They say hindsight is a wonderful thing. So if you were able to turn back the clock what do you wish you could have told your younger self? Has life turned out as you hoped? Would you do anything different second time round? In this month’s GRIT our contributors have written letters to their younger self offering emotional support and practical advice. There may even be elements in some of the letters that may recognise in yourself….enjoy!
I’d like to start by saying you are fabulous and I love you. Your life is going well so we don’t want to change the course too much. However, having been given an opportunity to give you some advice, here it is.
1. Don’t buy so much stuff – you don’t need it. You will love it all. You won’t be able to get rid of it. It will weigh you down. Just don’t buy it.
On that same note. People have been telling me to get rid of something whenever I buy something new. I still haven’t actually mastered that skill yet (or been able to do it at all) but try and give it a go.
2. Do your accounts and see where you spend your money each week. You have no concept of the value of money or what things cost.
3. People don’t notice your mistakes as much as you think. Don’t worry if things don’t go as you imagined. In fact don’t worry about anything at all, ever.
4. Be nice to everyone. Smile, be friendly. Kindness isn’t weak, it’s beautiful.
5. You WILL meet your perfect man and you WILL marry him. And it will be at the perfect time. Don’t stress yourself about it.
6. Don’t worry about anything any man ever says or does. He is not worth it. When the right man comes along there will be no question and it will be easy.
7. Dress as you want to be perceived. I know you think people should not make assumptions about you, but they will.
8. Take up yoga. It seems a bit Indian cliché right now but later it will be really cool!
9. Don’t stop your love of acting just because you do a professional degree. Get an agent and keep going with that as well.
10. Don’t drink so much just because you think you can without feeling drunk. I know you think its cool now but it’s not good for you.
11. Wear contact lenses. People think you are arrogant for not saying hello when you actually just cannot see them! You unintentionally make people feel bad and make yourself look stuck up.
12. Don’t giggle at the end of a sentence. It makes you look young and immature.
13. Blend raw leafy greens with fruit and water and drink it. It’s really tasty and good for you.
14. Replace white bread with whole wheat or rye bread and potatoes with sweet potatoes. They will keep you fuller for longer and help keep you slim.
15. Your mum loves you and is your best friend. And she actually knows everything. I won’t say listen to her without question but you should carefully consider everything she has to say.
Mum, dad and sis are well. Enjoy your time, have no regrets. You have so much to look forward to. See you in the future.
Your future self,
Dear Nighat, This letter is from me to you from 20 years in the future. You are 15 and your day has just started with Mum waking you from your sleep. “Wake up sweetheart. You don’t want to be late for school.”
Those were the days. Enjoy them. 20 years later you will be jumping to the sound of an alarm clock. There will be no time for an extra five minutes snooze in bed as it will ruin your daily routine and that of your 2 beautiful children.
You will again hear Mum’s words. Appreciate them.
“Don’t forget to eat your breakfast otherwise you will not focus in class.” Oh what you would do today to have breakfast made for you whilst you take your leisurely time to consider which outfit to wear (and which shoes will match) and carefully apply your make up. In the future doing Zara’s hair and making sure Asad has his tie on properly will be more important!
You will spend the majority of your day at school and you will often you wonder why you are there. My advice is don’t waste this opportunity. You are clever and bright and can achieve anything when you put your mind to it. Don’t give up on education. Be patient – it will be worth it.
Remember your friends and social circle will play an important part in the decisions you make in the years ahead so carefully consider who you spend your time with. Always do things for yourself, not because others say so. You will find your place in this world. The world doesn’t need to find it for you.
Don’t do things just to fit in. You don’t need to find a boyfriend just because your friend has one. And you don’t to get married because your friends have. Everything happens at the right time.
Don’t worry about being noticed by others and what they think of you. Be original. Always remember you are amazing and you will continue to grow and develop into an entrepreneur of your own world.
Now a little bit about relationships starting with Mum and Dad. Right now it may seem like they are not listening to you and they are your worst enemies. Nagging, curfews, punishments, chores and the list goes on!
However, always remember that no matter what they do, they actually always want what is best for you (even if it doesn’t feel like it.) I promise you, their intentions are pure and this will become clearer to you as you get older.
