One way to reflect on ways we have grown, especially when we are getting down on ourselves for what feels like no progress at all in the personal growth department, is to write a letter to our younger self.
I like to do this exercise as a warm-up for another exercise, which is writing a letter from my older self to my current self. This helps me visualize where I want to be heading, and also, oddly, reassures me that everything will be okay.
There is an excellent video project by the Child Mind Institute in which each day in May a different celebrity does a short video about what they would tell their younger self. These videos are worth watching because, as Elizabeth Vargas says, “You are not alone. You are not the only one who feels this way– not by a long shot”.
Here’s my latest effort, in the hope that you will find something of yourself in both these insecurities and these reassurances.
What Would I Tell My Teenage Self?
Number one recommendation for my teenage self– Don’t worry so much.
Not because there isn’t a place for worry– a little bit of worrying keeps you on your toes, no matter how old you are. But because all the things I was so worried about in high school don’t actually matter in the grand scheme of things. Namely:
Don’t worry about not being popular/being a nerd.
I wanted so badly to be cool. Those girls with the long, straight, blond hair seemed to have everything. Certainly they got all the cool guys. I was so envious of those “popular” girls. To this day, all I can remember about them was that they all had great hair. Note to younger self– one day you will LOVE your curly hair.
Any teenager reading this will probably think I am FOS. After all, what matters more than being popular? Not much, to a teenager. However, this message is actually for my current self. The lesson is, those things that matter SO MUCH at the time, are often trivial in the grand scheme of things. Try to keep things in perspective, however old you are.
What Would I Tell My Young Adult Self?
Don’t worry so much about the future.
Just do the right thing now, and things will fall into place. You can plan somewhat for the future, but not nearly as much as you think you can. So let it go. Be kind. Be honorable. Follow your bliss.
Okay, so if you are anything like me, as a young adult you have no idea what your passion is. And the advice to simply “follow your bliss” just pisses you off. Does this sound familiar? So what is the work-around?
Here’s what I would suggest to my younger self (and any other young adults out there, for that matter!)
Clarify your values, and look for ways to express them. Eventually you will find something you love, but in the meantime you can be proud of the work you are doing. That counts for a lot.
Oh, and Dear Young Adult Self, I notice that this is a period where you start to experience some real anxiety (not just about being a nerd). This is the first time in your life when the path ahead is not clearly laid out, and it scares the shit out of you.
So I would say, now is the best time for you to begin learning how to find your inner calm. Be spiritual. Meditate. Learn to trust in the universe. Find that place inside where all is well. You’re gonna need it.
What Would I Tell My 40-Something Self (Parent of 4, yes 4, Teenagers)
Don’t worry. (There it is again). They will all like you again eventually.
And they will become recognizable again. They will remind you of their younger selves, but edgier. With lofty ideas and self-assurance and also self-doubt. They will ask for your advice and comfort. For the most part, they will be grateful for what you went through when they were teenagers.
Here’s what I wish I could say to all parents of teenagers: “Hang in there. It. Gets. Much. Better.”
What else? SLEEP. Sleep is the first thing to go when you are busy (always). And you get cranky. NOT a good thing. Make it a priority to get enough sleep. Seriously.
What Would I Tell Myself Now, From My “Old Self”?
First of all, I’m not really sure what “old” means any more. I just know that at 56, I’m not there yet. Sure, when I get up in the morning every joint in my body makes weird creaking and popping noises. And to the endless amusement of my husband, I walk around like Charlie Chaplin for half an hour until my ankles warm up enough to bend properly. But in spite of all this, I’m quite sure I qualify as “middle-aged”. I’ll live to be 112, right?
So whatever age my “Old Self” is, here’s what she would write:
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Seriously, Current Self. You know that if you are still sweating the small stuff at your age, it is only to avoid facing the “big stuff”. Don’t waste your time here. Which leads me to–
Don’t sweat the big stuff.
You know the drill. Change what you can, accept the rest. Many thanks to the 12-step philosophy and many wonderful and compassionate people who live it and set a great example.
Live Your Dream.
If not now, when? No excuses.
So here’s my message to you, Dear Reader
If you are not already in the “middle-aged” phase of your life, start there anyway and work backwards. Save yourself some time. I didn’t do it that way, but maybe you can! Here’s the shortcut:
1. Be kind
2. Live by your values
3. Don’t sweat the small stuff (it doesn’t matter)
4. Don’t sweat the big stuff (it doesn’t help)
5. Be bold and live your dream. (not anyone else’s dream- easy mistake to make)
The truth is, most of us know these things already. (Okay, there goes 90% of my blog readership). But it can be helpful to remind ourselves, to get ourselves back on track. So make a point of writing your own “Letters To Your Younger Self” every now and then. You might be surprised how much it can help. Also, if you save them, over time they will be an excellent chronicle of your own personal growth, and that will give you solace in times of self-doubt. It’s like insurance for the soul. Because #1. “Be kind”, also means “be kind to yourself”.
Could You Use Some Help Sorting Out Your Values and Finding Your True Path?
Call me at 323-999-1537 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free 20-minute consultation. I'd be happy to give you some more ideas and/or point you in the right direction. Therapy might or might not be helpful for you, but there are also a lot of other resources available to help you be your best self, and I can help you find the appropriate ones online or in your area.