I don’t believe in regret.
The way I see it, every moment is a choice. And if any of my choices had been different, I may not be where I am right now.
Granted, I love where I am in my life, but even when I haven’t loved my present moment, there’s no way to know for sure if the place I could’ve been, had I made different choices, would be better or worse. So, what’s the point in beating myself up about it?
But while I don’t believe in regret, I do believe in reflecting. In looking back at what my younger self went through and the lessons I’ve learned. In wondering how those lessons could have shaped me or guided me had I learned them a year, a month, even a day earlier. In imagining how my younger self would navigate her way through life if I could go back in time and give her a cheat sheet, a way to walk through the world without feeling so lost.
So today, I asked Elephant readers this question:
If you could meet your 18-year-old self right now and give them three words of advice, what would you say?
I pondered the question for a while myself and came up with a few options:
The first was “Let him go.”
I didn’t know it when I was 18, but I was just months shy of going through my first real heartbreak. It was agonizing, and I was absolutely not prepared for it in any way.
With hindsight, I recognize that it was ultimately for the best. But I also know that I held on too tight for too long, and I wish I had been able to let go sooner, knowing that I would be more than okay in the end. I can’t imagine how much time (and tears) that would have saved me.
My second thought was “Have more fun.”
I’ve always been fairly shy, serious even. I worry a lot. I think about consequences and see outcomes from every angle. And while these personality traits have kept me (mostly) out of trouble and allowed me to reach my goals, they’ve also made it harder for me to fully enjoy the freedom that comes from living beyond society’s boundaries.
Don’t get me wrong: I’ve been reckless and made dangerous choices and had moments of letting loose and doing crazy (or stupid) things…but there’s always a part of my brain that automatically worries, “What if?” or “Is this safe?” or “What happens next?” And that can be a bit of a buzzkill.
But there was one piece of advice that came to me and wouldn’t leave my mind, one that has taken me years to understand (and will probably take me even longer to fully implement):
“Be your priority.”
There are moments I find myself wondering how much time I’ve spent over the years putting other people first. Twisting myself in knots to make them happy. To keep them from hurting. To make their lives easier, even if doing so made my life harder. (Something tells me it would be a pretty hefty chunk of time.)
And while I don’t regret showing up for those I care about (and even for those who, as it turned out, didn’t really care about me), I’m also learning as I get older to see the benefit in putting myself first. In not pushing my needs to the side. In standing up for myself. In saying no. In setting boundaries.
In recognizing that it’s okay to be selfish. It’s okay to make myself my top priority. It’s okay to make others wait for my attention, my time, my help so I can give those same things to myself first.
And I desperately wish my 18-year-old self had known this. (Also, my 22 and 25 and 31 and 34-year-old selves.)
Here are 25 other helpful pieces of life advice from Elephant readers that we can all benefit from, regardless of our age:
“Think it through.” ~ Laura
“Stop wasting money.” ~ Stacie
“Leave him now.” ~ Ali
“Do not rush.” ~ Catherine
“Listen to mom.” ~ Keri
“Go to therapy.” ~ Heather
“Respect yourself more.” ~ Dylan
“Use a condom.” ~ Teddi
“No home perms!” ~ Becky
“Stay with her.” ~ Rah
“Get ADHD treatment.” ~ Jesse
“Avoid toxic relationships.” ~ Kirstin
“Sunscreen, my friend!” ~ Bridget
“Wear comfortable shoes.” ~ Peter
“In. Out. Breathe.” ~ Liahelo
“You are gay.” ~ Annette
“Know your value.” ~ Daniela
“Buy Apple stock.” ~ Jan
“Don’t look back.” ~ Michael
“He won’t change.” ~ Megan
“Your feelings matter.” ~ Jessica
“Please don’t smoke.” ~ Judy
“Move far away.” ~ Lisa
“You’re not invincible.” ~ Crystal
“You’ll get there.” ~ Amber