My younger self was clumsy, shy, at a loss, and scared. The world was a mystery for her. She didn’t know what to do most of the time, and she made a lot of mistakes. If only her older self could have been there for her. My younger self no longer exists, but it’s not too late for you. And if you come to think about it, I wouldn’t have known what I know now without walking the very same path exactly as I did. Today, my older self will be there for you. All the younger selves out there who are lost now as I was back then.
I’ve always wanted to write an “advice to my younger self” article, but I was discouraged because all has already been said. Recently, I’ve started to believe in the uniqueness of the human experience and the diversity of perspectives, so maybe I’m not going to say the same things or at least not in the same way.
This is what I’d tell my younger self:
#1 Don’t be too nice
I know it seems like an odd advice, but hear me out. All my life, I’ve tried to accommodate others to the best of my ability. It worked, but I’ve always ended up offending one person: myself. Being too nice will cost you a lot of time. Here comes boundaries. Think about the favors that you do, those little, meaningless things. What you say yes to now (when you don’t have to do it) people will eventually expect of you. You want to help, but eventually you’ll become a doormat. Learn early to say no. If you don’t want to do it, you don’t have to. If it doesn’t feel right, you don’t have to. Don’t tell yourself it’s a one-time thing because trust me it won’t be. People will keep asking you for more favors without any respect to your boundaries because they have an idea now that you don’t have any. If you always say “Yes,” you’ll unintentionally become a magnet to all sorts of wrong people: opportunists. Those who know you’ll always say yes. Those who know you’ll be there for them no matter how unreasonable their requests are. Remember, time is your most valuable asset, and you need to protect it. You can protect it by saying “No” more often.
#2 Make more friends
I’m an introvert, and making friends has not always been my greatest strength. I blew many chances of making new friends, and I regret it. I love my friends and cherish my existing friendships, but widening the social circle is important on so many levels. New friends mean broader perspective, valuable experiences, and knowledge. Be open to making new friends. When you meet great people, always say “Yes.”
#3 Start now
I’ve always been waiting for the right moment, for the time when I would be ready. Over the years, I’ve realized that there is no such thing as the right time. You can never be ready. Until now, there are many things about my life that I can’t figure out, and a decade from now, I would still not have figured it all out. And that is okay. We’re not supposed to. We learn as we go. We are always learning something. I’ve always wanted to become a writer. Well, it’s not something you “become.” You won’t “be,” if you plan “to become.” You start working now. The more you work, the better you’ll get. If you wait for the time when you’re already, trust me you will never be. I am a better writer now because of a history of awful writings. Will I ever be a “better writer”? I will never know, but I will keep writing, that’s for sure.
#4 Accept yourself
We are not perfect, and the sooner you accept that the better. There is this quote from G. R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones that says: “Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armor and it can never be used to hurt you.” Of course, you should always work on yourself, but there are some things that are okay to accept: your appearance, your little mistakes, the little things that don’t really matter. I’ve never had a problem with me wearing glasses, but everybody made sure it’s an issue that needs to be fixed, and their words used to bother me, but not anymore. What is the big deal? I wear glasses. I don’t know how to cross the street. Well, it’s a bit tricky where I live. And sometimes, I act stupid and make a fool of myself. No one cares. Be comfortable in your own skin and the world won’t use it against you. Be proud of who you are, of every little thing about you. Let your motto be: I’m a human being. I make mistakes, and as long as I don’t hurt anybody. So what?
#5 Trust your gut
We live in a world where everyone believes in logic. One plus one equals two. It’s not such a bad thing. But sometimes, your emotions could save you a lot of troubles. It tells you the truth about yourself, the truth about who you are and what you are comfortable with. Trust your guts when it comes to accepting a new job offer or meeting new people. There is this signal in our heads that we often ignore. I’m not telling you here to disregard logic, but the advice is to give your gut feelings a chance. Access the situation more carefully and tread with caution. That is all. I’ve often found my initial feelings correct, but they were just not supported by data to win an argument. Trust the little things. I don’t think this is such a nice person, or this does not sound like a great work environment. Whatever it is, my advice to you is to listen carefully before jumping.
#6 Have patience
A lot of people approach life as if it comes with a checklist. By this age, I will have it all figured out. By that age, I will have bought a house of my own. And so on. People are different. Sometimes you will feel like you’re late, but you’re not. You’re simply getting there on your own time. Not all of us are ready at the same time. Some people take more time and that’s okay. It’s never too late go for what you want.
