15 Things I Would Tell My Past (and Future) Self
Since 2019, when my (admittedly, sheltered) world reality was shattered by a combination of events (including but not limited to: rape, betrayal, heartbreak, and a period of couchsurfing), I have been on a completely new and exciting self-development journey. Although I would never wish trauma on any human being, I have to admit I'm grateful for everything that happened around/ to me for completely uprooting and rerouting my life path.
To put it shortly, I had a good life, but I was headed in a direction of permanent "settling". I had been dating a man for almost 5 years and had conceded to fitting myself into any box he needed to fit me into. Quiet housewife? I can be that. Submissive, dependant woman? Yeah, I got it. Cleaning maid of the apartment? Sure, why not. Beneath him in both value and control in decision making? Yup, I'm there. I was perfectly comfy letting him take the lead on everything (he was older than me, and therefore must know better than I do, right?) It took some major world-rattling to shake me loose of this "good enough" ditch I had carved my way into.
I used to harshly judge my past self for putting up with so much bull crap from not just this man, but from men, people, and situations in all facets of my life. However, the further into my twenties I get, the more I realize that "waking up" to, and getting out of, these self- perpetuated ditches is just a part of life. I didn't do anything "right" or "wrong" by simply living to the best of my ability. The cycle of growth is to: learn something new, outgrow the people, places, or ways of thinking, and decide to change course - free of self-judgment. The only "wrong" course of action, in my opinion, would have been staying in a place I had outgrown.
So once a good dose of "real world" slapped me in the face, I was traumatized, yes, but I was also able to break out of the illusion that I was only these few things (i.e. "less than" my partner, weak, dependent, etc.) and that I could only ever be what I had already been. My personal growth took off like a rocket! In the last 2 years, I have transformed into a completely new person and am only more hungry every day to be the next best version of myself.
Honestly, I kind of hope I never see that ex again for a myriad of reasons, but if for some reason the universe decides to momentarily cross our paths again, I would hope that, as a person, I am completely unrecognizable. What I mean is, I hope that the way I think about, talk about, and approach life is so far away and evolved from how I would while I was in that relationship that he doesn't even recognize the spirit inside me. This new me, she will be (and is) so brave, so confident, so unmoved by other people's opinions of her, so content with her mistakes and missteps, so powerful in how she moves through life; she will be so independent in her power, steadfast in her values, and centered in her light, he wouldn't even be sure she is the same person he dated all those years ago.
All of this is to say that I have learned A LOT in the past twenty-five years, but the last two have really done a number on me. The more I grow, the more I see similar lessons come up in new ways. Sure, I might be receiving the same lessons because I haven't quite learned what I need to yet, but I also believe that hearing these messages in new ways helps them solidify in my brain so that I can pull them out when I really need them.
How I got here and my story are important; I want to honor that part of me and my life and what it taught me, but as of late, I am much more interested in how I am moving forward. This list is compiled of things I wish I would have known in the past (even before 2019) and will most definitely need to be reminded of in the future. This one goes out to you, Future Me! I hope you come back and read this when you need reminders and ideas on how to "up-level" :)
15 things I wish I could tell my past (and future!) self:
1. Your worth and your To-Do list are NOT the same thing.
Wow, I am STILL trying to accept this one. I don't know if it was the way I was raised or the competitive environment I put myself in as a child, but my brain is wired to correlate Productivity and Self Worth like there's no tomorrow. I will keep telling you, and myself, until I believe it: YOU (and your value as a human) are not your To-Do list. You are not your job or your clean house or your "checked-off" items. YOU are worth all the love and light and joy this world has to offer simply because you exist and for no other reason.
2. You're being left out of the conversation when it comes to money; Go get it, girl!
I had NO idea women were SO excluded from the conversations around MONEY! I know it can be perceived as "impolite" to talk about money in certain settings, but even outside of those circumstances, ain't nobody telling us how to manage our money or how to make more of it! Is it the patriarchy? Or.... okay honestly I can't think of anything else it would be haha but that's even more reason to go out and demand some answers! We are JUST as (or MORE) capable of killing the money game once we get our hands and minds on some motherlovin' resources. So get out there and take control of your money life! Your parents can't hold your hand through it forever, after all.
