For a person who doesn’t believe in time travel or having any control in life outside of their own free will it seems slightly ridiculous to even consider the possibility before answering the timeless question, if you could change anything about your past, what would it be? I have answered this on several occasions with the run of the mill response of nothing, and the reason being the lessons I learned following mistakes and failure, but I recently realized that there are actually quite a few things that I would change if I could. Not necessarily specific choices, but definitely attitudes and behaviors that effected my relationships, shaped my personality and often filled me with regret.
I was adequately disciplined growing up, and I suppose that kept me from becoming a criminal or whatever but I had no self discipline and very little self-awareness. If I could go back I would try my best to avoid being a brat as a child and an overly dramatic teenager. I would not have been so reclusive. I would listen to my parents more because they have always been right about everything. I would make more of an effort to have stronger and closer relationships with family members of mine that unfortunately just feel like acquaintances now. I would not have fought with my brother so much. I would not have envied my friends. I would have procrastinated less, studied more, worked harder, and I honestly believe that nearly every bad habit I adapted that carried over into my adult life could have been broken early.
If you are anything like me in that you aren’t completely satisfied with all the choices you have made in your life so far you could probably go on and on about the person you wish you would have been in the past and all of the things you would have done differently, but that would not change a thing. At some point you need to forgive yourself, move forward and realize that it is never too late to love more, work harder, or try something new.
There will almost always be advice that your future self would want to offer your present self, but aside from the fact that what’s done is done, I am thankful for the wisdom I have obtained that can be shared and referenced at any time. This is what I have composed of it so far.
Stand your ground
You can say no to anyone at anytime regarding anything. You have the right to your personal beliefs and opinions in the same way that everyone else does. Hearing out those who disagree with you to gain their perspective is never a bad idea, but stand firm in what you actually believe without conforming to what other people tell you to believe.
Ask all the questions you want without hesitation. You have to question anything you want to understand and not be ashamed or afraid to do so. Don’t pretend to know things you don’ know. Just ask, and don’t let it phase you whenever people get annoyed because that says much more about them than it does about you.
This fear of asking questions that so many of us have developed over the years stems from our upbringing, both at home and in school. I consider it a problem when parents use ‘because I said so’ as an answer to their children instead of explaining why. You should teach them to obey you, but why we don’t also explain each individual circumstance to them so that they understand why what they did was wrong, dangerous, or hurtful to someone else is beyond me. That small amount of added effort could instantaneously change the fact that most kids who do something wrong don’t usually get a thorough explanation of why what they did was wrong, and then end up resenting their parents authority simply because they’re frustrated and confused. We need to seriously consider whether or not we want to continue pro creating and assume that the only responsibilities that come along with that are to keep the kids alive and punish them when they do things we don’t want them to do, paying no attention to their psychological health and their understanding of the world they live in.
Maintain an air of mystery
Accept and respect your natural introversion or extroversion, but don’t try to be an open book to every person you meet. People should have to earn your personality and your story.
Tunnel vision is the most powerful weapon to pull out during a quarter life crisis. Nothing good ever comes from comparing yourself or your success to that of others. You should be your only competition. None of us are exactly the same or on the same timeline so don’t let comparisons inflict disappointment based on the accomplishments of those around you.
Keep in mind that life doesn’t owe you anything. You have to work, and often wait for what you want.
Save your money
You may at some point find yourself barely scraping by because you never understood or took seriously the importance of saving money when you were younger. You might be saving as much as possible in an effort to catch up on what you could have accumulated years ago. Doing this doesn’t leave any disposable income whatsoever so I wouldn’t recommend it. A little goes a long way over time and the build up will be a pleasant surprise if you are consistent with it.
Ask for help
Sometimes you need help, and sometimes people want to help you and that’s okay. Let them. Even if that means you have to temporarily swallow your pride along with your dreams of being so independent that you could never need anything from anyone.
Identify bad people
Self worth is a simple equation not to be calculated by what others think of you. Always and without exception value yourself over shady people you don’t know very well. Some people are master manipulators and very deceptive whenever they want something from you. At some point you will be taken advantage of and lied to. Dismiss those people immediately and pay attention to red flags that can be raised by anyone at any time. You will recognize real friends and potential life partners if you just pay attention.
Also, trust people until they give you a reason not to. It isn’t their fault that some of the people who came into your life previously were bad, so don’t punish them for that.
Know how to be alone
Amazing things can come from spending time alone and you need to make time for yourself on a regular basis. If you have issues with being alone there is no way you will ever be fully content being with another person. You will feel insecure, trying to be what you think someone wants you to be instead of owning who you really are. Other people can only validate you for so long and in a limited number of ways. You need to know and be okay with the fact that people will walk out out the door, sometimes without any explanation at all and you will be okay.
Healthy relationships do require compromise. Pay attention to how your free time is spent with your significant other and make sure that it serves you both equally. Watch what your partner wants to watch as often as you make them watch what you want, don’t expect them to spend more time with your friends and family than they spend with their own, and have the patience to be content with not always getting exactly what you prefer. Find the balance and hold on to it.
Weather the success storm
Success is a combination of hard work, skill, personal connections and luck. The more time you spend meditating on how far away from your dream job you are and the insignificant amount of money you currently make, the more miserable and impatient you will become.
Money can buy you a sense of security and make life much easier, and I wish everyone had enough of it to provide for their basic needs. It deeply upsets me that not everyone has that ease, but money can also get you into trouble if you spend more than you have or develop an unhealthy relationship with it, so be careful.
Stop living in fear
Know the difference between preventative caution and worry, which is that one has the potential to do something and the other does not. Worrying that something bad might happen doesn’t prevent it from happening. Having overly emotional reactions and saying things you don’t mean indicates that you are operating out of fear. Be crystal clear with yourself about what you can control and let go of what you can’t.
Figuring out who you are is tricky, especially when you have no idea what you are doing with your life and that uncertainty will humble you to the ground. It doesn’t feel good in the moment but it will help you appreciate your progress and remain humble whenever your growing pains subside.