3 Life Lessons I Wish I’d Learned Earlier
“Youth is wasted on the young.”
I was twenty-something when I first read this quote attributed to both George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde. At the time I didn’t quite comprehend its magnitude, but the words stayed with me.
Today, in my mid-30s, I have my own interpretation of it: it’s not that youth is wasted on the young, it’s that when young people are experiencing situations for the first time, they figure it out as they go—inevitably missing one, two, or a hundred things along the way. Not to mention the poor (ahem, terrible) decision making. Yes, even those of us who thought we had it all planned out.
How naïve, right?
“Can you imagine growing up in a household with parental figures who prioritized their inner work, to break patterns before they reach their kids?” is what I asked a bestie during one of those long, heartfelt conversations that happen every three to six months. As this conversation evolved, I started thinking about what I would want to say to my younger self as a break-in-case-of-emergency, life starter pack for a young woman.
I’m not saying “to prepare my younger self” because nothing (not even my ‘life starter pack’) can really prepare anyone for life. And even if it could, a young person can easily dismiss another’s learnings because they won’t necessarily relate to their experience. And relatability is key to get through—enter a saying from the Latin American tías (aunties): “Nadie aprende por cabeza ajena.” Which translated from Spanish, means: “Nobody learns from another person’s experience.” We as human beings tend to see things as we are, not as they are. So, regardless of any life lessons I’d love to share with my younger self, she probably wouldn’t have been prepared to receive them. Or to understand them.
She would have appreciated them, though. Just as I hope you will (whether you’re in your early 20s, mid-30s or fab-40s and beyond).
Lesson No. 1
Use Your Voice and Take Up Space——Unapologetically
There’s an old (and machista, and outdated) saying in Spanish: “Calladita te ves más bonita.” Which roughly translates to: “You look prettier when you keep shushed.” I’m not going to dive deep into the many cultural references stemming off of this phrase, which include but aren’t limited to: staying quiet as to avoid judgement of any kind, or offend anyone; staying invisible to avoid standing out and being a target for assault, violence or ridicule, or keeping to yourself because you’re a woman and someone decided that what you have to say doesn’t matter (we know it does, clearly).
Speaking up is a powerful tool for change, for advancement, for influence. History can attest to that.
And using your voice unapologetically means showing up as you really are, regardless of how you’ll be perceived by others. It shows the humanity in you, it shatters the idealization and illusion of perfection of what a woman should be. Anyone else remember being told some variation of: “Girls don’t sit like that,” or “Women don’t talk like that”? I do.
For many years I didn’t use my voice. In school, I lowered it because I was worried I’d get into trouble for (respectfully) voicing any disagreement against authority. And the overwhelming fear of being made fun of by sharing my opinion, or the shame of giving a wrong answer in class—whoosh! That was a horror movie right there.
Later in life this evolved into a fear of not being liked, or being tagged as difficult, intense, and any other negative adjective. This was the beginning of me becoming a people pleaser (now in recovery, yay).
It took me years to understand three things:
That everyone has an opinion about everything.
That I can’t control how people perceive me (what I say, what I do, etc.)
That the only way to avoid judgement or avoid offending anyone was to stay still and barely breathe.
When I realized the alternative resembled a scene in a horror movie, where the main character is hiding in a closet, panicking over whether or not the serial killer would find her, I made a choice.
I wanted to live life, not merely exist in it. And using my voice, and taking up space are powerful ways of living fully. I was so driven by what people would think of me (and wanting those thoughts to be positive), that censoring myself became the rule, not the exception.
Today I remind you to live out loud, and stay true to who you are. #youdoyou.
Lesson No. 2
The Grass is Not Greener on the Other Side
I remember listening to a song by Travis called Side, with a chorus that started: “The grass is always greener on the other side…” and I thought to myself that it described perfectly our collective dissatisfaction with the present and idealization of the future. And to add a dash of context: this phrase is colloquially used to express how much more appealing that thing we don’t have is vs. the one we do have.