3. Be less blissfully ignorant please - walking alone in the dark isn't the "stick it to the man", "independent woman", feminist statement that your ego thinks it is.
I don't live in LA anymore, but I wish someone had told me to be less prideful and just take the Uber. Thankfully, nothing beyond some verbal sexual harassment happened to me on the streets of the city but looking back I sometimes wonder how the heck that is. Be brave, but don't be a hero. The world can be a dark place, and NO, it's not your fault or your responsibility to not get attacked, that's on them, but you can help fix injustices in smarter ways than walking alone at night.
4. You can do hard things. Breath through it - I swear it ALL passes if you let it.
Pain is scary. Anticipating pain can be just as scary. Change and uncertainty are scary. Unfamiliar emotions and thoughts are terrifying. Sometimes all of these will happen at once. Then what?! I promise you can make it through this. Face the scary things, they will pass through you if you let them happen. You've got this.
5. You can't selectively numb emotions.
I read this in a book recently (The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown) and it has made such a huge difference in how I approach life! Related to #4, remembering this helps give me the courage to face hard moments. When I want to numb myself, or don't want to appear "weak" in front of other people, or am afraid to feel something, I remind myself of this lesson. If I choose to numb the "bad" or scary emotions, I am also choosing to numb the positive ones the next time they come up. Furthermore, I am choosing to stifle, mute, and dilute who I am. I'm choosing to smother and feel shame for the most human parts of myself. I don't know about you, but I want to feel the light and love in my life FULLY. It's not worth it to repress the potentially more embarrassing or vulnerable emotions if it means I don't get to fully experience the joyful ones. (By the way, I highly recommend Brene's book, she goes into much more depth about how this works, and how choosing to numb negative emotions/ emotions we perceive as negative doesn't allow us to fully feel the other, positive, ones.)
6. Question: Is validation from this person/ these people really what you're craving or are you searching for something else?
Don't get me wrong - sheltering-in-place with no job and seeing no friends in person has done a real number of my mental health that will probably take a year or more to recover from (yikes). But on the plus side, it's also given me the time and space to step back and slow down. I make less impulsive decisions and when I feel compelled to reach out to a person or thing that I've used in the past to "fill a hole" I can pause now and be more intentional with my actions and reactions. Why are you reaching out to this person/ thing/ habit? What hole are you trying to fill or feeling are you trying to appease? Are you looking for external validation? Can this habit/ this person actually give you what you need or is it a temporary gratification? Why are you feeling the way you are now, what's the source? What might actually help you? What might actually help you feel better long-term and lead to a more fulfilling life?
7. Ask more questions. Get curious. Not knowing is not a sign of weakness, and asking for help is a sign of strength.
I wish more people would stop pretending like collaboration or learning is some form of weakness... like we're born experts at things and once you hit a certain age you have to be proficient at whatever you concern yourself with or else you're not worthy of respect or belonging or being heard. GO. Get curious. You're going to get so much further in life and in your goals if you let yourself be a beginner at as many things as possible. If someone doesn't want to grant you respect because you're not an expert at everything, that's their issue, not yours.
8. Imperfection is not inadequacy.
Another lesson from The Gifts of Imperfection and a piggyback off of the last lesson. I have spent my life up until this point holding myself back because I stop the moment I am imperfect at something because I believe it makes me inadequate as a human being! Of course, we can't be perfect! That doesn't make us unworthy of trying anyways.
9. "I'll be happy when..." is the same thing as you choosing not to be happy. Conditional happiness is not the path to happiness, it is a cage you've created.
This one came up while I was reading Shawn Achor's The Happiness Advantage. Honestly, I'm still working on this one, and probably will be for quite some time. It's so easy to fall into this way of thinking, it is a deeply-grooved neural pathway that I've carved. "If I could just keep the weight off, I'll be happy." "If I get that dream job, I'll be happy." "When I find my soulmate, then I'll be happy." "Once I can do this thing, I'll be enough." "When I'm finally cast in my dream role, then I'll be happy!" "When I make more money I'll be happy." The list is endless. Of course, it's not bad to have goals or aspirations, we each deserve to have dreams and goals and to go after them! What creates deep dissatisfaction though is believing that "happiness" or "success" or "fulfillment" are somehow out of reach for you until you achieve some sort of milestone and believing that you will ONLY be happy within certain parameters or conditions. The truth is, life has so much joy and fulfillment that it is excited to give me if I just let it! And telling myself I will only be happy if specific "conditions" are satisfied is not only blinding me to all the other beautiful paths/ opportunities for happiness, but is also negating the fact that happiness is available to me in the present, right now! Don't make your happiness conditional. You have access to happiness as you are.
