Six years doesn’t sound like a very long time, but in your twenties it’s an eternity. I can barely recognise myself at 26 from the person I was at 20. I was pretty messed up back then – very down on myself, too socially anxious to function properly and so desperate for attention that I would do pretty much anything for it.
Now I look at my younger self fondly, kind of like a younger sister, someone who learned all of their lessons the hard way – but that isn’t who I am any more. I was reading and reflecting on old diaries and letters and it got me thinking – what would I tell my younger self if we got to have a conversation now?
Although some things really don’t change…
Treasure your family and friends
Halfway through uni, carving my own way in the world, I was only just beginning to appreciate my parents as human beings and was much more focused on my new-found independence. I’m glad I didn’t know I only had five years left with my dad (that would have been too cruel) but I also wish I’d taken more pictures, stopped to appreciate our moments together and taken him for granted less. These days I really value my time with my loved ones – I treat every interaction as though our time is limited and precious and try never to assume that people will always be there out of habit.
Stop making yourself inferior
When I was twenty I did what too many young girls do, because nobody ever explained to them that they don’t have to. I let my romantic relationships rule my life. I changed my interests, appearance and personality on the strength of what my boyfriend at the time liked. I let my world fall apart when relationships ended – I didn’t have the strong sense of self that I value so highly now – and I always acted as though I was on the back foot, the inferior one in the pair. Now I understand that I’d rather be despised for who I am than loved for who I’m not – and that loving and respecting myself is the most important thing of all.
Stop worrying about what everyone else thinks
For some reason, my younger self was convinced that everyone else was in on some big secret. I was out of the loop, everybody else knew what the rules were, socially and otherwise. I wish I’d known then what I know now – that we’re all winging it, we’re all fucked up and we’re all insecure. Why, then, should what other people think matter more than my own judgement? I would tell my 20-year-old self to stop seeking approval, stop consulting and just trust your gut – it won’t lead you astray.
It may have been just a dreamhouse then but I built it later!
The things that matter now won’t always matter
I remember shedding actual tears – yes, secreting ocular fluid – because I was upset about a student union motion not going through, or because someone disagreed with me in a Facebook debate. So much time and energy wasted on getting caught up in stupid little things because I didn’t yet have the life experience to see the wood for the trees. Now, whenever I find myself getting really worked up about something trivial (a mistake at work, a cross word with a friend and so on) I take myself aside, have a little word with myself and ask: “will I still care about this in five years’ time?”
Discretion isn’t always a bad thing
I still struggle with my brain-to-mouth filter – but with age comes judgement, and now I’m a little more careful and reserved. Yes, there are some people with whom I don’t hold anything back, and that’s great, but I choose them more carefully. Yes, there are some intimate things that I share about my life, but I’m more aware and deliberate about the way in which I share them (and the level of detail I go into). I read back some of my old (and now deleted) social media posts the other day cringing all the way and thinking how I wouldn’t be friends with someone who moaned all the time (with way too much information)!
What would you tell your younger self if you could have a conversation? Would you do things differently? Or did your mistakes make you who you are? Leave your comments in the box below!