Lessons to a Younger Self

“If you see a whole thing – it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets, lives…. But close up a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern.”
– Ursula K. Le Guin

The headline nearly careens past my head before capturing my attention and forcing me to peruse the content below “14 Signs You’re Not As Young As You Used to Be.” I scroll down, nodding and laughing as I read:

  • “If you think it’s mind boggling that people born after 1998 are TEENAGERS now.” (Sheesh, I was preparing to graduate high school)
  • “You can’t stay out late anymore.” (Netflix and a ginger ale is a party for me)
  • “Clothes just don’t fit anymore.” (looking down, I barely fit into my new “big girl jeans” I purchased because my regular jeans no longer fit)

Even just a few excerpts later, it dawns on me that I’m no longer as young as I used to be. The many awards I won in my 20s as an aspiring young professional now sit dusty from over a decade packed in boxes. It’s much harder these days to muster the motivation when you are raising a child, running a household, and trying to plan for the future when you have people for whom you are responsible. Like a boomerang, I return to a visceral image of this younger, energetic, self-conscious, and somewhat fearful and fearless version of me. What would I tell her? And, what lessons can I still learn from? Here are my lessons to a younger self…

Make peace with your past

The first time you make a bad decision, it’s easy to think “it’s all over,” and to continue going down that path, racking up more regret along the way. Instead, stop and breathe. Think about what it is that bothered you about that mistake. Really take it in and learn from it. Do not allow it to find a place to nestle inside your mind, do not feed it, do not make it mean more than it does. In the end, whatever happened, happened. And now, it’s over. You may pay consequences in some way, but you should not make yourself needlessly suffer or let someone else punish you. You are a beautiful soul with infinite possibilities. The past is a place from which to learn, but not a place to dwell. Look ahead, child.

Don’t allow anyone else to measure your worth

Your worth is your own – defined by you. For some people, having credentials after their name or awards on shelves is what makes them swell with pride. For others, a kind word from another or knowing they have improved the life of someone else, even if that person does not possess that knowledge, is enough. Being a person who has acquired accolades, I can tell you those things have helped me greatly, but true fulfillment comes from a greater place- making a difference for others. I think back to comments said to me over the course of my life, “If you had pride in yourself, you would wear makeup,” “You are too curvy to wear that!,” “I can’t believe you are still single, what’s wrong with you?” Countless hurtful remarks that may not have broken the skin, but fragmented my spirit, fed into a complex that I was “not good enough.” Decide what matters to you and measure your growth against your own making. You are worth everything good in life, and if you are with someone who makes you feel badly about yourself, walk away.

Choose relationships wisely. Trust must be earned.

Marriage is declining, people are putting off having children, and there’s little it seems you can put your faith in these days. So when someone pays attention to you, buys you nice things, says a kind word, it may be easy to put more value in these beyond the surface. These are just the actions of a decent partner, and not worthy of the perch of “life partner” or “best friend.” I have had close friends slip away soundlessly, leaving a void in my chest or someone make a promise they promptly forgot about, and been left wondering how I could have had it so wrong. It’s not healthy to walk around with your walls up, but not having boundaries is an invitation to be a doormat. People have to earn your trust and this takes time and consistency. The ones worth your time will put in the time, and you have to trust your gut when the red flags appear.

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them”

This is one of my favorite Oprah sayings. Back to the person who says and buys nice things. How do they speak to the waiter at the restaurant? How do they talk about their family and close friends? Do they have close, reciprocated friendships? Do they consistently make excuses, cancel last minute, behave in a hot/cold manner? Do they take accountability for their mistakes or simply blame others for their unhappiness? These are breadcrumbs leading you to a foregone conclusion helping you to see if someone is who they say they are. Believe them when they show you, don’t make excuses for them. A truly good person, acts, speaks, and thinks like a truly good person.

Get beyond the fear of being disliked

This can be a tough one if you are a people pleaser, or simply feel a knot forming in your stomach when you think of upsetting another person. I’m conflict-averse and try not to stir the pot. I’d rather bear the burden than have someone else suffer. Overlooking yourself might make you better liked, but it also means you value others more than yourself, and that can become an unhealthy way to operate when you are the CEO of your own life. Think of how you would run a company (and maybe you do). You would not allow each and every person to do as they pleased if it destroyed the company’s shareholder value and eroded overall morale, so why do you allow it happen to you? Being disliked may be uncomfortable, but it’s better than living someone else’s life.

