We’re at the end of 2019 and I, like many others, will be doing the typical end of the year (or in this case, end of a decade) reflection. One of the most common questions people are asked for self-reflection is this: What advice would you give your younger self? Or a variation of what is basically the same question “What do you wish you knew at age 20?”
Recently, I’ve considered this question and found it to reek of regret and our lust for perfectionism. Now, I’m not saying wanting to undo certain mistakes made is a bad thing, but it is something I feel we should consider more lest we fail to learn from what we wish to undo.
We are constantly growing, changing based on exposure, experiences, hormones and social climes. So it is presumptuous to think what we currentlyfeel we should have known at that time is what we actually needed to know. We are also presumptuous to believe our younger selves would listen to any advice we would give. I could back in time and tell my younger self: believe you can do this because you will make it. But my younger self would not be ready to hear it. Until I would have had certain experiences, I wouldn’t see how I could make it nor why I would need to try. I would need to grow to a point where I can appreciate that knowledge. And that growth would happen via making mistakes.
The desire to go back in time to change what we consider mistakes is symptomatic with thinking we should not have failed at all, whereas failure is so very often a part of the process. Please note: I’m in no way trying to suggest that “all pain was worth it because it made us stronger”. I truly dislike that school of thought because it too often justifies abuses against a person.
On the contrary, I am referring to what choices we make for ourselves, the various ways we think we could have done it differently/better. Perhaps we could have done it better, but would we have grown as much if we had the cheat sheet? Would we be the persons we are today? Knowing too much of what could happen often impedes our trying. We take fewer risks with knowledge and that is both a good and bad thing.
Years of watching Hollywood products and reading pop-fiction based on the good witch spiel has ingrained in me the lesson that every action has a reaction, to change one thing is to change many others and that could be for the good or bad. The mistake we made, the ignorance of this or that, the wrong choice, etc. might have been the best way to learn the lesson we learned. Perhaps it is the ignorance of our younger selves that enabled us to accomplish so much despite the hurdles. We wouldn’t have tried so hard if we’re as knowledgeable (and jaded) as our older selves undoubtedly are.
As I do reflection at the end of this year, I have come to appreciate some of the ‘mistakes’ I made and ignorance I had at certain points. I have come to appreciate the outcomes of the experiences I would have warned my younger self about. Some- not all. But enough to know that I would not tell my younger self nothing except- trust the process.
I’m telling my present-self the same thing as well. Trust the process.