Moving onto personal relationships, open your ears and listen up!
In love you will experience amazing highs and sometimes real lows. This will build your character and make you the strong, independent and successful woman you are today. It’s okay to let go. Don’t stay with someone out of sympathy or feel bad if you break someone’s heart or have your own heart broken. You will get through all the strong emotions that you will feel during your relationships, however difficult and challenging at times. Even if something doesn’t work out, you will learn valuable lessons and continue to strive forward. Don’t worry. It may feel like the end of the world at the time, but it’s not and you are going to be fine. Nothing will be able keep you down for long.
Lastly right now you might feel shy. However, over the years you will actually become very outgoing, confident and sociable. In fact today one of your best qualities is your ability to connect with all people from different walks of life. You will love life and love living life and always want to be around people. Your motto will be that people may forget what you say to them but will always remember how you made them feel!
Think of your life like a spider’s web.
You will weave your family, friends, career, and society together to form something beautiful. However focusing on the entire web will require work and each thread will have its own responsibilities.
Your weaving skills will become faster and your web will expand, sparkle and glisten and shine brightly on others. But sometimes you will become blinded by your own glare so you may not notice unwelcome visitors!
Over time you will learn who is welcome on your web, who blocks you from making it bigger and stronger, which thread is no longer needed, how to mend broken ones, and how to continue to make it more beautiful. Do you remember wearing Mum’s bindi and red dupatta and dreaming of being a bride to a handsome Indian prince? One day you will fall in love and it will be beautiful. It will be romantic; full of flowers, chocolates, candlelit dinners and laughter. But a time will come when you experience your first heartbreak. Like a tortoise, you’ll want to hide inside your shell. But you will realise that, like your shell, you are strong. No matter how hard the heartbreak, your shell may get scarred but it will never break. You will realise that even if the person you love leaves you, you can make it on your own because you are happy with yourself.
And when you do find love again, you will realise that you don’t need another person to complete you. Instead they will join you as an extra part of your life; a part that you can live without, but that you choose not to. That will be when, you will wear a bindi and a red dupatta and be a bride to a handsome Indian prince.
Throughout your life you will be lucky to meet inspirational people. They will have a hand in shaping who you become as a woman. Like Angelina Jolie, you’ll want to use your platform, but as a journalist, to represent the unheard voices of women. Like Jacqueline Rose, you’ll want to be a woman who takes pride in her appearance yet is still regarded a serious intellectual. You will admire Jon Snow’s exceptional reporting; Lynne McKenna’s friendly nature; HRH Princess Anne’s grand persona; your parents’ patience and hardworking nature. These are just to name a few. Do not fear who you will become because you will be touched by greatness and have supportive role models all around you.
Like a caterpillar, you will breathe fresh air and become a butterfly. And like a butterfly, you will lay part of yourself on flowers and help other beauty grow. But sometimes the air is not fresh. Like a bird, you will sense danger. There will be a crow in the crowd. Be wary and turn from a chick into an eagle so that those who do not wish you well see you soaring past them.
The world is not always a wonderful place. You will feel sad about war, rape and other grievances. But Like Durga Maa, who possesses unlimited power and uses it to protect virtue and destroy evil, you will become a determined young woman who tries to create change.
Books will be your retreat when everyday life is chaotic. It is good to have time to yourself so you can reflect on life and put things into perspective. By nature, you are philosophical and will want to fulfil your calling in life. You will always be learning. And when you become wrapped in life’s fast-paced momentum, just remember ‘with every step we take, we arrive’.
Dear Geeta, There are going to be times you know everything and times when you don’t. Life really won’t change much. Everything is still going to happen to you and you are still going to end up where you were meant to be. However, remember the following:
• You are much better looking than you think you are.
• No. You are not fat.
• You are doing so well you wouldn’t believe it.
• Everything will all turn out OK.
• Have good solid friends that you can believe in and laugh with and who will look out for you.
• Worrying doesn’t change anything at all. It never did.
• Never do anything that feels wrong. Ever. It is wrong, for you.
• Exercise every day. You’ll feel better and stronger.
• Finally, never ever give up.
Everything that you think is important probably isn’t at all. The one thing that really matters is learning to believe in yourself. If you can do that one thing, you will find that you will give meaning to your life and to all that you do.