There’s a blessing in every lesson

In the words of the effervescent and wise Reverend Sylvia Sumter, there’s a blessing in every lesson. When things go another way than you imagined or you are feeling like muck in the bottom of the river, instead of asking “why me?!” ask “what can I learn from this moment?” It changes everything. And your perspective will shift.  The universe is always teaching us, if we just stop and give it a listen.

When you find yourself holding on too tight, let go, and see what happens next

Worry and anxiety are often visitors when you are at a crossroads. Whether you are thinking about changing jobs, moving to a new place, or choosing whether or not to stay in a relationship…if you are obsessing about the problem or situation in your mind and find yourself constantly talking about it, you are holding on too tight. Release your grasp, hand the keys to the universe, and see where you end up when you let a power bigger than yourself drive. You may be surprised when that person steps up, the new job turns out to be a great fit, or the new city challenges you to grow and you finally become the person you wanted to be. Trust that things will work out.

Make your “faith stronger than your fear”

Trying new things is challenging. The first time I planned a trip to another country, I had no clue what I

Hiking the Inca Trail in the Andes Mountains

Hiking the Inca Trail in the Andes Mountains

was doing and did not have the benefit of TravelAdvisor or Yelp in those days. Family and friends told me it was dangerous to travel by myself as a young woman and meaning the best, became angry when I defied them and went on the trip anyway. I still remember standing in the back of a pick-up truck with 10 other people riding up the side of a mountain in Guatemala heading to a local hot spring, the wind streaming past and a feeling of awe at the beauty around me drawing me to silence. Many of those people who told me I couldn’t do it, have yet to travel. Meanwhile, I have stepped foot on several continents, trekked into ancient ruins and swam across volcanic lakes. I’ve gained confidence, self-awareness, and a love of other people that deepens my consciousness. These are some of my greatest memories that will keep me young even as I age. People often react out of fear when you choose to do daring things, but check yourself and look to your faith to lead your life.

Be present, life goes faster than you think

Back to the original start of this post. It seems like yesterday that I was a Marching Eagle at a football game, proudly striding across the field in my uniform. That was nearly 20 years ago. Life goes by fast. Live in this moment. Love fiercely. Live without regret. And if today were your last, what would you like to do with it?

Being is more important than doing

Action is associated with movement and accomplishments involve doing. So, it’s easy to lose track of who you are “being” while you are “doing.” When you list out your New Year’s Resolutions or are reviewing the things of which you are proud, see how many involve checking something off a list and balance them with a way of being. For instance, if a goal of yours is to pay off your student loan debt, a wonderful “being” goal is to “Be prosperous in my thinking.” So if you catch yourself thinking “I’m broke” when you are looking at that beautiful dress in the store window, change that thought to “It’s an abundant universe and I am prosperous. I’m thankful for the beautiful dresses that will present themselves in my life.” And then move on. Somehow, some way, that dress or another one like it, will find its way into your closet. There was a beautiful Calvin Klein work dress I wanted to buy a few years ago, but the price tag was exorbitant (over $100 – which in my world is hard to validate a purchase). I loved it so much, I eschewed the desire to move straight to thoughts of lack and instead said a quick prayer being thankful for my blessings. Within a week, I was at a different store and found the same dress in a different color for $30. It continued to happen and I now own three of those dresses in red, blue, and black and altogether paid less than $100.

You deserve happiness

It’s a wonderful quality to be caring and loving, to do for others and live with the “Golden Rule” in the forefront of your mind. You must also ask yourself what you want out of this journey and take the steps toward fulfilling your happiness. If you’ve been working nonstop for months, give yourself a weekend to escape to the mountains and breathe in the wildflowers. Or if you love to read, buy yourself some of your favorite genre of books and curl up on a couch to dive in. As Joseph Campbell said “Follow your bliss.” This is your life. Make it beautiful.

“May you grow up to be righteous, may you grow up to be true. May you always know the truth and see the lights surrounding you. May you always be courageous, stand upright and be strong. May you stay forever young.”
– Bob Dylan