With New Year’s resolutions breathing down my neck, it seems like a good time to peer back down the other side of where I’ve come from, to pause, reflect and ponder lessons learned, unlearned, never-to-be-learned. Taking out all those candles makes me wonder what I’d tell my younger selves, now that I know how their stories turn out, how their decisions panned out, how wrong or right they were at any given point in our shared timeline.
What really got me going on this was I saw a middle-of-the-night replay of an interview Oprah had with Bo Derek – the once and always Perfect ’10.’ Oprah asked what she often asks women in their 50s and 60s: Do you feel like your best self, the best version of you? Do you feel your wisdom?
And they always say yes, as did Ms. Derek. I’m thinking, who cares if she feels her wisdom – if I had that body I’d be feeling my washboard abs all day. And you know what Bo Derek also said? She said she absolutely felt the wisdom which was good because it makes up for the physical deterioration. Hey, she very well may be deteriorating. She’s maybe 5’ 10” and 112 lbs. soaking wet, but I couldn’t tell because I didn’t have my glasses on and my neck hurt too much to get up off the couch and then it kills when I put any weight on my left heel and even getting up would have been useless because by the time I’d gotten up who remembers what to look for?
So I sat and thought instead. Wisdom can be accessed on the couch.
I like Oprah’s question. As we age, do we come into the best version of ourselves? This offers the chance to look back with some empathy and even better, to look ahead with a much fuller life skills toolkit.
Since I’m a teacher, here’s the assignment: Given what we know now, if we were to give a ‘Look out below!’ shout back to versions of our younger selves, what would we tell them and which pieces of our own advice will we take into the decades ahead?
What DO I wish I had known and what will I do, now that I do?
Having It All: More shocking than finding out you cannot have it all will be finding out you don’t want it all. Equally stunning is that what you thought was ‘it all’ changes. This ends up being a huge relief and a piece of advice I most certainly keep with me. It’s a key element to having any self-esteem at all. Being the good-enough mother, teacher, writer, daughter will have to do because it’s all I got.
Family (of Origin) Values: Your parents are human. Deal with it. Your relationships with your family of origin will shift dramatically in unpredictable ways. If they don’t – make them. Again, knowing what I know means I move forward with understanding, empathy, an adult perspective and a team of fully trained mental health professionals. Lesson learned: Better living through chemistry!
Your Body Politic: Exercise is not about body size or weight: It's about balancing body chemistry so you're not such a whack job. I wish I had something brilliant to say to you about your body, something that would save you the obscene amount of time and energy you’re going to spend on this topic in a whole new way. You could have cured cancer with the energy and brain power you’ve sunk into that morass. But here’s a newsflash, missy, your body will perform miraculous feats of reproductive magic. That alone should humble you before its majesty. Stop talking trash about it.
The Myth of Compromise: Sometimes what looks like a compromise up front turns out in practice to be complete and utter self-abandonment. Don’t give up everything for anyone. Don’t decide it’s impossible to make a different decision, a radically different decision. Stop the nerve-jangling narrative of inevitability. Get off. Look around, see what it looks like. See lessons learned from Choice.
The Decider: Make decisions from strength, not fear. Too often you will make the grave error of mistaking fear for strength. You will cling to a story about yourself and your life and what’s right and what’s possible while possibilities sail by almost daily, unnoticed, unexplored, ungrabbed. You will go blind in some sense. You will have to.
Blowing it: You’ll have some chances that you’ll blow. They’re only blown because you had them, not because you blew them. Let ‘em go.
The Barrenness of Yearning: You will spend years worrying obsessively that you’ll never have children and then from then on you’ll worry about the one you do have.
Being in the Moment: You will attend your best friend’s wedding on an exquisite hillside vineyard beneath dazzling sunlight and you will miss out on all the joy and bliss and gratitude and generosity and hot tubbing and love because you will be gripped by the debilitating fear you will never have a baby. What I know that I wish you knew is that eight weeks from that weekend you will get pregnant and stay pregnant and have to fold up the tent of despair for a bit. I wish you could have that beautiful day back, to go back to that wedding knowing what I know about the perfect baby girl you’d have. Just get in the hot tub already. (I really hope I take this one on the road with me.)
In fact, I wish you a general re-fertility do-over for all of the events and sunrises and friendships and moments and poems lost to the grief and fear of not knowing how it would all turn out okay.
Planet Parenthood: The planet you inhabit called “Before Children” is an entirely different place than the one you’ll move to, called “After Children.” Oh, who am I kidding. You’ll never believe me. Nevermind. Just hang in there. Okay, okay, just this one pre-parent tip before you leap. You don’t yet know what it’s like to be exhausted. You’ve been tired, sure, but you haven’t an inkling of what it’s like to be maternally exhausted. To my pre-maternal self I say: Sleep now, girl. Sleep. Now. No, literally.
The Motherlode: You have no idea how much you are going to LOVE being a mom.
You will hold titles as both the 'worst mother in the universe' and the 'greatest, most wonderful mother in the universe.' Sometimes in the same afternoon.
Somehow you will be good mother. It’s odd because you’re so crazy and frightened and yet you face this mysterious creature wild-eyed and unafraid. She is fierce. You are more fierce. The labor and delivery nurses, the breastfeeding coach, everybody who meets her in her first few hours – literally her first few hours on life’s stage –pat your hand, nod knowingly and murmur, ‘wow, you’re in for it,’ ‘we haven’t seen one like this in years, if ever,’ ‘she’s so fully awake.’ They predict she’ll be spirited, loud, smart, intuitive, social, intense, INTENSE, in the mix, on the mat, a connected child, in your face, of this world, outta this world, unlike most. How right they were, lucky for your past and future selves.
A Few Quickies:
Don't give away your power without a bloody battle.
Sometimes there simply are no silver linings. Don't punish yourself for not finding them where they do not exist.
Whatever the question, the jitterbug is the answer. And law school.
Listen to your instincts and act on them.
Negotiate like a man.
Write everything down.
Say yes more. Publish more. Read more. Swim more. Sing more. Shop more (or less). Buy those absurd shoes and then dance until the heels break off.
Stop cutting your hair yourself. Would you do your own root canal?
Be more honest.
Be less blunt.
Don't be silenced.
You Are Here: Stop the regret. It got you here. Here’s not so bad. It’s here, after all.