, and you just eliminated any chance of me talking to you.

Similarly, at school and church, I was always being told I looked too serious and I should smile, presumably through gritted teeth after being prodded about it so often.

There was tremendous social pressure from relatives, teachers and other adults to be more outgoing and expressive. I think they genuinely feared I was sad or lonely or lacked self-confidence, and they thought if they reminded me to behave differently, it would eventually become second nature.

I would say to my 5-year-old self:

You know when it’s important to speak up and you can do it. You don’t have to be like that every minute. Stay close to friends and family that you can be yourself with. In time you’ll gain new skills and have all kinds of experiences you’ll want to share. It’s OK to be “good enough” in social settings, and to save your innermost feelings for your dearest ones. It is not a crime to be thoughtful.

You are not destined for anything or anyone.

I imagined that as I became an adult, I would be faced with a series of irrevocable choices. I would have to choose the right course of study, choose the right career, be offered the right job, live in the right city, and meet the right partner: otherwise I would fail at life.

I had a path to follow and it was up to me to discover it. I was afraid to make the wrong choices and find out my job or my house was wrong and I would have to embark on the painful process of undoing, while everyone around me was sure of themselves and successful.

I would say to my 23-year-old self after moving across the country to take my first career job:

You met your goal of getting your degree, so you have what it takes to meet goals. If the job doesn’t work out, you’ve learned what you don’t want to do. It’s humbling and expensive to begin again, but life is not all about upward mobility. Play the long game. Knowing yourself is worth it.

Note to readers: I lived away from my home province for 15 years, in two long-term jobs and two short-term marriages, before returning “home” and starting over.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

As a teenager, I peeked into the future and envisioned myself in the year 2000. I would be 36. This was ancient. My glimpse at myself was culturally prescribed: I would be working full-time; I would be a married to a man who would be working full-time, too. We’d own a house and have two kids. We’d mow the lawn and go camping and visit our parents. Maybe when I was 36, my kids would be 8 and 10 and we’d spend our weekends at hockey tournaments. It was what I wanted. But it also seemed like an endless grind.

That was such a linear path and such a limited view of maturity. I looked at my parents, aunts and uncles and older cousins, and imagined my life like their lives. How could I live a life unconstrained by convention? I had no role models for that.

So here I am at 54 years old and life is the furthest thing from an endless grind.

I would say to my teenage self:

Life is not “over” after all your firsts: loves and marriages and houses and kids and travels and careers. Firsts are thrilling and memorable. But repeats and returns and do-overs are great, too. (Why else would people have two kids and three pets and two cars, haha!) There is always room in your heart to love more cities, more songs, more friends. Enjoy the new Star Wars movie and the family reunion and the new vintage of Tidal Bay; not just the trip of a lifetime to Paris. Joy does not run out or get muted when you’re 40 or 60. You still feel it!

I’m not going to go on because Tim Minchin has said everything I would want to say to myself right here in his 9 Life Lessons:

http://www.timminchin.com/2013/09/25/occasional-address/

What would you say to your younger self?

12 comments

  1. I would tell my younger self: 1) You’re smarter than they think you are (my family considered me flighty, a lightweight, unserious, a spendthrift, etc. Only my grandmother told me I was special, and smart – I was her “diamond in the rough”); 2) Trust your instincts (I spent way too much time trying to please everyone else or follow someone else’s advice, making myself quite unhappy in the process; and 3) Play the long game. Be patient. (I think my younger self would be quite amazed by who I am today and how things turned out.)

    I also identify with your message to yourself that it’s OK to be quiet. I grew up an introvert in a family of extroverts, and spent too much of my youth trying to be extroverted, failing miserably and feeling miserable. I still can be way too chatty at times if I’m in certain social situations, a holdover from those days.

    • Nice. I never learned how to trust my instincts – I guess I was taught to do what was polite and pleased others. It’s funny, I was always told I was smart, but only my parents would say, “For a smart person, you just did a really dumb thing!” and it was very grounding 🙂

  2. EcoCatLady

    Gosh… I think it would be a looong list! I think the first thing I would say would be to assure my younger self that I did, indeed have a future. As a child I was pretty convinced that nuclear war would kill us all long before I ever got to grow up. I’d also tell myself that you are more than the sum of your accomplishments.

  3. Margie in Toronto

    1. SAVE and don’t get into debt – you don’t have to be rich but you have to have “enough” – whatever that is to you.

    2. Don’t be afraid to take a chance – I was too invested in what others expected of me and too afraid to disappoint or to cause a fuss.

    3. Look after your health – you don’t have to be a stick but keep the weight down and concentrate on being fit and healthy. You’re knees & BP will thank you!

    4. Learn to appreciate and enjoy life’s small pleasures – coffee & a chat with friends – a day in the kitchen to bake – a long walk in a local park or by the water – a really good book! It doesn’t all have to be about name brand purses that cost ridiculous amounts of money – or always travelling overseas – or having the latest tech item.

    5. Smile and chat to people – you don’t need to be the life of the party, and you don’t need to be best friends with everyone but people do appreciate a smile and a kind word – and it doesn’t cost anything.

    6. Give back in some way – you really will find that you get just as much out of it as the recipient.

    • I got no help with saving or budgeting when I was growing up – I think my parents were just logical and assumed if I wanted to save for something, I would just do it. When I left home I had no idea how to balance a chequebook or how much it would gouge me to make minimum payments on a credit card. Ouch! I definitely agree with #4.

  4. I’m not sure what I’d tell myself. I know, even now, I can’t see many years ahead, to see what life will be like. Right now, I think that kids and work and a bigger mortgage would be a grind. And it’s not like life doesn’t have a bt of grind I curse at the moment. But I think a partner and kids would just escalate the need to earn a huge salary to cover all the wants, but solo, my wants are smaller?

    I am really interested in why you don’t see life as a grind. Is it because you job really satisfies you? THere is sufficient variety? Career is definitely the place I still feel that isn’t fitting well enough for me.

    • I’d tell myself, in my tweens/teens
      1. You will grow into your skin tone/hair colour/body and people will find your attractive, including yourself. It won’t come from regular fake tans, hair free limbs or any of the list of things you think you need. (zits would be on there too!)
      2. Working hard on school work will pave a very lucrative career, and you will not struggle to do what you want once you’ve graduated university.
      3. You’ll continue to have intense and deep crushes on people. You’ll also have fantastic men as partners, who will teach you a lot about people and yourself.
      4. Don’t think ‘talking less’ will make you more appealing. Be you. Be ok with being you. If everyone hates you, their not your people. You will find your people, by being real.

      • Good advice! I like the notion of growing into your body; that was true for me. I am a firm believer in higher education since it served me so well. I may not have always chosen “fantastic men” as partners (Rom notwithstanding!) but I have certainly had an active love life over the years 🙂 Talking less is not a thing with me, but one day I realized I didn’t want to police my vocabulary and use small words so the people I was with wouldn’t tease me for being la-di-da!

    • Yes, I really like my career and current job and being surrounded by kindred spirits at work. I am also quite domestic and like being at home after work and on weekends. I love entertainment (music, movies, plays, festivals, dining out) but can do with the limited travel I have. As an empty-nester, I am also finding this a low-stress time in life.

  5. Emory

    What a beautiful post! Some of mine would be “never say never” and “not to worry so much about the future.”

    Emory

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