Laughter and joy will make more fun turn up in your life. And having more fun turn up in your life will make you more successful.
Define success for yourself and you will find you’ll need to change that definition regularly. So keep it updated.
Don’t dumb down. Aim higher instead. Anyone who is not willing to be with you for who you are is not good enough anyway. In your personal and your professional life.
Don’t hang on to anything too tightly. It will all change and you will survive and you will be happy too.
I know you won’t but know yourself the best. And never lie to yourself, even if you lie to someone else. If you know yourself well, and you can tell yourself the truth, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks or does as you will be happy and successful.
Every day we grow, evolve and learn something new. The person I am today is not the same as the person I was a year ago, a week ago or even yesterday. I think it is important to reflect on the past but not to dwell on it as no matter how much you kick and scream nothing will change what has happened.
I sometimes look back on my life and wonder where I would be if I knew in my younger years what I know now. Maybe I would have done things a little differently…Here are some tips to my younger self to help make life a bit easier:
Every time you meet someone it is an opportunity to let people know who you are and what you are about. You never know what doors can be opened through the people you meet. Many will be willing to help and are just waiting for you ask! Once you put yourself out there make sure you make an impression so that people take you seriously and keep you in mind for the future. The saying “it’s not what you know but who you know” came from somewhere!
You may not always agree with everyone’s opinion who you meet but you can learn a lot from listening to other people’s experiences. I am not just talking about listening to those at the top of their field but also listening to your parents, your peers and those who have had similar experiences to you. I know that I have been (and probably still am) guilty of being a bit of a “know it all” and dismissing what those close to me have to say. However, there is real value in listening to those words of wisdom because it may stop you from repeating a similar mistake.
3. Be thankful for everything you have
It is easy to get bogged down with the harsh reality of life. However sometimes I wish that I had taken a step back and not let everything get to me. Instead of worrying about what I didn’t have or what I hadn’t achieved I wish I had been more grateful for all the opportunities and success instead. I know that I have been very blessed and it is always good to take a minute to appreciate everything you have and everything you have achieved.
4. Plan….but don’t plan too much!
It is important to have a goal in life. You should know where you are heading and what you want to achieve in life otherwise you are likely to become lost in the madness. If your plan is too rigid and if you don’t meet a specific goal or target you will feel that you are a failure. However, in reality as long as everything is going roughly the way it should then you are on track and moving in the right direction nearer to your goal.
5. And finally… always have faith in yourself
Everything will work out in the end!
Dear Younger me,
There are four main areas in life that I would like to advise you on. These are what I hold of most value and they will help shape who you become and the decisions you make.
Your family are your foundation. They will advise you according to what they believe is right. However…they are not always right! Times change, people change and we are not living in the same environment our parents grew up in. Don’t be afraid to break the mould and make decisions that you believe are worthwhile. Take advice and learn from others, but make your own decisions without limitation.
Believe your parents when they say you will be able to count the number of real friends on one hand. Good friends are as good as your family. You will come across many you think are true, and some will be in your life forever – they will be the ones you least expected. Popularity means nothing. You won’t have to see your real friends every day to ‘cement’ your relationship. You will literally pick up where you left off each time and it will be simple. There will be no drama.
Choose your friends wisely. Do they make you feel good? Do they encourage you? Do they support you? These are the types of questions you should ask yourself when you make friendships.
It won’t be easy, but it will be worth it! Your line of work has amazing highs and pretty low lows. Don’t be disheartened. Keep going, because you are going to do some amazing things. It won’t just be monetary gain, but for the thrill of accomplishing achievements that mean so much to you. Surround yourself with good people and you will have all the encouragement and support you need. Don’t be naïve or let your hunger drive you to make the wrong decisions or pay unnecessary amounts of money to people who see your vulnerability.
Don’t rush any decisions and don’t force anything. You will get to where you want to be. Just read the signs and always listen to your gut. Be sincere in what you want to achieve and it will happen. It always works out in the end.
Love and life Love will happen at the right time, with the right person. In life be grateful for everything you have, always be kind, and take small steps. Enjoy the process. Don’t worry so much, and listen to yourself. You know more than you think.
