During a pandemic, you tend to be more pensive and retrospective, looking more deeply at life and the twists and turns it took to get where you are. I just celebrated my 47th birthday, and the mental process you go through as you age, questioning, revisiting, revealing truths, etc., tend to amplify as you approach the big 5-0 milestone. You think about the past, things like where you came from, how you were raised, influences that shaped you – good or bad, how you got to the here and now, and wonder where you’re going next.
My rational brain knows that I am who I am because (or in spite) of all the input that went into me like the many woven threads in a tapestry. The genetic material, the nurturing, the experiences, just about everything related to me over the past 47 years constitutes my unique threads and design that make up the tapestry. I further know that it is mine alone, and cannot be duplicated ever again – it is my singular fingerprint in the universe for all eternity.
Even so, I often find myself fantasizing that I could somehow go back in time; that I could tell my younger self some things, provide guidance about life, what’s real and true, and thereby dissolve some of the harmful preconceptions and assumptions I had way back then. That is a frustrating impossibility, but it’s still worth fantasizing about.
What would I tell my younger self if I could say something? Here, in hopes that it might be helpful to some other young people on their journey, are all the talking points, broken down into 7 topics, that I wish I could tell that young person so many moons ago:
- Authenticity is the most appealing trait of all… in your personal world and in the business world, if that’s the career you choose for yourself like I did. There is so much energy expended being fake – in projecting a persona that isn’t natural and real. If you don’t waste that energy (and money) on projecting and deflecting you can be free to flourish without betraying yourself.
- Guess what else happens as a result of being authentic and real? You also liberate and invite other people you surround yourself with to do the same, creating relationships and bonds that are much more meaningful. People want to do business with sincere people and are drawn to them.
- Recognize what you’ve done, especially the bad. Analyze it, learn from it, understand it and most of all own it by seeing it for what it is without hiding. It’s all part of your authentic self. But when all of that is done, please don’t forget to forgive yourself– we are all human. Silence the negativity in your head and confront anybody you may have hurt along the way. Move through it, not around it. Something wonderful awaits you on the other side.
- Don’t let other people’s hang ups and opinions impact your choice and unique path your life should take. Listen to yourself mostly and what you really want and try not to care too much about what others think of you! It’s counterproductive to your peace of mind and it really doesn’t matter anyway. You generally only figure this out in your late 40s, but knowing it in your 20s will propel you even further and faster!
- Be a weirdo or a nerd in the open and in the way you want. Not everyone has to think like you and that’s okay. Try and really be true to yourself and find people that enjoy your true authentic self.
- You are not the only person in the world who feels this way, whatever “this way” is that you’re feeling. See if you can connect with some others that feel the same way and continue your journey of authenticity.
Exercise and Eat Well
- Schedule daily exercise as part of your life. The older you get, the more you’ll understand why. Learn to enjoy the feeling of your physical self and understand it as best you can. Flex your muscles, feel the rapid beats of your heart, the quick moving flow of your blood, the necessity of breath- let it all wash over you. You will miss it when you can’t do it during brief health issues and especially when it’s gone forever. Making it a part of your daily routine will keep you in the game for a much longer period of time – sometimes it can be extended for decades!
- Learn early that food can either be nourishing fuel or a delicious poison. You will never outrun a bad diet is a very apt expression I have learned over the years, but it took time and wisdom to understand it. It also took age. In your youth, you feel like you can overcome bad eating habits– but that’s not what’s happening on the inside. If you don’t eat correctly to fuel your mind and body, you will suffer for it down the road.
- Drink a lot of water. It is the life blood of our existence and the more you learn to love drinking it, the better you’ll feel. On the same principle, don’t drink your calories – soft drinks, sugar drinks, juices, alcohol – these are fun and there is room for it, but only sporadically. Enjoy them as a treat, not as a regular part of your daily life.
