What Would You Tell Your 18-Year-Old Self?

“Letters to My 18-Year-Old Self” are pretty popular lately (or maybe always?). I’ve seen them on blogs, in journals, in online newspapers and magazines, even in seminars and workshops, but I’ve given little consideration to the topic. Of course, I’ve wondered every now and then if I should have done some things differently, but I’ve never written a note to my younger self–until three weeks ago when Love Notes 25 kicked off with the prompt:

Write the words you would tell your 18-year-old self.

My assigned partner, Janet T, is new to the Love Notes community. She is a “mom to two beautiful daughters” in their 20’s, so she has probably had some recent practice with the prompt. She wrote her note in a card bearing a gold embossed mermaid silhouette:

Whatever gives you happiness–let that inspire you in your daily life. The things you love make you who you are and don’t let anyone influence you wrongly.

Have courage and be kind.

“Purple Tulips.” Watercolor postcard by Christine B.

My most prolific penfriend, Christine, created the beautiful purple tulip [above] in honor of my sister Lori [and me] and wrote a six-item list:

  1. Bad things happen.
  2. Find people to trust and love as much as you can
  3. Make your voice heard
  4. Vote!
  5. Laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh
  6. Don’t hold your breath

There are many, many things I’d say to my 18-year-old self, much of it far too personal to share in a blog post or a note [to anyone outside myself], so I sent a list of things I find myself saying to my students over and over again–not so much a “letter to my 18-year-old self,” but little bits of counsel that I found (or should have found) useful:

Card designed by Hessa, age 9, Abu-Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. Children’s Art Project, MD Anderson Cancer Center. [A gift from Christine].

These sorts of exercises can be fun as long as we avoid falling into the pit of regret and the type of thinking that our lives would be so much better if we had present knowledge then. Our 18-year-old selves were just that. 18. Young. Inexperienced. Insecure. Overly confident. Full of life, contradictions, crazy ideas, and impossibilities.

Despite all the craziness of youth, I wouldn’t change a thing. My life wasn’t and isn’t perfect, but my 18-year-old self made many solid decisions and did more than a few things well. As for the things I didn’t get quite right, mistakes are inevitable and we learn so much more from our missteps than from our successes.

If you’re 18 or thereabout, maybe, you’ll find some usefulness in the lists above. If you’d like a more “focused” list, check out runner and professional coach Steve Magness’ post: Advice for the Young and Driven: A letter to my 18-year-old self.

If you’re waaaay past 18, like I am, what would you say to your 18-year-old self?  Comment below.

 

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