Lately, I’ve been reading my old journals — particularly from middle school — and it’s been so interesting to reflect on how I viewed the world then vs. how I view it now. In some ways, I’m very much the same, but I’ve also learned so much in the past 20 or so years, and it’s gotten me thinking a lot about what I wish I’d known then. I don’t want to dwell on the past, of course, but sometimes considering what you would tell your younger self is actually an interesting way to reflect on the present. While reading through the pages in my own journals, here are some of the things I wanted to tell my younger self…
SELF-LOVE IS A JOB, NOT A NATURAL STATE.
As a kid, I wrote about things like wanting to be thinner, prettier, nicer, etc. In the way I wrote it (and what I know about myself), it seems as if I was writing about these things not because I necessarily believed them, but because I thought those were the things I was supposed to be unsettled by. I was also unsettled by my lack of belief in God, horrific happenings in the world, etc., but it was the lack of self-love (or feigned lack of it) that struck me the most. I believed, as so many children (and adults!) do, that things would be better if I could just be [fill in the blank]. While I haven’t entirely rid my mind of those thoughts, I know now that they’re not facts. The way you feel about yourself will not change if external circumstances. I know now, with decades of experience in my back pocket, that if I’m thinner, more loved, more popular, more successful, I’m not necessarily happier. Self-love isn’t a natural state of being. It’s a job — one that we have to work at our entire lives. Like most jobs, the more you do it, the easier it gets, but there are still hard days. It’s an on-going, lifelong journey taking place entirely in your own mind.
NOTHING — ABSOLUTELY NOTHING — LASTS FOREVER.
When you’re a child (an even sometimes when you’re a grownup), everything (good or bad) feels intense and eternal. Every state we enter into — joyful, sad, anxious, excited — seems as if it will last forever. This can be wonderful in the good times, but devastating in the bad times. The older I get, the more I realize that nothing — absolutely nothing — lasts forever. This might sound disheartening, but it’s an absolute truth about life. And it’s actually a fantastic concept to embrace. It makes the bad times easier to get through (they’ll end soon!), and it makes us more appreciative of the good times. When you’re in the midst of a low time, it’s hard to remember this, but when you practice doing it, it gets easier, and makes whatever you’re going through much easier to cope with.
THE FUTURE REALLY IS FUTURISTIC. (AND IT’S A-W-E-S-O-M-E.)
Kid-me loved technology. I can remember going to the computer store (CompUSA?) with my dad to pick out my first laptop, and I honestly feel like it was one of the greatest days of my life. Having a tool in my bedroom where I could write and create (with the limited clip art I had, haha), was life-changing. I also remember seeing a teeny tiny laptop that day and really wanting that one, but it wasn’t able to handle programs like Word (which was pretty much the only thing I needed the computer for). Now, we have those teeny laptops right in our pockets at all times. We have incredible access to so much information all of the time, and it’s amazing. Technology was always something I loved, but when I was a kid I had no idea how much it would transform my life. My kid-self would be so thrilled with the tech world right now, and I’m grinning right along with her.
A LOT WILL CHANGE, AND A LOT WILL STAY THE SAME.
The cool thing about having old journals is being able to reflect on who you were and compare it to who you are now. (Narcissistic? Perhaps. But also fascinating!) So many things that plagued my young mind — not having a boyfriend, feeling frustrated by the limitations of childhood, stressing about tests — changed a great deal. The anxious mind of my childhood isn’t gone, but it’s shifted and, while anxiety is still a struggle, I know how to cope with it better now. Many things have changed, but what’s just as interesting is some of the things that have stayed the same. My childhood self would be thrilled with what I do for a living, the design of my apartment, all of the time I get to spend with words, drawing and writing and creating, with a super cute pup curled at my feet. Even if you don’t have a childhood journal, I’d highly recommend reflecting on what you were like then (and what you liked then) to see how you’ve changed or stayed the same.
YOU HAVE A LOT MORE POWER THAN YOU REALIZE.
When you’re young (or, at least, when I was young), you often feel powerless. You cannot make big life decisions. You can’t drive. You can’t choose where you go most of the time. If you’re independent and crave autonomy, this lack of control can feel stifling and frustrating. But, the older I get, the more I realize that control is less about changing your circumstances and more about changing your attitude. Yes, as a grown-up, you have a lot more say in what you do with your life, but you also have different stressors and unavoidable aspects of life that you have to deal with. The sooner you realize that your power lies not in what you can control externally, but in what you can do with your mindset and attitude, the more in control of your life you become — no matter what comes your way.
