I’m definitely what you would call an introvert, so I spend a lot of time contemplating life and all of the other things we introverts do when we’re being introspective. From time to time, I reflect on my past, not to dwell on it or pick out things I did wrong, but to learn from it. I sometimes make an attempt to figure out how a particular choice I made could have altered my life if I’d have chosen differently. Again, it’s not because I have regrets or wish I would have chosen differently, it’s just an exercise I put myself through to see how things connect.
Recently, I started wondering what I would tell myself if I could travel back in time. While I came up with quite a few nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned from my 36 years on this earth, I tried to boil it down to the ten most important. Unfortunately, I found that impossible and this list of ten is just a portion of what I’ll be sharing. It’s not necessarily THE top ten, just ten of the more vital things I could tell my 20-year-old (quite handsome) self. (See #7)
1.) Become the person you want to be before pursuing the person you want to be with.
I wouldn’t exactly say I pursued a lot of relationships, but I did usually tend to find myself in one at most times. There was one extended period of time where I intentionally stayed out of dating relationships for a period, just to see what it was actually like to be single. Come to think of it, I was 20 at that time. If I could go back and talk to me then, I’d make sure I knew the value of knowing who I am and not defining who I am based on with whom I find myself.
2.) When looking for the perfect match, create your own list. Don’t go by what you think you’re supposed to want.
I grew up in church, in youth group, and then found myself back in church as a young adult after a very short absence. If there’s one thing I learned growing up, it’s that you’re supposed to want a particular kind of spouse. A “Proverbs 31 woman,” if you will. The problem is, every man has a unique personality and that personality is matched best with a particular, complementing personality. Just because someone is a Christian doesn’t mean that a cookie cutter wife is meant to be. I made mistakes in past relationships by keeping a mental list of things I wanted that were actually things I thought I was expected to want. It turns out the things I really should have been looking for were quite different in some areas.
3.) Embrace the struggle. Don’t try to get out of it.
It’s very easy as a young person to get tired of struggling. Whether you’re in college, or in the military like I was, there’s a lot to put up with. Sometimes the expectations we had of being an adult aren’t met. It seems like one thing after another. The tendency is to think that there’s only going to be struggle for that short period of time in our lives, and then once it’s over we’ll have smooth sailing. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way and we will face struggle all throughout life. If we endure it in the younger years of adulthood without taking easy ways out or compromising, we’ll be better suited to face things later in life. All too often, I wanted to quit. Honestly, I never really did. This isn’t me having a regret about something I did wrong in my past. The reason I would tell myself this is because I would know that going through the hard parts of life prepared me for where I am today.
4.) Appreciate your friends. Learn from your critics.
Man, the times I wish I could go back and tell myself that relationships are more important than anything else. I’ve really lacked in some areas when it comes to being a friend. People who have been there for me haven’t always had my appreciation and that I do regret. I’ve also listened too much to critics and let them get me down. Instead, I should have been learning from their criticism and improving. Self-pity does nothing, but growing from the criticism does a lot. Now, I’m not talking about haters. Haters just want to bring you down and they’ll say all sorts of stuff whether it’s true or not. I’m talking about people who have a legitimate critique, something actually worthy of acting on. Not everyone who offers criticism is a hater who’s out to get you.
5.) Don’t compromise on your values for anyone or anything.
At one time in my life, I had very strong convictions. I stayed true to my values and I wouldn’t let anyone or anything keep me from doing what I thought was right. I had a few lapses in high school where I gave into peer pressure, but mostly I stuck to my value system. Then I went into politics. I don’t know a single person who’s been involved in politics who hasn’t compromised on their values in one way, shape, or form. If I could go back and tell myself that loyalty to a party, or even to a candidate is not worth the dirty feeling you walk around with after compromising, it would spare me some of the shame I still feel today. Bending your values for another person in a relationship isn’t worth it either. At the end of the day, your integrity makes up who you are, and if you cave on your values, you’re not being true to yourself.
6.) Decide what you want and work towards it.
This sounds like one of those things that every young person hears, right? “Follow your dreams!” “Achieve your goals!” While I’m sure I heard those bits of advice plenty, my problem wasn’t that I didn’t chase after my dreams, it’s that I didn’t have any. I didn’t work towards goals, I just took the next step as necessary. I didn’t even know what I wanted to do for a career when I was 23, out of the Marines, and married. Things worked out in the career area, as I’ve been employed with the same company for the past 12 years, but the fact still remains that I wasn’t driven to work at achieving anything in particular until a few years ago. If I could talk to my past self, I would make it clear that it’s important to know what you want out of life.
7.) Learn humility.
I sometimes find it funny when people describe me as humble. Maybe I come across that way, but in my head I can be pretty cocky. I think I’ve just learned that it’s unbecoming to act a certain way. Not being humble doesn’t always mean thinking you’re great. For me, it’s rarely the case that I think I’m anything worthy of praise, it’s mostly that I think too little of others. While I think I’ve improved in this area, I haven’t always done good things for people out of strictly noble motives. And there was definitely a time in my life when I craved recognition for anything I did. Humility goes a long way though. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s usually more important to treat someone right in a disagreement than to win. I’ve learned that sometimes the things that happen to me are supposed to humble me and I don’t always let them because of my stupid pride being hurt. If I could talk to my cocky (and handsome) 20-year old self, I say to pay attention to those humbling moments and to learn from them.
8.) Trust in God, even when it seems like He’s not going to come through.
I’ve been a fool on an occasion or two. On an even more frequent basis, I’ve been a hypocrite. I go around preaching (sometimes literally preaching) to others about trusting in God, and then when hard times hit me, I lose all trust. Let’s be honest, I’m just an idiot at times. Even to this day, I sometimes doubt that God is going to come through for me. I’ve seen some pretty heavy times, some pretty dark moments when all I had was God, and He’s never let me down. He’s never failed me. And yet, sometimes I’m just stupid and I forget that He always comes through. I’m so much better about this than I used to be, because, despite my lapses in memory, I actually have learned through experience that He can be trusted. I’d love to go back and tell my younger self that He’s always going to come through. Always.
9.) Don’t be afraid of risk.
It might sound crazy to hear a former U.S. Marine saying he’s afraid of risk, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shied away from an opportunity because I didn’t know what the outcome would be. No one knows the outcome of anything for certain! Sometimes the worst that could happen is I could fail and learn from it so I can do better next time. I’ve learned over the years that failure can be a great teacher. Many times that I’ve taken a risk, I’ve failed. I don’t regret it, though. I am better in every way because of failures in my life. Some big, some small. My younger self needed to hear that it’s ok to fail.
10.) Don’t focus on what other people have. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Too much of my life has been spent wondering why I’m not as good at such-and-such as so-and-so. Too many of my failures have left me wondering why other people get to succeed and I don’t. So many circumstances in my life haven’t met my expectations because someone else has it differently. I’m done with that, and I have been for some time. But if I could go back and tell myself not to dwell on other people and to focus on what I do have, it would save me a lot of heartache and grief.
Bonus) I would definitely tell my 20-year-old self to take off the stupid FSU hat (it was a phase) and go back to liking the Gators!
As I mentioned previously, this list is sure to go on with a part 2. But for now, I’d like for you to take a turn responding. What are some things you wish you could go back in time and tell the younger version of yourself?