Hindsight is 20/20, and lessons are often hard learned. Everyone wishes they could go back and teach their younger self something, but not everyone can articulate what that “something” is that they would say. What you would tell your younger self is often some of the best advice you could pass on to those around you, and it is often still applicable in adulthood. So, if you could write a letter to your younger self years away, what would you say?
“It is better to have no friends than false friends.”
Some people will act like they are your friends, but they are not. They will smile at you when you are watching and then gossip about you behind your back. They will drag you down and hurt your heart. They will make you feel ashamed for the things you do or for the dreams you dream. Anyone who makes you feel ashamed of who you are is not your friend. If they speak cruelly to you, do not accept it, and do not defend it to others. Do not be afraid of being lonely by walking away from false friends and liars. You will find you can enjoy your own company and that solitude is not frightening. It is through this solitude you will find your real friends. While you are still yoked to false friends, you will not be looking for those who will truly be there for you. Once you have walked away from a toxic situation, you will find it easier to meet those who will respect you and give as much to the relationship as you do instead of always taking.
“Be unapologetically yourself, but don’t be surprised if you change as you get older.”
Everyone always says to be yourself, and that advice is sound. Some people may make fun of you for being who you are, and you might lose friends because of it. Resist the urge to change or tone down what makes you you in order to please them. No matter who you pretend to be, there will always be someone unhappy with the person they see. If you are authentic, at least you will like you, and you will never have to fear letting a mask slip around those you think are your friends. You know that they see you, and that they love you for the truth of who you are, not a pretty illusion you put on for them.
Do not, however, be surprised if who you are changes as you age. This is normal and natural. Do not panic if you find that some of the things that once defined you no longer fit. Changing is part of growing up. It does not mean that you have somehow compromised your core personality. It simply means that things that once held your interest or were once a place you excelled have been replaced with other things that matter more to you. Learn to love a life without any labels, and you will never feel a sense of being unmoored when an old label no longer fits.
“Stay in touch with people, no matter how hard it is.”
Once you have found people that truly matter to you, make sure you keep them in your life. People will move for work, school or family reasons, but that is no reason to let them disappear. It is always easier to keep up a relationship with someone when you see them every day, but distance does not in and of itself kill a friendship. Continue to reach out with phone calls, emails or even old-fashioned letters. Make time to meet up with them when you two are both available and accept that it might be long months between those times. Do not get lazy and expect sporadic meetups or calls to be enough to maintain a friendship. Put in the effort to reach out often, and you will be grateful for it. It is much easier to remain in contact than to re-forge a connection after it has atrophied.
“Never apologize for being imaginative or curious. It’s one of your greatest gifts.”
Curiosity and imagination are two of your greatest gifts. They are both something that most children possess in abundance, but few people manage to retain them until adulthood. Fight as hard as you can to hold onto them. Society will try to kill both of those attributes. School emphasizes obedience over creative thinking. Your peers may claim you are nosy when you ask questions or sneer at you when you daydream. Dream and question anyway. Resist the urge to let the television or internet do all your imagining for you, and refuse to let academia steal your ability to wonder. Creativity and curiosity are among the most powerful attributes a human can possess. Never let anyone steal that power from you. Guard it fiercely and wield it fearlessly.
“Stay fearless, even if you don’t believe you are.”
You may not think you are fearless, but you are. You are fearless every time you dare to start over. You are fearless every time you do something new and refuse to let a fear of failure hold you back. Others will try to convince you that such things are foolish or unnecessary. Do not listen to them. If your heart yearns for other people and you reach out despite past pain, that is courage. If you decide to follow your dreams instead of taking a surer path and settling for less than you could be, that is bravery. If you strike out on your own with no idea what you will find, that is fearlessness. Understand how brave you can be. That knowledge will help you continue to be courageous.
“Be soft even if that makes you more likely to get hurt.”
Pain makes it easy to justify guarding your heart. “Once bitten, twice shy” is the saying, and there is a lot of truth to it. Resist the urge to be hard. Be soft. Be gentle. Be loving and compassionate. A guarded heart can still be wounded, and even the hardest heart can break. A soft heart may be more likely to be hurt by others, but loneliness, suspicion and cynicism can eat away at a heart that is kept locked up. Continue to reach out to others, even when you have been hurt in the past. A hard heart might never be hurt, but a gentle one can heal both itself and others of past hurts. Even when it is scary, continue to love and find the best in people. You will never be able to avoid all harm, so learn to live and love despite it rather than hiding yourself away in a futile attempt to avoid pain. Learn to dance in the rain rather than hating the storm. The storms will still come. It is up to you how you handle them.
“Enjoy every moment and make memories of everything.”
No one is guaranteed another moment on this Earth, so make the most of everything you do. Do not live by default or on autopilot. Make each moment in your life matter. You never know if you will get another one or not. You also never know if you will be able to enjoy the same experiences again. You might not be able to walk tomorrow, so enjoy the feeling of sand under your feet as you run down the beach. You could wake up blind one day, so sear the stunning colors of the sunset into your memory. Those you love could be taken from you, so do not waste a second you could spend with them. No one can know for sure when their time on this Earth is done, so make the most of the present. It is the only time you are guaranteed.
Writing a letter to your younger self can clarify the statements you want to continue to live by and help you keep your children, grandchildren, little siblings or mentees from make the same mistakes you did. It can grant powerful catharsis now and help you begin healing from any old wounds. So, get out a piece of paper and walk down memory lane. Think, decide and then begin to write. What will your letter say?