*Side note* The same could be said for self-compassion and self-love. If my self-love is conditional, do I ever really have it?
10. Every single thing you fear has been taught to you. (It can also be un-taught.)
Inadequacy. Embarrassment. Shame. Failure. Anything you fear of being (or not being) has been taught to you by some external messaging or experience. Let that sink in and ask yourself, if I was taught to fear failure, can I not UN-teach myself that it is something worth fearing?
11. Sleep, dear god, please sleep. I promise it helps, make it a PRIORITY.
This one goes out to "college me" who never gave "sleep" as an entity the love and respect and weight in decision making that it deserves. It also goes out to any overwhelmed, overworked version of me in the future. You do NOT need to keep putting other priorities above this one! Make time for it, make it happen. No excuses.
12. REST means actually rest, not "resting" by filling your time with a different distraction.
I have to laugh at myself for this one but I'm keeping it in here because I wish someone had pointed out to me that I was never actually resting. Distractions can help you get through hard times, Maddie, but fully RESTING will replenish your heart, mind, energy, and soul. Let it be quiet, let your mind rest without stimulation. Sit and breathe with no agenda. Your life is precious and time doesn't give refunds.
13. You don't need to feel bad for letting go of things, people, relationships, habits, lifestyles, priorities, jobs, places, values, or definitions of success and fulfillment that are no longer adding joy to your life. You get one life; you're allowed to keep outgrowing things.
You don't have to be afraid of discomfort or growth. They ARE scary, and they do feel daunting. But if you're not uncomfortable, you're staying in one place, and you were put on this Earth to SOAR. I know it's hard, but remember that when other people in your life get intimidated by your growth, it is neither your responsibility nor your obligation to appease them. You get ONE life, only one. Only this moment is guaranteed. We all deserve to outgrow and move on from spaces that no longer serve us, even if that makes some people uncomfortable.
14. There are billions of people in the world, some will absolutely hate you and have bad things to say about you. And guess what? The world will keep spinning.
I'm laughing at this one too, but mostly because I'm still struggling with it. Logically, I know this to be true. There are literally billions of people and counting, I do not like all of them and they do not all like me. In fact, some of them feel that I'm a real piece of crap and always will be. I've spent so much time trying to navigate this fact of life. Do I live to prove them wrong? Do I choose to be better because I am afraid that I AM indeed a horrible human being? I think the answers I've come to boil down to this: Live for no one but yourself. You can be content and at peace and love yourself knowing that you are doing the work to be the best possible version of you, and if no one else ever sees or experiences that best version, it still matters that you did the work and it still matters that you did it for you. I can't be the perfect friend or coworker or partner or roommate or human to everyone I encounter and that's OKAY. I am human. Do your best, let the rest go.
15. Your output is a direct reflection/ only as good as your input into yourself.
You know that overused saying about "fill your cup first so you can pour into others"? Yeah, turns out it was right. Giving attention and energy to replenish your different energy stores is the opposite of selfish. If you aren't taken care of, you won't be able to show up in the full, wholehearted way that you want to! Go give yourself some love.
Last, but certainly not least, I wanted to remind past and future me that:
16. Changing your goals and not meeting your goals are not the same thing!
Remember when I said it's okay to outgrow spaces? Well sometimes you outgrow what you thought you wanted and that's okay too! I'm not saying give up on your goals and change it to a new one every time things get difficult. I am saying if you try something new or take a baby step towards a goal and you discover that the sacrifices required to achieve said goal are not ones you're willing to make, it means you don't actually want that thing and that's okay! We are allowed to find out we want or don't want things when presented with new information. There is no shame in learning more about yourself and what you want from life. For myself, there is only shame if I were to refuse to even ask myself that question. When you find something you can't live without, you will find a way to make it happen no matter what.