Grabbing my safety pin to burst your bubble—it’s not greener anywhere else. Or in another moment in time. The grass in which you’re standing is as green as you decide it is today (and mindful that all life situations are different, take what you can relate to and dismiss the rest).
From a young age, we’re prompted to associate happiness and ‘better things’ to the attainment of a future goal; to believe that we’ll be happy when we get into that school, graduate from that program, get that job, get married, become a parent, lose the weight, go on that trip, get that better job—and the list goes on.
And it’s true, achieving these definitely causes enormous joy, especially when we’ve worked so hard and waited so long for them. But these are the big things, the milestones.
What about the micro moments of joy happening every day? The ones sparked by the feelings of gratitude that arise when we stop and pay attention; when we’re living in the present moment.
I consider being mindful as one of the major factors to develop a journey filled with consistent contentment vs. looking forward to the next milestone and missing all that joy taking place in the meantime.
It’s both beautiful and necessary to have something to look forward to. Just remember to pay attention and to enjoy the life happening while you wait.
And on that note, may I remind you that life is what’s happening as I’m typing these words, and as you’re reading them? Life is what happens in between the cracks of the good, the bad, the thrilling, the heartbreaking.
It’s the joke you shared with your partner in the kitchen over a glass of wine, while making dinner. It’s realizing your kid is growing up from that conversation you had before putting them to bed. It’s playing board games with your family on a random Tuesday, or the candid conversations with your girlfriends at the world’s most rescheduled brunch date.
Living a fulfilling life starts with you. It starts with your perspective and perception of the highs and the lows. Then you adjust accordingly, sprinkling some gratitude here and there to manage feeling the feels when the living gets tough.
Your grass is at its greenest now. Here.
Lesson No. 3
Look to Belong, Not (Only) to Fit In
Growing up and being the odd one out wasn’t anyone’s first choice. It happened by exclusion. And I did not want to be excluded, I wanted to fit in. As I shared in the first lesson, I wanted to be liked. I steered away from conflict, confrontation and any of their variations.
Even if I believe that self-approval is the one that counts the most, because it’s the hardest to get (in my experience) it’s only human to want, and need, some form of external validation.
From my point of view, and you are super welcome to disagree (look at me all promoting respectful confrontations), the difference between belonging and fitting in is how much of yourself you have to leave out. And that’s the thing—I don’t want to leave anything out (Ok, maybe I’ll leave some things out, but not those that make me…well, me).
So, let’s compare and contrast.
Belonging is where you fit in without any changes; being your most authentic self. Fitting in is when you are showing up wearing a different version of you, to appeal to a specific group. And you do this by way of hiding, removing or choosing not to disclose parts of your true self—included but not limited to ideas, lifestyle, and other forms of expression.
Let me paint a picture (as usual). Imagine you’re staring at a baby-blocks shape-sorter toy. You know, the kind where you have a circle, a star, a triangle and other shapes, with matching holes in said shapes. Got it? Amazing.
Fitting in is like trying to get the star shape to go into the circle-shaped hole. You’d need to make some trimming adjustments to the star block for it to get in. You’d have to change its original form. Belonging is like getting that same star into its star-shaped hole. It was meant to be there. It belongs.
Before putting on another version of yourself, why not assess your reasons for wanting to fit in...without belonging?
Reflecting on Your Life Lessons
If any of these resonate with you, I encourage you to write your own life lessons to your younger self (or to your future or existing kids). It can even be through a journaling prompt: “Three things I’m grateful to know now, that I wish I’d known sooner”, or “three learnings that changed my life”.
Self-awareness can be super powerful, and at times underrated. Tapping into your life learnings (because you are a wise soul) can help remind you where you started, and how far you’ve come.
This piece was written and contributed by:
Jit is a PR & marketing person trained in journalism, health coaching and yoga—writing about most things wellness. She helps entrepreneurs PR the ef out of their superpowers, specializing in content strategy, copy makeovers and spotting PR-able angles.
She finds joy in a cup of coffee, in a nourishing read or an inspiring podcast, and in rediscovering paradise in her native Panama—where she lives with her husband, his son and their Shih Tzu, Valentina.