A soft pink lotus flower sits in a large white cup; its petals are fully unfurled. Next to it a an open notebook with lined pages; photo via Six Miles Out/Unsplash.
Transatlantic Life

Advice I’d Share With My Younger Self (And You)

If you could give your younger self some advice, what would it be? Moments of introspection like this are frequently prompted by a desire to better understand ourselves, deepen self-acceptance, boost self-compassion or offer a reminder about how far we’ve come.

Giving advice or support to our younger selves can be powerfully cathartic; it reveals a path towards healing or building resilience. Reflection that leads towards greater insight and growth without falling into retreat or isolation can renew authenticity, purpose and help create some joy. If we can genuinely appreciate where we’ve come from; potentially discovering ways to deal with some of the pain or obstacles holding us back, encouragement to see a clearer journey ahead can prevail — plus it’s always a good idea to practice some self-love.

A title graphic for a post available on Transatlantic Notes called, ‘Advice I’d Share With My Younger Self (And You)’. The background image is of a soft pink lotus flower sitting in a large white cup; its petals are fully unfurled. Next to it a an open notebook with lined pages.

Whether it’s from writing a letter, sharing some life advice via a blog post or writing a journal entry, for example; this process of thoughtfully considering the things we’d tell our younger selves become a therapeutic experience. And like any type of therapy, regardless if professionally undertaken or self-explored, it possesses the capability to evoke memories that may be difficult or distressing.

If revisiting the past in this way is likely to trigger trauma, always seek out the guidance and support of a trusted mental health professional (as well as family and friends).

If you’re interested in delving into what you would want your younger self to know, it may be worth considering the following points:

  • Have a specific age or timeframe in mind that you’re writing about.
  • Be open, honest, authentic and real about who you were and what you expect to examine.
  • Be clear about what you intend to achieve by undertaking this task.
  • Focus on up to five specific lessons or topics that you want to work through; any more than this can be overwhelming and set off stress/anxiety, etc.
  • Start by setting the scene of what was going on at the age/timeframe you’ve chosen to explore. 
  • Remain cognizant of the fact that this activity will not alter or correct past choices or issues, it can, however provide an opportunity to regard them with more kindness; in turn helping to better inform future decisions.
A twenty-two year old Molly from Transatlantic Notes leans towards a camera that’s taking her photo; she has a slight smile and quizzical look on her face that’s framed by her short, curly, bright natural red hair.
Me at 22 years old – photo from my family album

So, what essential life advice would I share with my younger self (and anyone reading)?

For this exercise I’ve decided to focus on the halfway point of my life (thus far); landing me at the exploratory and blossoming age of twenty-two.

After receiving my (extremely underwhelming) A-Level results at eighteen years of age — college exams taken in the UK that typically help secure a place at university — I floundered for a couple of years and fell into a period of deep depression. My confidence about being able to pursue and achieve my dream of becoming a teacher had completely disappeared — I was directionless.

Believing nothing good would come of it; at about twenty years old I applied for a teaching assistant position at a local, small private boys school. As if by some extraordinary act of serendipity, I secured the job and ended up working at a place filled to the brim with wonderful, supportive and encouraging staff — exactly what my life needed.

The next two years were devoted to gaining experience and confidence that ultimately helped me secure a place at university to study a bachelor’s degree in primary education. I felt content, loved, appreciated and accomplished; but before I could begin my studies, at the age of twenty-two, something unforeseen happened that looked like it was going to jeopardise my entire future.

1. Life is a gift, not a guarantee; when things change unexpectedly and become a challenge — and they will — you are more resilient and capable at surviving the worst moments life throws at you than you know.

We all possess the ability to adapt and overcome unforeseen events, heartbreak, tragedy and hardships. This doesn’t mean any of it is going to be easy; surviving life stuff that knocks us down can be messy, painful, emotionally draining and physically altering. We can and will be challenged in ways that leave us bereft, bruised and/or wondering if there’s a point to it all. The hard stuff is going to hurt like hell; but when we piece things back together, we learn new life skills that become part of an arsenal of experience that will carry us through.

At twenty-two years old, just four months before I was scheduled to start university; I collapsed at work and became seriously ill. It turns out I had unknowingly been living with a rare congenital neurological condition that didn’t guarantee my survival. Through focusing on my rehabilitation and healing, I developed a grit and determination that sustained me through my studies (I got my degree and taught for ten years). In fact, it was this experience that I leaned into decades later when my husband was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer; I was able to support and guide him with an empathy and strength I wouldn’t have had if I’d not faced my own uncertainty. The adversity that forged my inner resilience had turned into a blessing.

2. While genuine love may be expressed and experienced in any number of ways; it is unequivocal. You will know if you’re receiving it from the right people in your life because love is an action; it doesn’t exist within ambivalence, doubt or indecision.

