Since graduating from college, I’ve gained a ton of life experience raising two wonderful sons with my wonderful husband while juggling a career. I’ve done my best to balance my family and professional life. When I think back on what I have learned in contrast to my enthusiastic yet nervous outlook back then, I really could not have imagined much of what life had in store for me. If I had known then what I know now, a lot of things would have been easier. But I also know I wouldn’t have believed some of it. Like, right, sure.
Here’s what I would tell my 21 year old self – which is also why I love mentoring and helping young adults as they think through their vision for the future:
You are so much stronger than you know. Really. Yes, it’s a cliche, but it’s also true. You will be hit with so many challenges in your life, from miscarriages to mean bosses to finding out your child has a rare birth defect and a disability.
You will come to appreciate what your body can do when you give birth. Twice. Inspiring you try to look more kindly upon your body that gave you two amazing sons. Encouraging you to at least hesitate a bit before criticizing the size and shape of various aspects of your body. Considering the strength you’ve gained from exercise and childbirth and thinking about the impact your words and actions have on the kids who are watching and listening. (I write about this in How Exercise Became a Big Part of My Life As a Busy, Devoted Mom.)
Cherish the time you have with the people you love, including your parents and grandparents. I wish I could talk to my grandparents now with the perspective of time and experience. There are so many things I would ask them. Time flies when we’re busy starting our families, but it’s important to make time for the special people and put down our smart phones and pay attention.
Create special family traditions and routines. From holidays to family movie night, our kids often best remember these special memories when they look back on their childhoods. While it can be hard to squeeze in family dinners juggling everyone’s activities and schedules, it pays off in bonding and learning etiquette, staying connected, and practicing the art of conversation. For tips on building family traditions, see Creating Special Family Rituals for Lifelong Memories.
Thoughtfully reflect on how you want to balance your family and career. Having it all sounded so great when I was 21, but experience teaches just how challenging it is. There is no one answer and that’s a beautiful thing because it makes so much sense that each of us have different feelings, needs and situations that should be respected and cherished. Consider creative choices based on your priorities. Do what is right for you. And let’s not judge each other for the choices we make.
Seek out positive, supportive people. Life’s too short for negativity, so where there is a choice focus on the people you love who give you energy and joy.
Choose to be positive. Laugh liberally. Look for humor where you can find it. We all go through difficult times. Trying to see the bright side can turn things around or at least make coping easier.
Listen more than you talk. Whether you are close to people or first meeting, listening is the greatest gift and easiest way to get to know someone. Ask thoughtful questions. What is important to the people you care about?
Please stop being hard on yourself. Don’t sweat the small, dumb stuff. Whether about body image, negative people, or obsessing about what’s in, you’ll find out all too soon that life’s twists and turns bring challenges that really put it all in perspective. People you love will get cancer or lose their way, children get sick, people in your community don’t have enough to eat. Really, what does it matter if your house is immaculate or you cooked a perfect meal? Get involved in causes you care about and enjoy your family and the small, everyday pleasures.
Feel confident and proud of who you are. Sometimes you have to fake it a bit in professional or social settings. I’m not suggesting being cocky or lying, but in those surface-y situations it’s OK to be nervous and play act a bit at being confident (so are many of the people you are talking to!). Practicing networking and small talk builds confidence. But take pride in being authentically you. Who wants to build relationships based on pretending to be something you’re not?
It’s the memories you make and the love you share with your family and friends that matter. And the kind of person you are. And how you make a difference in your own way that is right for you. When you are older and you look back, what will you want to remember? That is what is important.
What advice would you give your 21 year old self?