Words of Wisdom to My Younger Self – 10 Game-Changing Life Lessons
I am proud to say I just celebrated my 37th birthday. Consequently, I’ve been paying more attention to the jokes we make as we age, especially as women. I for one have been guilty of saying things like, “Happy 25th birthday… (wink wink)” to someone who is clearly older, meant as a compliment of course. Just this past week, someone asked my twin boys how old I was, then laughed when one of them held two fingers up and the other one shrugged.
Truth is, my boys don’t care how old I am. The world teaches us to value youth—especially as women. But this year, I’ve taken a page from my kids’ book. I’m not only choosing to care less about the inevitable process of aging, but I’m embracing and celebrating my age. Because without my age, I wouldn’t have the life experience to truly know who I am. This is the same life experience that has made me more compassionate, grounded, and resilient.
I decided to write this post as a bit of a self-reflection (in honour of my birthday) in order to put into action my new mindset. In an effort to appreciate growing another year older and to recognize the wisdom that goes along with it, I asked myself, “what advice would I want to give to my younger self?” I came up with the following list of lessons that I feel have brought me authentic happiness.
Words of Wisdom to My Younger Self: 10 Game-Changing Life Lessons
1. Gratitude and Love are Everything
Even if you think you haven’t got much to be grateful for, look a little closer. You may feel grateful on the surface, but are you really practicing gratitude? Do you think about how grateful you are for your ability, your friendships, family, your privileges, or even your basic human rights? A lot of these things are invisible, so you’re less likely to go bragging about them, but in taking them for granted, you’re paying more attention to what is missing in your life. So it is even more important you practice gratitude, so you aren’t trying to fill a superficial void to simply fit in. There are so many different ways to practice gratitude, some that have been clinically proven to increase life satisfaction and decrease anxiety and depression. Start a simple practice right now, it doesn’t have to be elaborate. For example, Positive Psychologists have strong evidence that incorporating the practice of asking yourself, “What went well today and why?” will increase your life satistfaction, and decrease anxiety and depression.
Now for love – this is a big one. Stop looking for love from someone or something external to you. Right now, just stop! Don’t get me wrong, our relationships with others are very important. But, if you’re waiting on receiving love from someone else, or relying on love that already exists in some form, whether it’s from your kids or your spouse – this external love is unsustainable and incomplete on it’s own. We romanticize love too much, and set ourselves up for disappointment. And it’s because we are creating a void we are fully capable of filling on our own. Love is a feeling but, more importantly, it’s a choice. Some types of love wane in their power and at some point must become a mutual choice to sustain itself. If you choose to love yourself first, it becomes easier to choose to love others. It comes down to stripping down the identities you’ve created for yourself in terms of your relationships (ex. wife, mother, daughter, etc.) and honour the truest version of yourself. Only then, can you fully live in a state of love and create strong relationships.
2. Only You Can Make Yourself Happy
This ties closely with what I said above about love, but it relates to all aspects of your life. One of my favourite quotes:
“Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it!” – Maya Angelou
It is no one’s responsibility to make you happy but your own. Not your boss, spouse, parent, child’s or anyone else’s for that matter. You need to figure out exactly what you want, be clear about “why”, and then be prepared to receive what you’ve asked for - without judgement, guilt, or fear. I’ll share a personal example. For years after moving to Edmonton, I would get very disappointed and emotional on my birthday. Prior to moving here, I was used to being surrounded by close friends that just ‘knew’ what I wanted. So, on my birthday each year after the move, I was reminded that I was starting new friendships in a new place and often I was too busy to make real connections. My poor husband, despite his efforts had to deal with the emotional mess I would become once a year. Fast forward, and now I take accountability for what I want. I tell my husband how I want to celebrate with him and the boys, and I continue to build real friendships and invite them, instead of waiting for something to just happen. You’re a grown-ass woman now with responsibilities and, like many of us, need to stop romanticizing how life ‘should’ be and just make things happen.
3. Forgive, Reset, Then Let Go
The earlier you truly learn this lesson, the better. Sometimes you have to forgive people for causing you hurt and anxiety without ever getting an apology. Why would you do this?