- Sugar is terrible for you. The sooner you treat sugar like a drug the better off you’ll be. Sugar increases hunger, dulls the brain, negatively impacts insulin production, causes obesity and triggers the same chemical rush and receptors in your brain that hard drugs do. Like drinking your calories, sugar should be doled out sporadically. Everyone likes ice cream – have it, but only once in a while. Moderation, moderation, moderation.
- Don’t wait to travel, do it now. Traveling expands the mind, softens bigotry and causes you to be more open to those that have different languages, cultures, history and traditions to your own. You will likely discover one of the true constants throughout this globe – all people desire to be happy, loved and want the freedom to live life with respect and dignity. Another plus – every once in a while, you’ll experience things that are so incredible on your journey, that you will wonder how you could have gone through with life without knowing it. Those experiences become part of the tapestry woven into your life.
- Keep your eyes open to wonder and not closed by beliefs and upbringing. In other words – don’t become rigid as you age.
- Make friends that are different from you. This might prove to be the hardest thing to do as you have to really push yourself outside of your comfort zone, but you will be so much better for it. Diversity at work and in your friend group will make you a better, smarter person with an enhanced ability to see things differently and come up with creative solutions to things that perplex you.
- Make goals and go after them – BUT – pursue them with calmness and strategy. Never be in such a hurry that you don’t take time to care about others around you, especially those you care about.
- Listen to other people speak, whether it’s of their daily activity or bigger issues like their dreams, goals and aspirations and acknowledge your support of them. Truly be present when they speak and let them know they are being heard. This goes for both personal and professional goals.
- Get out of your comfort zone. If you are shy, try your best to overcome it. If you don’t like public speaking, speak publicly until it comes easier. Take it all in stride and one step at a time, but work at it. Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone may be difficult to start, but the benefits are everlasting.
- Try not to be so gullible. Trust, but verify — with independent, objective sources. You will eventually meet people that you can trust implicitly about certain things – but it takes time to build your trusted network, sometimes decades. Until you meet your trusted network, verify everything for yourself.
- Be informed about current events in your community and around the world. Subscribe to a morning email newsletter or two. Wake up to the day’s most important news and stay informed.
- You may never forget certain things that people do to you, but for your own sake, forgive. This includes forgiving yourself. Don’t ruminate on how others have hurt you. Move on.
- Be grateful. Gratitude leads to more happiness and well-being.
- Be a positive influence in any way you can. Even simple little helpful acts can make others — and you — much happier.
- Don’t take yourself so seriously all the time. Laugh. Often. Laugh from your belly whenever possible, letting the tears run down your cheeks if they come.
- Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Sometimes very bad things happen to very good people. We will never fully understand this…
- You will have a tendency toward complacency. Resist it at all costs!
Giving of Yourself
- Learn what you are good at and what ‘gifts’ you have. Then SHARE them with others. If you only take from others and never make it a point to share from your own abundance then you slowly lose those gifts and your own vibrancy for living your best life. This can be done by mentoring, giving money and/or volunteering but physical and mental action is what I am mostly speaking about here. Be generous with yourself and your time.
- Make people feel good about themselves too. Make people feel smart and that their opinion matters, even if you disagree.
- Be present in nature! Experience awe in places humankind has not altered. Fully arrive with all your senses- how does it smell here? What am I seeing… the colors, the depth, the movement? How does it physically feel… the ground, the bark, the moss, the moisture? Being in nature puts everything in perspective and causes us to live more peacefully and work more productively.
- Much suffering comes from wanting your current moment to be different than it actually is and from wanting something impermanent to be permanent (and everything is impermanent). Learn to accept things as they actually are. Friends, jobs and lovers will come and go and that’s okay. People change, grow and not everyone is meant to last your entire story. Your current moment is different than the one you had before, it makes sense that people and employers may change too.