#7 Keep it simple
Keep it simple is an important life skill for success and wellbeing. I remember I was maybe twelve or thirteen. At school, exams were our only chance of attending without a school uniform, and we all made use of the opportunity. My friend showed up to school with maybe two outfits throughout the whole exam period. She was my best friend and she told me why. Her mom said that if she didn’t focus on picking a new outfit every single day, she would focus better on studying and exams. It didn’t make much sense back then, but it makes sense now. Prioritizing what matters and focusing on it is so much better than dividing your energy among many tasks even if those tasks are as simple as picking your outfits. When you say yes to something, you say no to other things. Think carefully about what you do with the little time you have. Keeping it simple is not only about what you decide to do but it’s also about what you decide to have or keep. Decluttering is an amazing way to save time and energy. If you think about it, the more items you have, the more time you spend cleaning and organizing them. You can’t have it all. So, pick carefully.
#8 Embrace change
Change is and has been my worst fear. There’s nothing worse than the negative “what ifs” that fill your head sometimes? Those scary little thoughts that talk you out of moving forward simply because moving forward entails many risks, and you’re better off in your safe haven. Don’t mistake those voices with your gut feelings. Gut feelings protect you from danger but the voices that keep you in your comfort zone are the voices that keep you stuck. It is self-doubt talking. It tells you that you won’t be fine. You’re not that good. What you have is so much better than what is out there. It’s the voices that keep you in the same place, forever: safe but stagnant. To tell you the truth, I was kicked out of my comfort zone. In other words, I didn’t embrace change. It was forced upon me. I was laid off. I saw a world where change was fulfilling and not scary, a world full of endless possibilities, great possibilities. Being kicked out of my comfort zone was the best thing that happened to me. Looking back, I should have left my dead-end job earlier. I should have taken a leap of faith.
#9 Believe in hardwork and not in talent
I’ve always wanted to be a writer. But am I really a writer? Talks about talent always flooded my ears. The untangible, secret ingredient that you’re born with. If you don’t have talent, we cannot help you. So, I spent a lot of time wondering: do I have what it takes? Now, I think that whoever overestimates the importance of talent is not doing us a favor. What is talent? Am I expected to sit and wait for the muse to find me and hit me in the head with fantastic ideas? Of course not! The muse won’t find you. You have to go looking for it. My desire to be a writer was stronger than self-doubt. I wanted to be one so bad, so I started to write and read about writing. The more I wrote, the better I got. And then I came across this eye-opening Ted Talk which I believe everybody must see: “Grit: The power of passion and perseverance.” Success is not about talent. It’s about your hardwork and perseverance. It’s about practice. It’s about patience. It’s about your willingness to learn. According to this Ted Talk, success is not a superpower. It’s all in your hands.
#10 Follow “your” dreams
No one seems to like this advice because it sounds a bit unrealistic. It is as if you’re telling people to go after illusions. But what is so wrong about following your dreams or even reaching for the stars? If I could go back in time, I would leave self-doubt behind and follow my dreams without delay. The most important thing is to make sure you’re following “your” dreams and not someone else’s. Some people don’t know what their dreams really are. They follow what their parents, friends, or what their society wants them to follow: a set path. You define your dreams and your success. Success is what you think it is. So, before you follow any dream, make sure it’s really “your” dream. You know why that is important because dreams take a lot of time and energy.
Be open to disappointments and failures. It’s always a 50/50 chance of success, but without even trying, you have zero chance of success. If you follow your dreams, you may not end up exactly where you want to be, but you will achieve something and it’ll be better than what you have now. Believe in yourself. Your dreams may sound crazy to everyone else, but they shouldn’t be to you. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Your dreams should be crazy, but your plans should always be realistic. Plan and see what works for you. That is the trick. What can you do now that will get you closer? What time will it take? Do you need to learn something? Do you want to be flexible about your dream? Or even do you want to change it altogether? Whatever it is, it has to be your decisions based on your understanding of your priorities, capabilities, your willingness to go for what you want, and the sacrifices you’re willing to make.
No one will cheer you on. As a matter of fact, if you follow the road not taken, you’ll listen to a lot of naysayers who will critize every step you take, who will make you doubt all your decisisons, who will think you’re crazy. If you believe in yourself and this is really what you want, don’t listen to them. Read books, listen to advice but from trustworthy people and not from those who have no clue what they’re talking about.
Now, are your dreams too big or too scary? I constantly ask myself: can I really do this? I’ve always believed that making your dreams a reality takes a lot of time and a lot of hardwork, but believing you can is half the journey because if you believe you can’t, you won’t even try. My dreams scare me. I often ask myself: “Will I ever be successful or am I delusional?” I even googled it. It turns out there is nothing wrong with reaching for the stars or being delusional. If you reach for the stars, you may land on the moon. And this means you’ve soared above earth. If you think you’re delusional or your dreams are scary, read this article about Delusion, Productivity, and Success. The article stresses that delusional people are more likely to succeed. I always think of Elon Musk, not as the successful man he is now, but years ago when he was just a passionate young man with a lot of ideas. I imagine him telling someone, “I’m going to change the world” and the response he gets, “that’s not possible.” Well, he does it anyway.
Now, I really can’t wait to see what my future self is going to say to me.