Holding on to resentment is like doing 20 tequila shots and expecting the other person to get a hangover. People appear very different on the surface, but underneath the personas we create, our desires and fears are essentially the same. Our thoughts manifest in many different ways and sometimes it’s a waste of time to try and understand the motives or feelings of others. You can’t “fix” everyone, nor is it your responsibility. That being said, I don’t believe in “forgive and forget.” If the person you must forgive is still in your life, you need to set boundaries, especially if that person isn’t willing to change. They may be suffering something internally but it doesn’t give them the right to hurt you. The part that is your responsibility is, know what you are willing to accept. A rule of thumb: be willing to sacrifice your preferences to maintain the relationship but don’t sacrifice who you are (think core values). And then (and this is the hard part) work on healing your own pain, and let go of the resentment and story that you have attached to it.
4. Know Exactly Where You Are & Where You’re Headed
You have and will continue go through many phases in your life. You might be in a major growth phase right now, and not even be aware of it. The important thing is that you recognize whether you are digging yourself out of a hole, or climbing a mountain.
Digging Yourself Out of a Hole
This is when you are experiencing a major setback. You might be overwhelmed with anxiety, depression, grief, major loss, or crisis of identity. This is the time to focus on healing, rest, asking for the help you need to recover, and perhaps even search for more meaning and purpose in life.
Climbing the Mountain
This is when life is going pretty well, but of course there are always adjustments you can make to live happier, more fulfilled lives. It’s about thriving, instead of surviving. This is the time to set stretch goals, including ones that bring you balance. It’s also about having clear direction and suitable challenges that utilize your strengths, without sacrificing your values or wasting time on addressing your weaknesses. The key here is to make sure you’re climbing the right mountain. There’s nothing worse than getting to see the view from the top but still feel like something’s missing or you’re burnt out.
5. Pay Attention to Your Inner Dialogue
This one takes time. Even if you can become partially aware of when you inner critic takes over your inner dialogue, you will begin to take control of your entire life. If you commit to working on this as a regular practice, you will see results. When you are aware of when your inner critic isn’t serving you and start to change your inner dialogue, you are actually creating new positive neural pathways and networks in your brain. With practice, this will be your new go-to dialogue since your brain wants to be efficient. The negative neural pathways will weaken and die off. Understanding how to do this has been one of my biggest motivators as a coach. Your inner dialogue creates your external world.
This is how you make transformational change in your life, if the desire to change is really there. Your thoughts drive your habits, behaviours, mindset and ultimately your achievement . Your dialogue (internal and external) is creating your identity more than you are even aware of.
6. Let Go of Fear, and Let Your Values Guide You Instead
One day you will die. Yes, I know you might not want to be reminded of this, but I got a wake-up call like no other when I came near death. I woke up with the clarity that I was living my life guided by fear, not by my own internal compass. I realized all the things that didn’t matter that I was focused on. Getting the perfect bassinet for my twins, planning the perfect birth, making sure I never dropped the ball at work, or worrying when I did drop the ball what people would think. And then, the day the babies were born – none of this mattered. We were literally in survival mode, our whole family. Before this experience, my body was reacting to stressors in my life, like it was in survival mode, even though some of the threats were not real. Your anxiety has positive intentions to keep you safe, but it also hinders your ability to truly thrive. Let go of your fear of upsetting people, fear of failing, fear of not being “perfect.” Make a vow right now to do the inner work, focus on your values, or in other words your “why”.
7. Life is a Dance
Ok, this one shouldn’t have been a tough one since I love to dance. But, uncertainty is challenging. At some point in your life, you’ll have the opportunity to pursue something that really matters. And with all major changes in life, there is a great deal of uncertainty.
“Life is a dance between making it happen and letting it happen” – Ariana Huffington
I remind myself of this every time I cling to the need for certainty and control over the outcome, since this is a mental habit I’ve created. Sometimes you have to make things happen: plan, strategize, invest, learn, and take action; but sometimes you have to let things happen: observe, listen, be present, experience, and simply let go.
Pay attention to which one is your stronger habit: taking control or letting things unfold? Be deliberate about choosing to go outside of your comfort zone when the situation calls for it.