- If a goal or desire stays top of mind for more than a few months, start looking into it further and taking it seriously. If a desire like living in a certain place, moving on from a relationship, working overseas, taking a year off to travel, hosting a foreign exchange student or whatever uniquely speaks to you over many years, give it a fair examination and if you can make it happen – DO IT! There’s a reason it resonates within you so have the courage to make it happen before it can never happen…
On Children, Lovers and Sex
- There is no one person in the whole world who is the one-and-only person to be with you forever – so don’t waste time thinking you have to search for that one ideal person. Open yourself up, be patient, and it will all work out.
- Don’t be afraid to tell someone you love them, as long as you really do. And I hope you do.
- When you do connect with someone, be serious about it. Work at it. Be open and honest with your significant other. It is a rare and wondrous thing to be in a relationship, so make every effort to preserve and improve and deepen it.
- Oftentimes, for any number of reasons, it is time to move on from a relationship, for your sake or theirs, or both. Recognize this and move on honestly and respectfully.
- If you are alone, you won’t always be, unless you don’t make any effort otherwise. Make the effort.
- Children are a blessing and a joy. Just keep in mind that they will break your heart and scare you to death more times than you could ever imagine.
- You will always be your child’s parent, but they will leave. Use that knowledge and try and stay as connected and in love with your partner as possible. That’s who’s with you the most after the roller coaster of raising children comes to an end.
- Sex is wonderful, but it’s just one minor component of a healthy, happy and balanced life. You don’t need to obsess about it so much.
- That being said, find someone that is on the same sexual wavelength as you. If you don’t find it in a partner, you will end up finding it outside of your relationship. We cannot tame the irrational parts of ourselves, and our proclivities with sex is one of those things. Whatever you like, share it with your partner and be open to theirs as well.
- Masturbate to your heart’s content – you should love and know yourself. But know, there is NO replacement for intimacy between people.
- Be a dog’s human being at least once in your life. Dog owners are more social, get more exercise, are better able to fight depression and sadness. Being the caregiver for another life is special and will give you a sense of purpose greater than yourself. I can’t even begin to tell you how much joy my dogs (and cats) have given me throughout my life
- Life is good. Not always, but mostly. And when it is not so good, be assured it will get better.
- It’s a good thing that we don’t know everything that’s going to happen to us. If I had known all the pain and heartache I would encounter in life, even amidst the joys and victories, it would surely have been too much to bear.
- Your hard work in school will be worth it. But come on, don’t kill yourself.
- It may not be easy to stand up and speak out for what’s important to you, but you will be amazed how empowering, and important, it can be.
- Stop watching so much TV. Read more. Play more. Do more.
- Technology is cool and can help you do fun and interesting things. But keep it in perspective; don’t let it consume you. Life in the real world is far more meaningful and important. And fun.
- You are just one infinitesimal speck of existence in the vast canvas of reality. Realize that. You are everything to yourself (and maybe even to some people around you), but nothing in the grand scheme of things.
To my younger self I would further say – there are many parts of my youth that I’d like to change – things I am not proud of and foresights that I would have appreciated in advance to help make different choices. I would have liked these untidy loose threads removed or changed. But, if I pull at any one of those threads, I risk unraveling the entire tapestry of my life. Instead, in the wisdom of my age, I no longer see them as loose threads, but through effort and struggle, was able to tie them into knots that made my tapestry even stronger. Realizing this, even given the chance, it is not for me to give you advice in the hopes of guiding you down a different path. You see, your life has to take on the bumps and turns in the road as mine did in order to unfold in a true and natural way and for you to develop into the remarkable person you will become. Mistakes and adversity are an essential part of the journey.
So – I take back wishing I could speak to my younger self. I had mentors and teachers and advice that helped me at each stage of my life. Instead of to myself, I offer these lessons to you, the reader, who may be at a stage of life where some of my advice resonates and offers some clarity. We can’t go back nor should we take the chance of unraveling our beautiful life tapestries. I wish for you to learn the above lessons as I did and let your tapestry unfold with richness, colour – and some knots, and find your rewards as your life unfolds exactly as it is supposed to.