We reach a certain age and can’t help ourselves. The tendency to look back and reflect is an inner reflex that comes upon us as we grow older, watch our children become adults, and realize we are in the second half of our lives.
Of course we can’t un-ring the bells, but there is a certain amount of empowerment that comes from thinking about what we would change if we could. If we had a Do-Over button would we use it? What would we do differently to affect the outcome of the path we chose?
My short answer is nothing. The person I am today is the amalgamation of all the decisions I made on the road that got me to here. If I changed even one thing, the risk of a domino reaction that could potentially take away the joys I’ve known is enough to stop me.
But it doesn’t stop me from thinking about it. Things I could have said or done differently are easily identified. The road not taken has given me many hours of contemplation and curiosity about what might have been.
If I could speak to my younger self there are a few things I’d say to provide encouragement, reassurance and proof that it would all be worth it. I would steer clear of the obvious, because those are lessons we must learn on our own – having someone step in and prevent them is to diminish the value and the experience. Therefore I give some advice to my younger self.
Be Less Afraid
It’s natural to worry about what people think. Our words and actions define us, and there is wisdom in considering the impact they have before we actually execute them. But too much of that reserve is a lack of confidence, resulting in the fear of speaking out and stepping up.
I want my younger self to see the fine line between the two and risk being bolder. A bit more risk taking and the courage to stand my ground would not have hurt me. I had strong beliefs and passionate causes but kept them to myself; waiting for the confidence to voice them. That must seem almost funny to people who know me now, but there was a time when I didn’t have all that moxie.
Love the Person You Are
I wasted a significant amount of time wishing for high cheek bones and blond hair. I’m not sure how I thought this was going to happen since I was born with dark hair and a round face but there it is.
I was more intellectual than athletic, which led me to the student council and away from cheerleading try outs. It took me a long time to accept that on my best day I would never do a cart wheel or a flip. My athletic skills would never develop beyond a rudimentary ability to balance on both feet. If you are standing next to me in Zumba class you know this to be true.
Eventually I grew into myself, and liked me the way I was, but I wish I could tell the younger me something that would prevent all that unrequited hoping. I would also mention that the dark hair would eventually turn gray and I’d be OK with that, too.
It’s OK to Quit
News flash – it is OK to quit. It is also OK to fail. Both of these things will happen in your life but neither will define who you are. It is giving up that is not OK. I would offer myself the reassurance that when something does not feel right – mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually – it’s OK to quit it. Fall back, regroup, think it through; learn from it. Then chose another course and begin again.
I grew up with a fear of failing (because it was not an option) and a bigger fear of disappointing the adults in my life. Perhaps I would change this if I could – telling myself it takes courage to quit in order to change direction and find a truer path for yourself. Then again, those false starts made me smarter, stronger and more certain of the right path when my feet finally found it.
Develop a Sense of Humor
I would go back and high five myself on this one. I have always had a sense of humor, and the ability to make others laugh. More than anything else this has seen me through some dark places. I would reassure the younger me that when, in spite of everything, you can still laugh, it will be all right. I’d also congratulate myself for recognizing how important this skill is as both a life preserver and a balancing pole.
You Will Make a Difference
If I got to hit the Do-Over button just once, this is the one I’d chose. I would stand in front of myself and share the knowledge that I would make a difference in the world.
That I would choose a career path so different from the one I started on, traveling all over the world, working with and using technology the world had not yet dreamed of.
That my friendships would stand the test of time and we would celebrate our older, wiser, and happier selves throughout our adult lives.
And one day I would take on the hardest job of all. I would become a parent. All the lessons I’d learned and experience I’d gained would allow me to love, shape and influence a child. I would put a good person into the world and experience joy so profound it has no words.
But if I couldn’t say any of those things, I would simply hug myself and say, “You’re going to be just fine when you get there.”