Regardless if it’s friendship, familial or romantic; loving someone shouldn’t leave us feeling unsure, anxious, burdensome or like an option. What we put in is what we get back; not because we’re prioritizing collecting something in return but because love is about sharing something that nourishes and sustains both people involved.

We’re allowed to ask for clarity or work at understanding someone’s love languages, particularly if they’re very different from our own. Acknowledging how someone gives and receives love is all part of being connected to them; we incorporate it within our own expressions of affection to build something beautiful. Loving someone should never diminish who we are or rob us of our confidence; if it does — we must learn to walk away.

Someone who is ready to write in a journal holds a pen over an open notebook; only their arm is visible.
photo via Hannah Olinger/Unsplash

3. Despite appearances or perceptions, nobody has life completely figured out or running smoothly all of the time; it’s perfectly okay (and normal) to be a work in progress.

Particularly in this age of social media, it can seem like everyone around us has their life in order and is rising, shining and thriving. It’s wonderful to celebrate someone’s success or joy or tout our own when it happens, but this does not mean everyone is living a charmed existence.

It’s completely understandable we may want to share our accomplishments and prosperity rather than the realities of stumbling through life from time-to-time. Hold onto the fact that we all go through cycles of opportunities then obstacles; we’re all powering through as best we can. We mustn’t be afraid to share our disadvantages, losses and struggles; we are whole, complex, evolving and messily, beautifully human.

4. Life really is too short and goes by a lot quicker than you might like to believe; savour the experience and do what brings you purpose and joy.

Fear of being judged or failing at something often holds us back from attempting new things or doing what we enjoy. We don’t have enough time on this Earth to let too many aspirations, delights and experiences pass us by. We’ll no doubt harbour some regret about missed moments (this is all part of having/making choices in life), but nothing is truly wasted if we embrace the lessons that both successes and disappointments teach us. We mustn’t allow failure or what other people think of us to act as a deterrent from finding what provides meaning or promotes happiness.

There are so many bits of guidance and advice I could share; however, I think this serves as a useful reminder to anyone reading (and myself) that looking back in this way can help us move forward. We can bolster and renew ourselves by taking some time to value our journey so far …

What advice would you give your younger self? What lessons have you learned?


Further Info:

NAMI Helpline – a free, nationwide U.S. resource that offers experienced peer-support guidance and advice

CheckPoint – global (by country) resources for mental health support

32 thoughts on “Advice I’d Share With My Younger Self (And You)”

  1. Wow Molly, you are a strong lady going through all that. I hope you and your husband are ok now? I can relate to many things in this post. Going through the difficulties in life is horrible at the time, but like you say, when we go through it we come out the other side stronger and more resilient. Thanks for sharing.

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  2. Hi, Molly. This article is really inspirational.
    When we encounter difficulties, we need to maintain an optimistic attitude. I hope everyone is full of hope for life.

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  3. Beautiful advice Molly! I’ve learned similar lessons over the years and it has changed my perspective for the better. Surround yourself with good people and remember that we’re all human with struggles, despite what’s shown on social media. Thank you for sharing!

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story and lessons with us. I love how you set up this exercise so specifically. That really helps being able to reproduce it.
    It’s beautiful to read how honest and open you are regarding your past and what you’ve learned from it. You are right in saying that life is too short and that it’s not a guarantee. We have to learn to adapt with the change. What struck me the most was the one about love. That has put me to think about my previous relationships and how I tries to cling on to a love that wasn’t there anymore. I’ll reflect on that some more. Thank you

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    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful words; I really appreciate them. I’ve come to realize there is so much that the past (my past) can offer me right now and how I use them to face new changes and challenges (as well as all the good stuff). The lessons I’ve learned about love came the hard way but have helped me identify what I deserve (what we all deserve) and that’s been a huge gift.

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    1. It often amazes me how things we’ve survived can come through for us in surprising ways. As we face new challenges it’s good to hold onto the fact we have past experiences that can help us through in the end. Thanks so much for reading!

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  5. An excellent piece full of sound advice. I’d totally agree about people who appear to have life all figured out. I was desperate to be like that when I was younger, but realised later that, like you say, no one’s completely sure if what they’re doing!

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  6. I loved the framing of this post! Choosing a specific age and intention is a wonderful guideline. Thank you for sharing!

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  7. I love this idea. Its so good to remember where you come from and where your going. When I think about when I was younger I did not see myself where I am today I thought my life would be different but its good to stay positive.

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  8. Wow this was so powerful. I couldn’t agree more with these. The one that hit me hardest was 1. Life is a gift, not a guarantee;. I know so many people who didn’t make it to 40 and in your 20s and 30s you never think anything will happen to people you love. I had a friend who got cancer and after that I saw so many things differently. #1 not to waste your health. go exercise because you love your body and you’re able not because you hate it. Take the trip, tell people you love them. Biggest lesson I”ve ever learned. Thanks for sharing this.

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