was originally published on this site
It’s a question I’ve posed to clients and seminar attendees in the past: what direction or wisdom would you share with your younger self if you could go back ten, twenty, thirty years (or more)? The idea obliges us to think about the whole of our journey thus far – how we’ve viewed health or success, how we’ve valued our well-being against other commitments, how we’ve weighed instinct against authority – among endless other inquiries.
The fact is, life teaches us. I’m not talking just about the assemblage of data – more information gathered, more studies skimmed. I mean the self-knowledge acquired – sometimes through hard-won means – as well as the priorities that have come into focus over time. It’s often about the lessons learned through a variety of epic mistakes and frustrating dead-ends. Beyond the neat world of “good life” theory exists the full dimensional backdrop of living feedback.
So, I’d invite you to think for a minute or two about that younger version of yourself.
What was your concept of health way back when?
What value did you place on self-care and self-actualization?
What challenges were you facing?
What was competing for your attention/priority?
How did you think you were supposed to cultivate your health and happiness?
What self-judgments did you have then?
What kinds of actions did you take or resist and why?
What would you say to that person now?
What concepts or encouragement would you want to share?
What perspectives do you wish you’d known back then that you hold now?
What knowledge do you think would’ve made the journey easier?
What do you think he/she needed to hear more than anything else to claim health, vitality and well-being?
As you consider those possibilities, let me offer a few of my own….
If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
So often we give up on things that present too many hurdles too soon, forgetting that most people will encounter those same hurdles to achieve the level of success they desire. I gave myself this advice when I started Mark’s Daily Apple in 2006. It was a labor of love for the first four years. After those first years, however, the blog audience began to reach a critical mass that enabled me to branch out to books, events, certifications and other opportunities that might never have materialized if I had given up a bit earlier. There were plenty of days when my faith was lacking, but I’ll always be grateful I held on through the rough part and allowed things to come to fruition.
Always invest in yourself first – it offers the best return possible.
Whether it’s investing in a gym membership to get healthier, a night course to become savvy at accounting, a cooking class to better attract a mate or plowing hard earned dollars back into your own business, the returns are often multiples of what you’d make investing in the stock market (which isn’t to say you shouldn’t do that where appropriate as well). In 1984, I put $10,000 on a credit card to do a course in personal development that I felt strongly about (I had no savings at the time). It scared the crap out of me to invest in myself that way, but I have benefited from that training every day of my life since. (Unfortunately, by the way, the course no longer exists.)
Don’t put off being happy for some future date when the stars might be better aligned.
There is almost always an opportunity to find some amount of joy in the moment, no matter what your current circumstances. During a trip to a small, impoverished village in South Africa a few years ago, I was impressed by the overwhelming sense of joy these people exuded on a daily basis despite what we might perceive as dire circumstances. It struck me that this was an attitude that was culturally induced. They looked for opportunities to be happy over the smallest “wins.” I suspect that much of our Westernized attitude is also culturally induced – ushered more in the direction of worry, fear and guilt. I try to do a little gratitude exercise each day, when I simply reflect for a few minutes on what makes me happy in that exact moment.
I recognize of course that the perspective comes with experience. We gather evidence through our lives confirming or discounting a certain belief as we perceive it. And yet…
I wonder what it would mean if we could take certain viewpoints on faith earlier in our lives. Maybe we did. The fact is, the times I did – when I stepped off the cliff and held to a particular path despite no existing evidence – those were the times I experienced the most fulfillment and success. The evidence came later. The times when I valued my own vision and invested in myself – I never regretted it. It might have taken a while for the real purpose or payoff (not always both) of a choice to become clear, but it did.
And I think here we find the real power of this exercise. Most definitely, our advice, when shared, might help someone else – someone younger or not. We can boost people’s faith by offering our own experience of what we chose to do and how we held on seeing it through. We can put a human face and story to what might feel like unrealistic goals in others’ minds. Our experience can embolden others in ways we might never anticipate.
But there’s more. Just the process itself of surveying our own past, can offer us something in the here and now. So much of our lives are spent just getting through the day, keeping up with the routine. There’s nothing wrong with this as a general rule. Be in the moment by all means. However, we do well to step back for a while now and then – not to plan, not to imagine new goals (although that’s good, too) but to assess the overarching narrative of our lives.
What have we been attempting to flee, to grow out of? What have we been moving toward, hoping for? Where have we shown up for ourselves (and others), and where have we retreated? What has motivated us in our lives? What has been the persistent stumbling block – the theme(s) we always seem to be fighting. What have we managed to accomplish in spite of that? How have our efforts and small wins poised us for better things – for the next thing we might imagine now.
Are you still gathering more perspective? Let me throw out a few more pieces of retrospective advice friends and clients have shared over the years.
- Let yourself rest more. Seriously, there’s plenty of time.
- Find something you really love to do as a way to move every day. Make it something you look forward to – a want rather than a should.
- Learn to cook. No, really. Learn to enjoy it. Enjoy experimenting with it. Value your time in the kitchen in a way the culture doesn’t encourage as much anymore. You’ll be healthier for it – and a kick@$$ host.
- Pretty much 90% of what you’re stressing about will mean nothing in ten years – most of it nothing in 10 days. Learn to let it go.
Play more. But don’t make it an official, planned, self-conscious exploit: “Hey, I’m going to play now!” Just stop taking your life so seriously. Look for ways you can make everyday life more in the spirit of play – exercise, parenting, work, cooking, etc. Loosen up and embrace your inner fool.
- Tithe your time – to yourself, to your own joy.
- Look for a job that doesn’t take all your time and energy. Think about the conditions that will make or break your happiness here: long commute – no, long vacation time – yes.
Meditate – not because it’s supposed to be “good” for your health as you get older but because it will help you enjoy your life more exactly where you’re at.
- Don’t think of health in terms of components – like add-ons you can incorporate one after the other. Give up the divisions in your life. Live from a healthy center, and make everything else – all your other – choices reflect that value.
And now the floor is yours. What has your path taught you? What wisdom would you share with your younger self if you had that opportunity? Or what perspective do you want to pass on to those here who might be younger – or who might just be ready for a redirect, a transition to something better and healthier in their lives?
Thanks for reading, everyone. Have a great end to your week.