What Would You Tell Your Younger Self?

From my podcast of the same name.

What things would you like to tell your younger self, if given the opportunity?  I’ve often thought I would never want to re-live my life again—heavens, no!—but I would like to have had some timely advice for things I was experiencing.  I wonder, though, if I would have heeded wise words.  Sometimes failure is the only teacher we’ll listen to.

The blogger Cassie Boorn put out a call for Letters to Your Younger Self, where she asked 30- and 40-something bloggers and writers to write to their 20-something selves.

Here are some examples.

Karen Walrond writes: “You know that suspicion that you have that when the time comes, you should adopt?  You have no idea how right you are.  You’re also right that your child will be a daughter.  You’re also right that she will be absolutely splendid.”

Lisa Belkin of The New York Times writes: “Dear Younger Lisa, I know you are terrified, and quite certain that you aren’t cut out for this. You are. That doesn’t mean you will change overnight into a baby-savvy mother, who is patient and selfless and never makes mistakes. You will not be perfect. You will cry as much as the baby in the early months (then you’ll look back and realize it was post-partum depression. When it starts SEE A DOCTOR.) As they get older, you will yell, and regret it. You will not notice problems until they become huge and you will make much too big a deal out of things that really aren’t important. You will even wonder, sometimes, why you ever decided to have children.

But your biggest fear, the one you are barely admitting to yourself right now? It won’t happen. You WILL love them. Fiercely. Completely. Your two boys (yes, you will inexplicably be mom to two boys) will be the best thing that ever happened to you. And flawed as you will be, they will know you love them, and they will love you back. That alone will make everything worth it.

Hang in there girl, it gets better,

Older Lisa”

One more.  Jessica Gottlieb says: “You see the world a little differently than everyone else. I still don’t know why, but twenty years later I’ve stopped trying to answer that question. Be yourself, you’re weird, and you’re going to get weirder. It’s okay. No one cares enough to make a difference.

“Oh also, you’re going to meet a really nice guy who is going to take you helicopter skiing, and send you mountains of flowers. He is bad news. Trust your instincts. You’re going to marry a poor man, and you’re going to be madly in love fifteen years later. Building something  side by side with a good man is infinitely better than being given everything by a not so good man.”

Ah, to have the luxury of hindsight.  All we possessed back then and didn’t appreciate!  The strength we had, the beauty, the smarts, the love, the energy, the vitality, the idealism!  How lucky were we?  We either used it, abused it, or squandered it.  What would you say to your younger self?

Here’s my letter to my younger self.

Dear Elissa,

Your fifth grade teacher will tell your parents you ask too many questions, and you’ll feel so betrayed, but know that she has a class to run.  Write your questions down.  You have so many of them.  You have a whole lifetime to answer them—well, at least until the age of 43.

Remember your childhood nightmares?  Harmless, really.  But as you grow older, pay attention to what they were saying to you, about you.  How scared you were as a kid.  How lonely.  Take that feeling and channel it into validating and helping others.

Kids will make fun of your height, but later, you’ll adore how it makes you stand out.  Stand up straight, though.  Slouching looks horrible.

Why do you try so hard to be perfect?  You need to go out more.  Live a little.  Shake your booty.  Drink a little.  Throw caution to the wind…at least more than you do.

No, you’re not crazy.  That’s the result of lots of emotional abuse.  Find someone to talk to.  Believe me, it clears things right up.

You say “yes” to lots of things, out of obligation and desperately wanting to be liked, and then you hit an emotional brick wall, because you feel swamped.  Did you know you can say “no?”  The person you’re saying “no” to will simply go to the next person and request help.  No harm done.  And you get your life back.

You’re good at a lot of things, but take the time to narrow down what you’re passionate about.  It will become clearer as time goes on.  Notice the instances when you love life most.  And if these don’t fit with what your friends are doing, it’s OKAY.

Oh, my poor dear girl, you think you can control and manipulate everyone around you—how they feel about you, how they treat you—but you can’t, anymore than the earth can change its orbit.  When you learn to love yourself, then you’ll realize everyone else doesn’t matter anymore.

Learn to stand up for yourself, girlfriend.  Seriously.  Stand up to the sexual innuendos from your colleagues.  Stand up for the one who’s being gossiped about.  Stand up to your undermining friend.  It only gets worse, if you ignore it, and it’s so much better, if you don’t.  If you lose friends, then they weren’t your friends to begin with.

Don’t build the big dream house.  It’s too much work, and it’ll sap your creativity.  Find some place small and quaint, tucked away in the woods.  Make life as simple as possible.  Pare it all down to the basics.

There.  That’s my letter.  What would you write to your younger self?  Could you share your letter with your children, so they might get a glimpse of what you were like, and what you feel you’ve become?  After all, if we don’t share our lives, our mistakes, our insecurities, then our children are bound to repeat them.  Well, they might anyway, but it’s worth a shot to help them if we can, don’t you think?

Bonus for today.  A poem by Dorianne Laux.


Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read
to the end just to find out who killed the cook, not
the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,
in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication, not
the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,
the one you beat to the punchline, the door or the one
who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones
that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.
Not the nights you called god names and cursed
your mother, sunk like a dog in the living room couch,
chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.
You were meant to inhale those smoky nights
over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings
across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed
coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.
You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still
you end up here. Regret none of it, not one
of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,
when the lights from the carnival rides
were the only stars you believed in, loving them
for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.
You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,
ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house
after the TV set has been pitched out the window.
Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation.
Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it. Let’s stop here,
under the lit sign on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

[Post image: Running girl and endless green meadows by plrang on stock.xchng]


  1. Cassie Boorn
    Dec 10, 2011

    Thank you for mentioning my project!

    We seem to have pretty similar pasts and lessons learned. I am so happy I found your blog!

    • Elissa
      Dec 10, 2011

      You’re welcome, Cassie! It’s a great (and worthwhile) project…and I enjoyed reading others’ letters immensely… :). Thank you for that. It helps to know I’m not alone.

  2. Allison
    Dec 10, 2011

    brilliant. just beautiful! that last poem is so simple and bringing me to tears tonight. your post has brought extra life to me today…thank you. 🙂

    • Elissa
      Dec 12, 2011

      Thanks, dear Allison, for those words…it helps to know you’re not alone, no?

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