It’s a question that comes up when we’re looking at a fork in the road, or wondering about the road not taken, or just noting that the years are passing more quickly. We run through a litany of “things I wish I knew when I was younger.”
Rather than telling you what I’ve come up with (this time), I’d like to comment on one list I found, which I’m guessing many would like. From Lifehack, it includes counsel characterized by our dueling desires for “presence” and positivity of the sort that we have come to expect.
Of its “10 wise Lessons: What I Wish I knew When I Was Younger,” only a few mean something to me, or might have, 25 years ago.
Is this a sign that I was a mature before my time? Is it a reflection of today’s cultural preoccupations that I don’t share? Should I mention that I disagree with numbers 1, 2, and 3 on the Lifehack list – right off the bat?
Easy Advice in Snippets
So what about easy advice in snippets – from the media, or even from yourself to yourself?
For example, the very first recommendation in the article is to care less about what others think. (I’m very clear that we need a balance of guidance by personal values and attentiveness to the perceptions of others.) Isn’t this advice only relevant if you care excessively – or to the exclusion of giving your own opinion some breathing room?
I still care what people think – both of me, and of my work. Reputation matters. It is critical to success. I am discerning in terms of who I care about, but I will never pretend that the opinions and perceptions of others are unimportant. What has changed is the ability to understand context – who matters and why – not to mention the lengths to which I would go to please others as opposed to myself, or to accord their views more clout than is due.
So is it useful to tell oneself “care less what others think” – without further qualification?
Here is another example we see often, both in lists of this kind (advice to self), theoretically part of aging gracefully, and in general pronouncements.
“Success is built on hard work.” We do love our “success snippets” in this culture, don’t we? But who doesn’t know this one – even by 20 or 25 years of age? Am I being naive believing that those of us who watched our parents work hard to achieve something understand? Even in our “entitlement” culture?
Sure, some may (foolishly) believe in the (fairy tale) overnight success – our Reality TV culture celebrates the fame of no one in particular who becomes someone in particular because we bestow upon him or her “fame” by virtue of peeking in on a semi-scripted and exaggerated version of “real life.” But don’t we know better?
Good Advice at Any Age
On the other hand, these two snippets in the list appeal to me, whether abbreviated and without context or not, perhaps because they are words I have used for myself at various points in life. They are surely lessons that bear repeating if we’ve gone through tough times, and they remain important words to say to our children, and to model through our behaviors.
Thus I happily yield to the wisdom of:
- Believe in yourself
- Look for the good in everything
Granted, it’s difficult to accomplish the first in any measure if you haven’t been raised in a supportive environment, but it isn’t impossible. It’s difficult to practice the second if life keeps raining on your parade. But both are, in my opinion, excellent pieces of advice at any age and do not preclude a pragmatic approach to real world problems. And the younger we can learn that, the better.
Advice to Your Younger Self?
As I liked both of the above (for myself), I was curious what others might say. I asked one friend to specify three pieces of advice she would give her younger self – off the top of her head, without dwelling. Here’s what she came up with:
- Be less afraid to fail
- Take more risk
- Move to Denmark
As for that third, let’s just say – I get it. (And you might, too, if you have a few aches and pains, and you’d like to retire some day!)
Of course, now I’m reconsidering my list. I just might add this: Go for the red hair! What have you got to lose?
Your advice to a younger self?
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