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:
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.
The self you will become
Image: ‘A Brand New Day‘ by Thomas Hawk via a Creative Commons license.