Dear 20-year-old me, from 40-year-old me
Posted on January 31, 2013
Well, that’s that, then. I am officially 40 years old.
I once shared a remarkably ignorant and sweeping generalization that if someone hadn’t achieved a certain promotion within a certain company by the time he or she had turned 40, well, I wouldn’t bet it was every going to happen.
How ridiculous, naive and self-absorbed of me!
Clearly, I have much more to learn in this lifetime, and with any luck, I’m not even halfway through it.
As I consider that thought… that my life, if I’m blessed and lucky and continue to wear my seatbelt and avoid driving on stormy nights, may be only halfway through. And that thought makes me wish I could speak to the half-life before me, the 20-year-old me.
Obviously, I can’t… but you, there, girl with the bionic eyes, YOU will be able to read this when you’re 20. So to the future 20-year-olds who might stumble upon this one day, here are the top 10 tips I have, even if I haven’t followed them myself.
1. Follow your passion
If a person, job or activity bores you, you’re not doing him, her or it any favors by forging ahead. But worst of all, you’re wasting your own time. Run in the direction of passion, or sidle toward nothingness so you are prepared for passion to wrap around your entire being.
2. Don’t mistake a craving for passion
I’m not talking about solely human relationships, here. If we’re honest with ourselves, there are times when we crave an emotional outcome we know will follow something (or someone) that we know inherently is bad for us.
3. Listen to the voices in your head
No, not all of them. Just the ones whispering most discreetly, for those are the sounds of your conscience. Listening to them can be no fun. Ignoring them can be life-changing (for better and worse).
4. Practice walking in heels
The day will arrive when the idea of heels hurts your eyelids. At 20, you are far from that age. At 20, you can get away with any outlandish platform or stylish stiletto you can find online. Do it. Then take pictures of your long, lean legs that are free from age spots, dermatologist experiments and wrinkles. Someday, you’ll want to be reminded that beautiful gams existed on you.
5. Learn to feign compassion
Well, that sounds horrible, doesn’t it? I don’t mean lie. I mean, work on developing your compassion. The best way to do that is to seek reasons for compassion and acceptance. Sometimes, the ounce of faked compassion you muster can yield bucket loads of compassion as a result. It’s sort of along the lines of “contagious smiling.” If you show people you care, others will care, too, and you will care more deeply.
6. Make big decisions with no thought to debt
Suze Orman would have my head with this one, but the truth is that if your heart of hearts tells you a master’s degree, a year in Paris or that novel sitting unedited on your oldest laptop all deserve completion, then go. I’m not saying be irresponsible, but if true passion is driving your ambition, you’re cheating yourself not to find a way to fulfill it.
7. Learn about food and get your sleep!
Sure, your metabolism means you can pop into Banana and buy a size 0 off the rack after inhaling a Big Mac, but that doesn’t mean you’re not ruining your body. Plus, you’re establishing a relationship with food that can become utterly destructive as you age and your incredible metabolism retires.
When I was a senior in undergrad, I was also the managing editor of the school newspaper. Every lunch I would get drive-through takeout at Wendy’s, and every dinner, I would follow suit at the McDonald’s right next to the Wendy’s (which was right next to the newspaper’s office, sigh). I was shockingly thin, so no one made note of my horrible eating habits — and neither did I. Today, I still carry weight from both pregnancies and a torch for bread.
I’ve also resumed my previously held position as resident night owl. It’s not a habit to be proud of, but I wave it around for all to see, then hope no one notices me sleeping as I wait for the vending machine to spit out a lousy water…
8. When you find a mentor, stalk the hell out of her
Mentors should be a two-way street: the mentor herself provides guidance, counsel and the voice of experience to an up-and-comer who reminds the mentor why she entered the industry in the first place.
Now, this is one I act on quite poorly, mostly because I don’t want to bother people I know are very busy already. But I know, in my heart of hearts, that I could learn so much more from the people I most admire in my industry.
9. Understand what diversity and inclusion really mean
Not so long ago, the word “diversity” was synonymous with “ethnicity.” Thankfully, society’s eyes are beginning to open to true diversity of ability, age, gender and so on. When I meet people who are open-minded and kind to everyone, I am filled with relief, because my Charlie will have to face all kinds. Of that, I’m certain. But the only way to really understand and accept differences is by surrounding yourself with them. That’s not easy, but it’s imperative.
10. Wear sunscreen!
I cringe at the memories of napping in a tanning bed because it was so nice and warm and toasty… um, right. Exactly!
None of these tips is profound or even original. But I wish 20-year-old me had someone to cram them into my head.
I wouldn’t change a thing, because each good, bad or questionable decision led me to this beautiful life I share with an incredible husband and two precious children. But I just wish I knew then…