Life lessons: Words I wish my younger self had heard growing up

I sometimes find myself wishing I could tell my younger self some things about how life really works, about what’s real and true. I would love to dissolve some harmful assumptions, experiences, and conditioning that impeded my growth. My younger self needed someone to tell him it was all going to work out; that I’d be okay; that all things pass. I believe that things happen for a reason, and I’m old enough to be able to look back and see how past adversities contributed to my becoming who I am today and for shaping my career path. So, the truth is I wouldn’t change a thing, but…

I often have teens at my retreats and camps visualize themselves at a younger age when they were hurting or feeling alone. They tell their younger selves what they wish they had heard that would have given them comfort. The following are messages I wish my younger self had heard in those dark times.

  1. If you feel like your family doesn’t understand you and doesn’t “get” you, maybe it’s not about you. They can’t see you because of their own issues, not because there is something wrong with you. If a flower is withering in a garden, you don’t blame the flower; you blame the environment that is not conducive to its growth. Sometimes people around you won’t understand or validate your journey, but they don’t have to because it’s not their journey.
  2. Blood is not thicker than water. If I heard it once growing up, I heard it a thousand times: blood is thicker than water. But I now subscribe to Naguib Mahfouz’s different view of family: Home is where all your attempts to escape cease. It is more than okay to develop your own “chosen family” who accept you for who you are and better meet your needs. It’s healthy for you to spend time as a kid at the homes of relatives or friends whose parents nurture you. Surround yourself with people who unconditionally love you even if it’s not family.
  3. You are not alone. There are lots of people who can relate to what you are feeling, so be brave and allow yourself to be vulnerable. It is not a sign of weakness to reach out for support; you don’t have to go it alone.
  4. Despite the criticism you hear each day, you really are good enough. You don’t have to accept the stories you inherited from your family that said you weren’t measuring up. Remember this quote by Robert Brault: We all have our limitations, but when we listen to our critics, we also have theirs. Mistakes are opportunities to learn, no one is perfect, and you are doing just fine.
  5. Life does get better. Hang in there and trust that you have the courage and ability to make your life different. Someday you will be able to look back and see how all of the adversities you are now facing contributed to finding your calling and excelling at your life’s work. 
  6. Trust your gut. Don’t make decisions to avoid pissing people off or to not disappoint people. Cultivate the ability to quiet yourself down, go inward, and touch into your intuition. Trust the urges that call you to grab opportunities that cross your path. The moment you decide that what you know and intuit is more important than what others think or what you have been taught to believe, you will be on the road to success and your calling.  Finally, live by this quote by Lucille Clifton, If someone gives you permission, they can take it away. I give myself permission. Do the same.
  7. You are loveable, important, and deserve the best. If those beliefs are not reflected back to you at home, find it within your heart to believe in yourself. Find other adults who can see you at your highest self at times when you can’t see it in yourself. Take great care of your heart and soul because you deserve it.

Do the above visualization yourself as a way to let go of past grievances. The things you wish your younger self had heard might also be just the words you need today as well. I’ll leave you with these wise words from Mr. Rogers.

“I’ll never forget the sense of wholeness I felt when I finally realized what I was. The directions weren’t written in invisible ink on the back of my diploma. They came ever so slowly for me; and ever so firmly I trusted that they would emerge. All I can say is, it’s worth the struggle to discover who you really are.”  

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