[I am participating in a 30-day writing boot camp (and pretty jazzed about it). Our first assignment was to write a letter to our 10-years-ago self, and then finish it up with some life lessons learned. Turns out I had a LOT to say to my 10-years-ago self, mostly quite personal (it’s been an eventful and at times very difficult decade). I surprised myself by writing for a solid 90 minutes and roughly 2600 words. Beats staring at a blank page with writer’s block. Anyway. Here’s the excerpt of the things I told my 10-years-ago self that I have learned in life thus far, including the last 10 years.]
1. Middle-age isn’t nearly as “old” or as bad as people make it out to be. You will really not mind being here. You are much more comfortable in your own skin. You worry far less about what you look like or whether people like you. You are much more comfortable with an attitude of “This is me and I make no apologies for being me.” This especially holds true in regard to your being sensitive and deeply feeling, so very high in empathy. You no longer care if people think you’re “weird” in your depth of feeling or the way you think, or look at you like you’re from another planet. This is very freeing. You now think, “Love me or leave me, this is me.” It has taken you a very long time to fully embrace who/how you are. It’s about dang time.
2. One of the biggest lessons of the decade – and most difficult: You need to stop giving your precious time to people who don’t have time for you (we’re still working on this one – Self, we’re bad at this).
3. Other people’s behavior is not a reflection of you. The fact that some people don’t value you does not mean you don’t have value and worth. Your worth comes from within, not from without. You cannot let people mess with your head and your heart in that regard the way you have in the past. (Self – Be patient with yourself. We have to undo years – nay, decades – of negative reinforcement in this area.)
4. One of THE most difficult things to do is to trust again after being devastated, to be vulnerable again after having been deeply wounded, to reach out again after being rejected. Do it anyway, no matter how terrifying it is; BUT be discerning. Choose wisely. Even then, you can (and will) get kicked in the teeth on occasion. You WILL get hurt. But being vulnerable is how you reach people. It’s how you connect and encourage. It’s who you are and when you close yourself off, you’re not being true to your authentic self. You’re being just a mere shadow of yourself and it just feels wrong. I know this is really tough for you, that it would be so easy to close off and become cynical, and honestly, it will hurt like hell sometimes, but fight that and stay open. Believe me, I know how very hard that is to do, how very scary it is to risk all that hurt yet again, but I have to believe some people really are worth the risk.
5. People will disappoint you. Even if you have very few expectations or none at all, people will still disappoint you. We are all human and flawed. It will happen. It’s how they behave next that matters. COMMUNICATE. Always listen and work toward understanding why people do what they do. Be forgiving.
6. You will disappoint people. You are nowhere near perfect. You are very flawed. This does not make you disposable, not good enough, or unlovable. Own your mistakes. Apologize. Make it right if you can. Again, COMMUNICATE. The people who truly care will not leave you because you make mistakes. You are NOT your mistakes.
7. Your dark periods and tough times will show you who your true friends are. The people who draw near when you are at your lowest or most difficult and not great to be around – those are the people who truly care. They are there for you, not because they need or want something from you or because of what you can do for them, but because they care about you. Keep those people.
8. Everyone has hurts, struggles, insecurities. They are often not visible. Be compassionate. It is not difficult to be kind and give the benefit of the doubt. We don’t know what people are carrying, and we all carry something. Sometimes a word can be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back or a literal lifesaver. Being kind is always an option. It is a choice. Always choose to be kind.
9. You will never not make a stupid face in photos except for that rare selfie (and you know how hard that is!). Give it up and just laugh at all the many derp faces people capture of you and try not to avoid the camera like the plague. I know you HATE having your picture taken, but your kids will cherish those derp photos some day, so force yourself to be in more photos. You know how much Mom avoided the camera and as a result how few pics you have of your parents, especially Mom, and how much you cherish the few you do have. So do it for your kids so they’ll have those precious memories. (It’s not like they aren’t an accurate reflection of your true goofy self anyway.)
10. Laughter and a sense of humor are still – always – one of the most imperative necessities in life and one of the things that makes life worth living. Never lose your sense of humor. There are bad things coming and your sense of humor will help save your sanity.
11. Time is fleeting. It goes faster and faster. Focus on what matters most (people – it is always people.) Spend as much time as possible with your kids. You will blink and they will be graduating, engaged, starting lives of their own. You won’t believe how fast it goes. I still struggle with it some days.
12. Say I love you. Say it often. Tell people how you really feel about them. Never assume they know. You’ve always been aware of this and pretty good about it, but it bears repeating. We both know how life changes on a dime and people are just gone in literally a heartbeat. Make sure people know how you feel about them. It avoids regrets, yes, but even more importantly, they need to know. Don’t make people wonder where they stand with you or question if you even care. That’s an awful place for someone to be. (You know, you’ve been there.) Remove their doubts by telling them. Trust me, they need to hear it, even if you’ve told them before or 100 times before. It can make all the difference if you take the time to tell someone that they matter to you, that you care. Don’t take for granted that you can do it later. Sometimes now is all you have.
We have much, so much to learn, Self. I swear every year we realize more and more how little we know. Hang in there. Here’s to us both growing in wisdom and grace over the next 10 years and to making 10 years from now me/us proud of who we become.