A Letter to my Younger Self
To 30-something Mali
Without any spoilers, I am going to give you some advice for
your personal growth over the next 20 or more years. I wish I had known these
things beforehand. I am very glad that I know them now, and hope they will help
Give yourself permission to feel your feelings and roll with
them. By feeling them, you learn to recognise them, understand them, and,
ultimately, this knowledge helps you grieve, and it helps you heal. Feeling
them is not always pleasant, and there is usually no easy shortcut to get
through them, but it is worth doing the work. You’ll come to accept them, and
you won’t be afraid of them. That’s a gift.
Take joy, delight, and happiness where you find it – the
warmth of the sun on your back, laughter with a friend or from something funny,
the luxury of a hot shower or bath, the pleasure of helping someone. Joy in
life is in the little things, even when you might be afraid, or sad, or angry.
Those big things come and go. But, as your mother will say a lot in the next 20
years, there is always “a good cup of tea” to be relished. And never feel
guilty about feeling joy. It is healing. And you deserve to feel it.
Learn self-compassion. You are kind to others. So, don’t you
deserve the same kindness from yourself? When you learn to be kind to yourself,
and eventually, to like yourself, you will find it easier to stand up for
yourself, and to care less about what others think. You will learn to say “no”
to things and people who are negative and draining, and “yes” to new
opportunities. It isn’t selfish, though. You will find it easier to be tolerant
of others and show them compassion and understanding in turn, and you will grow
as a person. You become more content in yourself but that also makes you more
demanding too, because you know who you want to be, and who you can be.
Speaking of caring less about what others think, it gets
easier! I am not kidding, though you won’t be surprised if I admit that I’m
still not very good at it. But you know what really helps? knowing that others’
opinions of me or my life almost always says more about them than it does about
It is possible to retrain your brain! If you find yourself
thinking negative thoughts or going over and over negative experiences (as I
know you do, have always done), you can teach yourself not to think about these
things. First, you need to recognise these thought patterns as unhelpful and
negative. Then you can challenge them. Ask yourself, “are they true? Or am I
catastrophising? Can I fix the issue behind them? Or am I self-flagellating for
no reason?” Once you know, then you can counter them, and dismiss them.
Write your thoughts down. It helps. It can free your brain
from trying to remember something, or from going over and over a particular
event. It can and will also help you figure things out –how you feel and what
you think, what is important, what you want to do in the future, who you want
to be. In fact, it can be quite therapeutic. And it will new open worlds to
you. You will learn to love it, even to need it. And you might find you are
quite good at it!
Make the best decisions you can with the information you
have available to you at the time. Then don’t beat yourself up about them. You
can’t turn back time. Hindsight is wonderful, and you can and should grow from
it, but there is no benefit in wishing you’d made different decisions.
You know what you’re good at, and what you enjoy, and of
course, what you’re not good at, and what you don’t enjoy. Be honest with
yourself, both for the good and the bad. You will find that gets easier as you
get older. It is liberating to learn to look at yourself without judgement or
self-recrimination but with curiosity and compassion. It is liberating to be
able to move on with an intention to improve where possible.
Learn to know and challenge your values. Hold them close. I
have learned to embrace them without feeling that I was letting anyone down, including,
perhaps especially, you, my younger self. Solidifying my world views and values
has made a great difference to me, my thoughts, my level of contentment, my authenticity.
I let go of a lot of things. But in doing so, I was able to begin to fully
embrace myself, and my life.
As humans, we survive by adapting to new situations. We can
find happiness without achieving the big goals, whatever they might be. I’m sorry
to say that you won’t win the lottery! But you don’t have to have the perfect
family, career, body, or mind to be happy. You just need to be able to
appreciate what you have in your life, whatever that might be, wherever you can
find it. You can achieve acceptance and contentment. It is easier than you
think. And you are much more resilient than you think too. Take pride in that!
Your next twenty plus years will be full of joys and
adventures and scary times and love and sadness and disappointment, of mistakes
and wonderful decisions. That is inevitable. That is life. Embrace it! It will
be amazing. I am not kidding.
It is World Childless Week. Learn more about it and see all the other submissions on this topic here.