What advice would you give your younger self?

Posted on October 20, 2016 by Eleanor McKenzie
Mother imparting wisdom

Is there anything you know now that you wish you’d known when you were younger? Since I decided to write about this topic, I’ve been puzzling over that question and struggling to come up with a list that I think would have changed my life radically. It also struck me while I contemplated the issue, and studied what other people would put on such a list, that people approach the question from different angles; some are more practical, whilst others prefer emotional or moral advice.

My inspiration for the blog was a popular meme that has been floating around on social media for many months. In this meme, Dame Helen Mirren says that if she had a tip for her younger self it would be to say “F*** Off” more often. Even if you don’t approve of her choice of an expletive, she has a point. We more readily accept disrespect and bad treatment from others when we are young. Youngsters receive this treatment precisely because of their age and because social norms apparently support it.

You could say that when people reach the other end of the age spectrum that norm comes back into play. But, when either young people or the elderly stand up against this attitude they are portrayed as troublemakers, anti-social or worse. But learning to refuse to be ignored and taking a firm rather than aggressive stand against being treated as irrelevant or unimportant is a tip I would happily give my younger self. I think that’s what Dame Helen meant.

Mature man letting go

Don’t hold a grudge

Life coach Lisa Kayne Lieberman offers an interesting list of things she now knows in her 60s that she wishes she had known in her twenties. Her first tip resonated with me and this is something I’ve tried to follow for many years; don’t hold a grudge because it won’t make anything better. As she discovered, it takes more energy to hold on to anger than it does to release it and just let it go.

Why carry a grudge around over something that happened days or even decades ago? It’s like carrying an emotional sack of potatoes around with you that you never put down and it serves no purpose. Either sort the issue out with the alleged offender, or forgive them and release them from your life completely. And, if you find yourself returning to thoughts of vengeance, and we’ve all been there, just remind yourself that you’re done with this issue. Do something to take your mind off it; it’s just a thought and you can ignore it. Lisa has a number of other tips that younger people would find valuable, such as “being alone isn’t the same as lonely,” or “trying something you think you’re bad at is liberating,” and one of my favourites is “being easygoing is not the same thing as sublimating your needs.” In other words, you can state your preferences without being selfish and share your ideas without being dominating.

A British survey of top life tips

It’s always interesting to see what a larger group of people would suggest. A survey of 2000 Britons aged 50 and over revealed that nine out of 10 parents and grandparents wished they had been wiser in their youth. Ah, but what form might that wisdom take? Wisdom comes in many forms. Interestingly, the top three tips from the survey were: learn to love your looks, never smoke and don’t take yourself too seriously.

These certainly aren’t contentious, however, these top three were closely followed by an interesting list that I’m not convinced young people would take on board without an argument, and I say that from my experience of teaching teenagers. The list is: always vote; pay off your credit cards every month; look after your skin and teeth; put family first and spend less time online. I think we all know that the last one is advice that will fall on deaf ears plugged into a smartphone or other device.

The other tips from the survey that I do think younger people could bear to hear and would actually listen to are the less practical tips; they are the tips that are based on feelings and moral values. I wish somebody had helped me understand the futility of comparing my life with that of other people in my teens. I have got past it now, more or less, but when you live ‘by comparison’ your own life always tends to come up short. And that’s no way to live. You are good enough, that’s what I’d tell my younger self. What would you tell yours?

by Eleanor McKenzie

Eleanor McKenzie is a Northern Irish writer with a passion for art, literature, and red wine. She's worked at advertising agency JWT, edited a journal for a European social policy think tank and tried to teach teenagers the difference between "there" and "their". Being 50+ has not significantly changed Eleanor's life, although she finds it a handy excuse when she wants to avoid anything too energetic.