Imagine you could go back in time (as the adult you are now) and sit down with your 6- to 18-year-old self. What age would you pick, and what would you say?
Write down your response to this question before reading on.
A few weeks ago, I asked everyone in our thirtyawesome community to share your answers to this question. I was inspired by your responses, and struck by the common threads that ran through answers that were sent in from so many different people.
Across the board, the responses centered around four main themes:
Listen to your intuition.
- “I’d say, don’t be so afraid of what other people think. Go with your gut.”
- “Don’t change anything about the path you’re going to take. Trust yourself.”
- “I would sit down with my 18-year-old self and say, ‘If it seems like a bad idea, it is.’”
The setbacks you face and the people who put you down or hold you back don’t define you or decide your worth; you ARE worthy. And no matter how tough things are now, there are better times ahead.
- “Age 13/14, and I’d say, ‘I PROMISE YOU: very soon, these people you’re beating yourself up about won’t be important any more.’”
- “11 – You’re a good person. It’s okay to have feelings. Things will get better. 16 – Don’t be too disappointed about that underwhelming first kiss. Kissing girls is MUCH more fun.”
- “I would say…you totally can’t imagine this, but you don’t need to have had better parents to be who you became…and are becoming…”
Be who you are, because you’re actually awesome.
- “I would say stop trying to force yourself into a tiny box because it would make other people more comfortable. You’ll fight every day of your life to live the way you think is best, but that’s the most worthwhile battle there is. Honor your body, because the abuse you are giving it now will hurt you again when you’re older. And never stop telling people who you are.”
- “Believe in yourself; and find your ‘voice’ – it has value…trust that you have something genuine and original to offer.”
- “You are enough.”
Keep an eye on the big picture and the long view, but live in the present. Now is where life is.
- “Stop feeling as if this is the most important period of your life. There is no such thing. It is all part of what makes you the person you are at the end of every day. Make sure you never lose your perspective on that.”
- “I’d tell my 17ish-year-old self: ‘No part of your life is the destination: it’s all the journey.’ …I spent most of high school focused on choosing and getting into college, and when I got to college it essentially didn’t occur to me that college was not my final destination. I really didn’t give any thought to the fact that I’d have to go on to do something else after graduating. I treated college as a stopping point — my reward for working hard in high school. That meant I didn’t really make plans for afterward and felt kind of adrift. I’ve made similar mistakes by viewing other milestones (marriage, kids, etc.) as destinations and not as mile markers. I need to stop doing that.”
- “10–You will forget all of this so let’s write a note to your parents, INVEST IN GOOGLE AND GET A GOOD DOG. Then I would just watch 10-year old me run around and giggle. We’d probably finger-paint.”
- “12 – There are no rules; happiness is in every moment.”
Every single response was compassionate and encouraging.
So here’s what I’m wondering today:
We can look back on our childhood selves with wisdom and compassion; why not extend that same wisdom and compassion to ourselves right here, right now, in this moment?
Here are three ways you can put your “what would I say” words into action:
1. Whatever it is you’d say to your childhood self—say it to your grownup self. I bet you still need to hear it.
Really take a moment to ask yourself: how can you take your own advice NOW? How do your “what would I say” words apply to the inner and outer struggles you’re currently facing? How can you put those words into action?
2. Find someone out there—a kid or an adult—who needs to hear those “what would I say” words now…and find a way to say them.
No, you can’t literally talk to 12-year-old you…but you can talk to the people you interact with today. You may not even know how much some little (or big) person needs to hear—or be shown—your wise compassion.
Be that voice for someone else that you couldn’t be for yourself.
3. Imagine yourself 20 years from now, doing this same exercise, looking back on your thirtysomething (or whateversomething you are now) self and imparting encouragement or words of wisdom.
Of course you can’t know what you don’t know… but what might the older you say to the current you? How can that future-you wisdom inspire you now and impact your choices and goals?
Most of us are so hard on ourselves, our whole lives long!
Sure, talking to your childhood self is imaginary, but the wisdom, encouragement, and compassion is absolutely real.
While you can’t go back to sit with your 15-year-old self and talk, you can make the choice to lead your life with self-compassion and -encouragement (and compassion and encouragement for others) today.
What would YOU say to your child self? Post your answer in the comments.
Photo by Tim Massey