8. You Can’t Help Others Unless You Help Yourself First
Remember the airplane metaphor? My parents always would remind me, “you must put on your own mask first before you are able to help others.” This again connects to the piece in #1 about choosing to love yourself first. Especially as a woman, this might go against how we were raised. It does not make you selfish. If you try to please everyone, you’ll please no one, including yourself. Always be authentic and real, even if it upsets people. Do the work for yourself first, so you are emotionally resilient and aware enough to help others. It always starts with you.
9. You are Stronger than You Know
Give yourself more credit. If you had told me 5 years ago I would end up in ICU with preemie twins in the NICU, all three of us facing an uphill battle, I could not have imagined the strength I could muster to get through it. Sometimes we accidentally stumble upon our strength because we have no choice. But now that I know it’s always been there, ready to be tapped into, I know I need to deliberately choose to take risks and have faith in my ability. And trust me, even if you haven’t found your strength yet, it’s there. Instead of being afraid of failing, you simply need to take the risk and trust the process.
“Everything you ever wanted, is sitting on the other side of fear.” - George Addair
I’ve always been afraid to do a headstand, but last week, I tried one in a yoga class and now I can easily get into one. It’s like the ability was already there, it was a matter of having the structure to follow through. I’m still working on not having the wall or a person there to spot me. But like anything challenging you take on, who said you had to do it all at once, or alone for that matter? Baby steps are highly underrated. Just start and own your amazing strength.
10. An Equation for Happiness
Presence, Progress, Purpose & Positivity (Not Perfection)
Happiness is not a destination. Nor is it about being perfect, or following the rest of society in “checking all the boxes” of what it’s supposed to “look” like. Think about your current goals. How many of them are attached to how others will perceive you? To be authentically happy is not about being the skinniest, the richest, or living the most Pinterest-worthy life. Trust me, I’ve reached my goals in all of the above categories at one or more points in my life. This type of happiness is temporary and contingent on things external to us; things that are not within our control. My happiness equation focuses only on what we can control: being present and mindful, steady, measured progress, having a sense of purpose (by aligning your strengths and passions), and cultivating a positive mindset.
In a way, authentic happiness isn’t about pursuing anything at all. “What Jasleen?” you ask, “But you’re a personal development coach, isn’t that what you do- help people pursue goals?” Short answer: yes and no. Authentic happiness is about first accessing what you already have. It’s about your strengths, your resourcefulness, the stuff that comes easily, but you take for granted. It’s also about growth, but not in a way that’s forced, or self-sabotaging. You must be naturally attracted where the growth is taking you, so that each step you take, you know the sacrifices you make are worth the reward. When we approach things from this mindset, we can truly enjoy the learning process.
Another one of my favourite quotes, one that got me through a very difficult time:
“Optimist: Someone who figures that taking a step backward
after taking a step forward is not a disaster, it's a cha-cha.” – Robert Brault
Don’t confuse your self-worth with achievement. It’s about the journey and knowing where you are on the journey. It’s about seeing the bigger picture. As someone living with anxiety, one of my coping mechanisms has been to try and make things perfect. This backfired on me hard. When I tried to be perfect, and I didn’t feel perfect on the inside, my internal dialogue would become negative and sometimes spiral down a slippery slope. If you’ve ever had anxiety, you understand. You worry about the things that get in the way of “perfect”, obsess even to the point you get anxious about being anxious. “Why am I anxious?” But when you start to look at things in a more forgiving light (the cha-cha of life) and take credit for the progress you are always making toward something meaningful, you don’t have enough room to worry about the parts you can’t control.
I want to close with this. Embrace learning as part of your identity through life, not a means to an end. You can only manage so much change at once. Love yourself for all you’ve overcome and cut yourself some slack for what isn’t “perfect”. Give yourself permission to be who you were meant to be, and enjoy every day of your journey. You’ve got so much potential ahead of you, and yup, the journey ahead will include many setbacks and mistakes. So accept, celebrate, and continue a positive dialogue that supports authentic happiness.
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Now your turn! Share below: what is one or two of your major life lessons you’d share with the younger version of yourself? What new lessons do you want to incorporate in 2019?