DREAMS ACTUALLY CAN COME TRUE.
About a week ago, I came across the quote I illustrated above, and it made me pause and think about how lucky I am to be doing what my childhood self would have wanted to do. For some, this might be ridiculous (either they didn’t have a childhood dream or they had one that they didn’t really want), but I always wanted to be a writer — really, that’s all I envisioned myself doing, in some form or another — and now I’m doing it. I’ve always been grateful for this opportunity, but that quote made me realize what a true privilege it is to be able to do what I always wanted to do. If I could tell my childhood self about what I do for a living now, I know she would have been happy — and isn’t that kind of an amazing thing? Now, this dream job certainly isn’t some magical, perfect career path. It’s hard and gets harder all the time, but still. To be able to tell my childhood self that, yes, you can (and will!) be a writer, is kind of an amazing idea. Also, if you know any kids out there, tell them about this. Also, tell them this: one of the reasons I think I actually became a writer is because I never, for one moment, thought I wasn’t one. Even when I was working in Marketing, I was writing on the sly. I was always, always writing, even when my business card didn’t say “writer,” and I always will be, even if my career path changes. (Now walk down memory lane with this oldie-but-goodie and imagine me singing it about my writing career, haha!)
Now, I want to know… Do you have old journals? Do you read them? What would you tell your younger self if you could? Share in the comments below!
Yes, I do have old journals, and I have read them. I’m amazed at how much I’ve changed, and how much I am the same! My writing voice is similar, even now. Reading old journals reminds me of so many things both good and bad that have faded in my memory. If I could tell my younger self anything, it would be, “You won’t believe how great your life is going to be!” I’m so lucky that many of my wildest dreams have come true, and when I was dreaming them, I don’t think I really thought they would. I could also tell my younger self, “There will also be times of great pain and suffering, but you will get through them.”
Kathy – Those are excellent words of wisdom. I’d say those two things to my younger self as well!
I really love this post. What you said about power is particularly inspiring. As I’ve gotten old and moved out I’ve realised how great it is to have power over myself and my life, but I know there will be circumstances that I have no control over, which is going to throw my new independent personality out of whack – but I just have to remember that I still control my own feelings and thoughts. I choose how things affect me. That’s a really great way to look at it.
I’ve also wanted to be a writer ever since I learnt how to read! People have called me a writer since primary school, and I’ve never thought any different. I may not be making all my money from it right now, but I have faith in myself that I will get there. Writing is my dream, there’s no way I am ever giving up on it!
Indya – Thanks so much for reading, and for your wise comment! Never give up on your writing!!!
It’s funny that I read this post today. My wife and I were talking last night about who we were vs who we are. Without saying too much, I told her that under no circumstance would I want to go back to being how I was. I worked hard to escape that and would do anything to prevent myself from relapsing back to it.
This was where we differed. She told me that I need to embrace my past and not forget it. To an extent, I agree. I think we disagreed on how we agreed, though. I use my past of fuel my present and future. She uses her past as acknowledgement as to where she finds herself.
While I did not keep a journal (wish I had) I would love to have a conversation with ‘old’ Joel about what he was doing and where he was going. At the same time, I am happy that I can’t have that conversation. I don’t think I would be who I am if it wasn’t for who I was.
I love the first point – that liking yourself is a job. In a world where we are in danger of looking at how many hours work we put in, rather than at the quality of the work done (I’m as guilty as the next person) this is a great way of getting around the “inner critic”. Too often, when I decide to take a moment for myself, the good old Voice Of Guilt will say that I’m not working hard enough or that working on my self esteem is taking away from the big list of things I should be doing.
Which is doubly funny when you consider I’m self employed.
In terms of things I’d like to say to my past self? Well, the first is that I should not take everything too seriously. I was pretty serious for a long time as a kid. I’m still working on it, but way better at laughing off adversity now. Second thing I’d say to myself is that you can be happily married. I wish more people knew that one because more often than not many of us, myself included, grew up surrounded by divorce scenarios.
And the key to finding that special someone? Well, that takes me full circle – luckily I managed to learn to work on my self esteem at least a little bit in between all the self criticism!
Joel – I’m with you on the past stuff. I feel like, while I’d like to forget it sometimes, it has made me who I am today so I try to use it to fuel my present and improve my future.
CeeKay – Thanks for the comment! I loved reading about the things you would tell yourself! Self-esteem and self-love is so important, and too often we don’t focus on doing the work because, as you said, we feel like we should be doing something else more “productive.” We’re all works in progress, and it’s too easy to forget that sometimes!
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