A recent column in London’s Times Online has me thinking about the practice of dispensing advise by writing a letter from one’s current self to a younger version. Matthew Paris wrote 50 practical tips from his 60-year-old self to his 16-year-old self, and there truly are some sage nuggets – even if you’re not an AARP-qualfiying British man.
While I’m only 35, and have a hard time some days thinking of myself as an adult, period, there are some life lessons I’ve learned the hard way that I wish I could impart upon my younger self. Some of it’s maybe more pragmatic than the romantics of the world would like, but as of late I’ve found having a harder shell makes for a softer landing in life.
So, here are some pearls of wisdom I wish I could share with a 12-year-old me:
1. Exercise every day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes. Pick up the habit now, while you’re young, while your knees are solid and you’ve got plenty of free time. I promise you it’s worth it.
2. Stop worrying about what others think of you. Honestly, it really doesn’t matter.
3. Being kind and being phony are two different things. You don’t have to pretend you’re someone’s best friend to be nice to them. Just be gentle – remember other people can be just as fragile as you, and everyone can have a bad day. If you’re kind to everyone, you won’t have anything to worry about.
4. Mean people are always mean. If someone is a name caller, nasty, and cruel, it’s doubtful they’re going to change. So steer clear.
5. You can’t make someone love you (or like you). It doesn’t matter how much you love them, or think you love them. If they don’t love you, they don’t.
6. Do what you love, even if you think (or everyone else thinks) you’re bad at it. Write, draw, paint, sing. Whatever it is that brings you creative joy, just do it. Don’t shut it down because someone tells you that you’ve got no talent. Remember #2.
7. Stop picking your zits and rubbing your eyes and biting your nails. You’ll be glad later.
8. Just because you’re related to someone doesn’t mean you need to keep them in your life. Blood relatives are simply a matter of DNA. Toxic relationships don’t have to be tolerated because you share a last name. Don’t sacrifice your own emotional well-being because you (or other people) have a overinflated idea of what family is. Family means people who love you unconditionally as you are, people who make you feel safe, and people who are always rooting for you. It doesn’t mean guilt, or anger, or obligation.
9. People don’t change. It’s not that people can’t change – they can. And you can, and should, change yourself. But other people won’t change for you. And asking them to will only leave you heartbroken. Because no matter how much someone loves you, they won’t change who they are (or their behavior) for you. So you either have to accept them as they are or let them go. But don’t get some sort of romantic idea that taking on people’s faults and living with them is just part of a balanced relationship. If someone’s behavior or attitude is unhealthy or dangerous, you need to move on. Because people don’t change.
10. Pray often. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to be vulnerable.
This exercise is a lot harder than I thought it would be – I know I’ll revisit it again soon. What would you tell your younger self?