I had an ulterior motive last week when I asked what advice you would give your former self if you could go back in time. Truthfully I’m at something of a crossroads in my own life. I have a difficult decision to make and I’m not sure what my next step should be. It got me thinking, if only my future self could come back and tell me what to do.
That’s what gave me the idea. I wanted to see what all of you had to say and see if I could spot any patterns – to see if I could gain some more clarity. Thankfully loads of you responded, so I had plenty to chew on. There were some obvious patterns, but also a few pieces of seemingly contradictory advice that forced me to do a bit of deeper thinking.
From all of you, I pieced together this list of indispensable life advice. I’ll get back to the topic of my personal crossroads another day. For now, I want to share this list. This one is for you, from your future self. I hope you enjoy. I also hope you take heed!
1. Start looking after your finances
This was one of the most obvious bits of advice that stuck out. Take care of your finances. Pay off all your debt as soon as you can. Don’t spend beyond your means. Start saving for your retirement now! Take the time to educate yourself about boring things like investing and mortgages. Like or loath it, the hard reality is financial freedom is freedom. I believe if you’re sensible – if you put a little bit aside each month and diversify your investments – you should (hopefully) be pleasantly surprised by the time you retire.
2. Take better care of your health
Looking after your health is the physical equivalent of saving for retirement. Start paying more attention to your diet today. Get outside and move today. Don’t neglect your mental health. Talk to someone if you need to. I would add, an often overlooked aspect regarding health is making sure you have some insurance because, well, shit happens! I believe the best way to prepare for life is to prepare for the worst. That means considering the implications of your own death as well. Prepare for your own funeral while making every effort to delay it.
3. Prioritise time with your family
A number of you expressed regret about not having spent more time with your children, while others expressed regret about not having made the effort to form a closer bond with their parents… My take, reading between the lines, was not to put off that difficult conversation. Don’t wait till your loved ones are on their death beds (or indeed you are) to tell them how you really feel. Make time for them, today. The other side of that awkward conversation is a closer relationship.
4. Learn to love yourself
This one came up a lot in various forms. “Stop caring what other people think”, “learn to love who you are”, “practise self-acceptance”, etc. I think this might be one of life’s most important yet difficult lessons. I believe many of us feel we’re somehow lacking as individuals. Our inability to accept causes us to metaphorically whip ourselves. Of course this doesn’t work, at least, not without killing who you really are.
We also seem to forget the curious paradox that, as Carl Rogers once said, “When I accept myself as I am, then I can change.” If you ask me, the biggest secret when it comes to self-improvement is self-acceptance. This helps you work with your emotions instead of against them. This is also what I believe it means to love yourself. You’re not trying to become something more because you feel inadequate, you’re trying to become something more because you love yourself and want to reward that person by doing so.
5. Follow your heart but don’t be reckless
This was the first piece of advice that had me scratching my head. Some of you said you wished you hadn’t been so reckless, that you’d been more pragmatic about your decision making, whereas others wished they hadn’t played it so safe – that they’d taken more chances. After giving it some thought I came to the conclusion that there’s a big difference between taking a calculated risk based on what you know your heart wants, versus simply caving into impulsivity and doing what feels good all the time. Life isn’t about simply doing what feels good, it’s about doing what you believe is right. That’s what it really means to follow your heart.
6. Sort out your career before you have kids
A few of you raised the point that it’s best to understand your place in the world before you bring kids into it. The younger you are, the more risks you should be taking. Don’t hesitate to change your degree or career path if you’re not enjoying the one you’re on. Better to experiment and make those changes earlier rather than later. Part of problem is this idea that one must go straight from school into the best possible university with a career plan for life already mapped out. Many of us then get “locked in” to these careers because of the debt we’ve taken on doing a degree we weren’t entirely sure about.
I often look back and wonder what the big rush was? (I’m a pilot with a history degree who is now considering a second career in psychology FYI!) Why not go out and experience the world first? Why not try travelling on a shoe string? Why not volunteer for a cause you believe in, or see what supporting yourself on a minimum wage for a while is like (that will give you some added motivation) – and then ask yourself what you want your life to be about?
7. Don’t wait but have patience
It seems to me people either give up way too soon, or they never get started in the first place because they’re always waiting for the “perfect time.” This was reflected in what many of you said. Some of you said to get started right away, while others said to have patience – not to be be so naive and understand that is takes time to build the life you want. It reminded me of this Oprah Winfrey quote: “Do what you have to do until you can do what you want to do.” The way I see it, there are two ways to go about it. Build a business or hold a job that earns you enough money, that also gives you enough time to chase/do what you love on the side, or learn to earn enough money doing what you love. Either way, don’t wait to chase your dreams, but understand there’s a mountain you have to climb first.
8. Believe in yourself
This brings me nicely to the next piece of advice that so many of you gave. Believe in yourself. Back yourself to stand up for what you believe is right. Believe in your capacity to persevere in face of adversity. It’s important to remember that hope is for you, for your ability to deal with reality – not for reality itself. To quote my childhood hero Bruce Lee, “Do not pray for an easy life; pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Prepare for the worst while believing in your capacity to deal with it.
9. Lighten up
Now that I’ve relayed you with a very serious list of life lessons that you’ve all undoubtably failed to follow, let me finish this final piece of advice you gave – lighten up! Life is serious enough without us adding to it. You could spend your whole life planning for the perfect retirement only to get hit by a bus crossing the road. It’s important to prepare for the future, but not at the complete expense of today. Remember to laugh and be silly. Remain curious and let your inner child have a say. Certainly don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re still standing aren’t you? That, at least, is something worth smiling about.
For more life advice that I stole from other people, check out my blog here at: https://clear-air-turbulence.com