Life is not a race

A Brand New Day My whole life, I’ve been in a rush.

I finished high school in four years instead of five. I went to university at 18 and less than two years in I started to get antsy. I couldn’t see my education leading to any meaningful work, so I took a leave of absence and went to college for a practical education in communications. It was a rash decision, and while it was the right one at the time, it was largely motivated by my haste to start working.

I graduated and had my first full time job at 21. Only then did I realize that the degree I had so quickly pooh-poohed was a vital distinction I needed to get the job I wanted, at the pay scale I expected. So I went back and got it, while continuing to work full time.

I bought my first house and was married to my high school sweetheart at 23. A few short years later we jumped on the first vacant piece of property we looked at so that we could realize our dream of building our own house. I was 26 when we built it.

The only thing I didn’t do in a hurry was have children. We were married 5 years before we took the leap. Arguably, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

I always thought my propensity to push forward came from a healthy dose of ambition—to achieve, to have, to get somewhere. It served me well, I have a lot to be proud of and I’m comfortably settled into a very good life. But now, with the benefit of a few extra years of experience, and because I’ve finally allowed myself the time to breathe, I find myself wishing I could go back and push pause.

There is so much I would tell my younger self. So much I would do differently with the benefit of hindsight. So here it is, a letter to my younger self:

Christine,

Life is not a race. I know it feels like it is—you want to do well and achieve so much, and for all the right reasons. But when you dash from goal to goal you forget to savour all the steps in between and miss the opportunity to learn from each misstep. You plough forward, blind to the lessons and deaf to all the warnings and you’ll begin to forget where you were headed and why.

Take the time to really consider your goals. Don’t worry about the expectations of others. They aren’t the ones who will be living your life. I cannot emphasize this enough. Stop, think and revisit your deepest thoughts often. Reflect on who you think you are and who you want to be. What brings you joy and helps you to feel fulfilled? Use this to help you decide what you want to do with your life. A day will come when you learn that a career should be about passion and happiness, rather than expectation and success. It should complement the rest of your your life, not be your life.  Otherwise, you might regret some of the choices you make.

Don’t worry so much. Let yourself make mistakes.  If you do everything you can to avoid them, you’ll learn that you are living your life more for others than for yourself. Your mistakes won’t define who you are, but they are valuable tools. They build character and confidence. The beautiful thing about mistakes is that they are truly yours. They help you discover who you really are.

Have fun. You will forget over and over again to live and let loose your grip on responsibility. Your focus on being good will keep you from all the things you should be doing at your age, the things you can only do before family and professional obligations. Play is healthy and important. It’s okay to go off course every once in a while. You might be surprised by the things you learn while taking a short cut, or a detour. Life is longer than you think. You have so much time to get it right.

Most importantly, have faith in yourself. You have so much to offer, all of it just waiting to overflow. It will take time for you to find your way, but when you discover the right direction it will be a wonderful thing. That doesn’t mean you will be free of all the bumpy roads, but a life without bumpy roads is not worth living. Life is not a race, it’s a journey and that the joy really comes from the living.

You are a good person. You are enough. If you slow down, look deep inside, you’ll see it for yourself.

Love always,
The self you will become


Image: ‘A Brand New Day‘ by Thomas Hawk via a Creative Commons license.
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17 thoughts on “Life is not a race

  1. These are wise words to your younger self, but not be concerned with the expectations of others? It’s almost impossible for most of us. And not worry – when those we love are involved? Equally impossible. I suppose the answer lies in moderation, but the human heart and individual nature nonetheless will both have their way. And part of youth is our certainty, until experience teaches us otherwise.

    And then teaches us, again and again.

  2. Now that is one damn good letter! But this Christine (the one in the now), is also young. You’ve got lots of take to take these lessons and savour them for years and years to come.

  3. Dr. Mama says:

    good stuff, sharp insights, thick ideas for our younger selves. thick ideas for our current selves even. i think the lesson i missed was that ‘play is healthy and important.’ too much insecurity for too long to grasp that. and now, well, i have few play skills. i don’t regret much, myself, but i do wish i could have practiced play so i’d be better at it now. thanks for sharing.

  4. ayala says:

    Christine, these are wise words that you earned by living the life you have. Be happy that you have this wisdom to now experience life differently. To savor it all, to be kinder to yourself and to seek the joy in the moment. You are right,”life without bumpy roads is not worth living.”

  5. Wow, what a great post! I like your letter to your younger self. You’re right–it does sometimes feel like life is a race until we get older and realize that that’s not sustainable. Things happen in their time. (But that’s really hard to figure out when you’re in it.)

  6. Kelly says:

    Smart, experienced words, Christine. I think I would add that it’s okay to fail so long as you keep trying.

  7. I think we all should write letters to our younger selves on a regular basis–particularly if, like you, you tended to take care of others and overlook your own needs. Your letter is awesome.

  8. Justine says:

    This is a letter I wish I wrote to my own self! I love this idea but I also know my younger self would never listen, so why even bother? 😉

    However, because of what we’ve learned and our role now as mothers, this letter could be written to our kids as well, but then again, it’s their mistakes to make, their paths to forge so regardless of what we say to them now with regards to their future, they will probably go with the hindsight is 20/20 route after having taken their own chances. Like me, they’ll probably one day realize when all is said and done, mom was right all along (which they utter only to themselves of course) Hah!

  9. Everyone’s inner teenager could use such a letter from the future. Also, I find the words of Adrian Smith (below) to be a good refresher. Life can seem like a racket and it’s easy to reminisce, so it’s good to step back once in a while and remember:

    “So, understand
    Don’t waste your time always searching for those wasted years
    Face up, make your stand
    And realize you’re living in the golden years.”

  10. Keia says:

    Great letter!
    I always feel like I miss my “play time” and that I grew up extremely fast. Pretty well traveled by 19 – First full-time job by 20 – Master’s by 23 – first child at 35 and the list could go on. I’m now at the crossroads of finding my true bliss which is somewhat a struggle – I believe I know what it is I just need to leap towards it. Some days are a struggle. I am now at this late in the game really considering my “true” goals and have stopped worry about the expectations of others. I am very thankful for the gift of a son…for he helps me see clear on those cloudy days.

  11. Mel says:

    Some days I feel like I am running the 100 meter dash, other days I feel like I am running a marathon. I loved this article and it made me really think about how much I try to please others and care what others think, especially when I was young. I was expected to go to university, but I too couldn’t wait to get out there and chose to attend an environmental college instead. I loved the hands on, it was the best thing I did. Something for me.

    Even now I need to step back and enjoy the moment. Let go, let my boys have fun and just enjoy life.
    Thanks so much for your in sight.

  12. Christine, this is a wonderful letter. And I believe our younger selves are still there inside us, often burdening us with guilt or regret or other anxiety-inducing feelings. So re-reading that letter to your very young self is likely to help your current self – who, as others have noted, is still young enough to enjoy a very large chunk of life.

  13. Cathy says:

    Such a great letter – and applicable to many I believe.

  14. As you probably know, I am a believer in writing letters to one’s self. Yes yes yes. Insight into who we have been , who we are now and how it all affects who we will become. I love this. And it sounds to me that just being aware of the pace now means you’re in a good place.

  15. Like Kitch, I think we all should write these letters to ourselves. It is a way to reflect on the past and the future. You talk about some important reminders in your letter. Thanks for prompting me to write my own letter to myself.

  16. […] setting them aside until I do. I’m not known for being flexible. It’s how I’ve lived my whole life and old habits die […]

  17. Amber says:

    I am so behind on catching up, but I had to comment on this post and say that I love it. I relate very much, and I love it.

    To slowing down!

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