My most important advice to you is to stay strong. Always remain true to yourself and maintain your sense of loyalty and integrity; treasure your family and friends, they will become more special than you could ever imagine at this stage in your life now. As I look back, what was important in my teenage years, 20s and 30s is very different to what’s really valuable in your 40s and 50s.
I have realised that the bonds of love have no timescale – there is no Best Before and Sell By Date. Love is infinite and carries you through the hurdles which we all have to endure and go through in order to convert mistakes into experience. Those who share your difficult times, will be the ones with whom you can share the best experiences. So take time to develop the important relationships that will carry you through. Never be too busy to have a coffee with a friend. Make the time.
Never assume that everything will be fine but put into action buffers which will protect you; be educated, resourceful and resilient. Always look for the positive – even when life feels impossible or problems insurmountable. You will succeed as a writer so never give up – even when people keep telling you it’s not worth pursuing.
Your divorce will be difficult but you will survive it and grow stronger as a result. To prepare yourself, always have time to study, make sure you continue to learn new skills and are adaptable. This will carry you through the trauma and transition from being married, to being a single mother with two teenage children. You will find the strength to cope and everything will work out fine. Don’t be afraid – take comfort from this letter and be confident.
As the years pass, the slow understanding of why things have happened will become clearer. Sometimes you need to go with the flow of events and try not to change things that are beyond your control; adapt and wherever possible compromise, always understand another person’s perspective and be tolerant. Learn to bend with the wind rather than to break in the storm.
Life is a journey. Enjoy the highs and weather the lows. Take time for those who are important and love with all your heart, especially your children. You will be very busy but savour every second, every minute, every hour and treasure the wonderful times, because those become memories and lifelong jewels; the treasures you store.
Everything will be fine. Just take a deep breath and believe it. Your children will make you very happy and your dreams will come true. So dream, believe in them and make them happen…. Now enjoy your journey and never look back…
This will all make sense when you reach my/our age now!
From your older self
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Looking back, there are so many things I wish I could tell you. You are lucky to have always had the love and support of a wonderful family. Importantly you are doing well and should be happy.
Growing up, you will be riddled with all the same insecurities that most girls are, but your biggest concern will be what you are achieving compared to your expectations.
For as long as I can remember, you have always had a plan. In fact, you already know what your two year and five year plans are and will work hard to achieve them. After you leave university, you will start work at the organisation you had always planned to. You will believe this is the start your journey of working in Development Economics.
However after a year of working, you will feel incredibly unfulfilled. Many of your friends will still be at university or travelling and the ones who are in London will seem to be many steps ahead of you on their career ladder to success. All of those carefully made plans which led you to your ideal job will leave you feeling increasingly frustrated.
You will then take a big and scary step and resign. For the first time in your life you will have no real plan and no detailed to-do-list. You will find that your carefully structured, and very inflexible, career plan hasn’t worked. So instead you will try a different approach and spend exactly a year saying ‘Yes’ to every opportunity that comes your way.
During this period you will attend an event on Hindu mythology and end up meeting the board members of the Young Women’s India Association. You will join the youth board of this fantastic charity and spend the next year on the committee for a youth community group helping organise events and writing articles on a range of topics that you care about from domestic violence to self-confidence. You will also start blogging for a tutoring agency where you will learn how to articulate your political and economic views and decide what those views really mean.
Most importantly, you will say ‘Yes’ to a part-time (not very well paid!) job in Parliament. You had no intention of getting involved in the political sphere however, your new ethos will make you reconsider. Two years later you will be incredibly happy in your current role as an Economic Advisor to an MP, and even happier that you will be fighting the 2015 General Election as the Conservative Party Candidate for Dulwich & West Norwood.
You will still think planning is important, but you will learn that being open to opportunities and having a flexible outlook is even more important. Your year of seizing every opportunity is officially over but you learn so much, meet great people and have so many interesting experiences.
Every experience will teach you something and add value to your life. It won’t always be easy and there will be times that you worry that you have become less focussed, but when you look back, you will see the bigger picture. You will realise very few young people really know what they want to do until they’ve tried several things – we’re all just a little scared to admit it.
So my final advice to my younger self is that whilst planning is important, sometimes it’s the unexpected experiences that bring the most happiness.