Dear Future Self
I saw this video years ago - maybe it was a documentary, I can’t remember - where women were talking about their dissatisfaction with their own bodies. After they’d exhausted some pretty serious negative self-talk, they were shown a picture of their younger selves and told to talk to the little girl in that photo the way they just spoke about themselves. But they couldn’t. They couldn’t stare into their younger face, so filled with hope and happiness, and tell her she was ugly. Because she wasn’t.
She was free from harsh judgement. She didn’t care that she was missing a front tooth – in fact she celebrated it! She didn’t worry if her socks matched her outfit. She just wanted to play and have a few friends around her, to ride bikes or make up silly games or imagine what life would be like when they got older.
I recently completed a 10-day writing challenge, my third one in the past year, and each one helped me dig deeper into who I am and what I want from this life.
For ten days the facilitator sent an email with a bit of a story followed by a challenge to get participants thinking and writing. One day she asked us to write a letter to ourselves, first from our younger self and then from our future self. If you’ve never done an exercise like this, I highly recommend it! Start by writing down things you think your younger self would want you to remember or what she would want you to know and then move on to imagining what your older self would have to say to you.
For me, my younger self told me that I’m okay. That I’ve grown up the way I was supposed to and that I’ve found the path I was meant to be on, even if I deviated from time to time. And my older, more forgiving version of myself, told me that I worked hard and deserved the beautiful life I created. She thanked me for being kinder and more understanding of myself with each passing year and told me that I’ve always been enough, no matter what I thought or felt about myself.
The problem is, as we get older, most of us fill our heads with doubts and fears and learn the kind of negative self-talk that would seriously damage our younger spirit. But what would that little kid want us to know today? What would she say to us or remind us about the person she thought we’d become? Would she tell us that we’re okay, that we’re enough just as we are? That we’ve done well to stay true to living the life we’d always dreamed of? Or would she tell us to get back on track? To give ourselves a break and find a way to be happy without all the negative self-talk? What would that girl who only wanted to ride her bike around town or make up silly ghost stories or try on her mom’s makeup want us to remember?
I’ve been listening to Rachel Hollis’ Rise Podcast and there have been a couple of times when she mentions how, at speaking engagements, she makes statements to the (mostly) female audience and asks them to stand up if it applies to them. One day she threw in the statement, “I hate the way I look” and almost every woman in that audience stood up. Literally hundreds of women stood up because they hate the way they look. Not just I don’t like my nose or I wish I was a size smaller but I hate the way I look.
If you are one of those women who would have stood up in that room, what would the version of you who is nearing the end of her life have to say about you hating the way you look right now? Of course it’s hard to say for certain, but I’d be willing to bet she’d have something to say about how you looked better at your current age than she does now. That you should appreciate your ability to move your body, to get in and out of vehicles without help. That you should be grateful you can walk anywhere you want to go without shuffling or worrying about falling down and breaking a hip. She might even tell you to enjoy your ability to make even the simplest decisions for yourself, like what you want to wear today.
I think it’s easy for us to get caught up in our current stage of life. We settle into going through the motions and not really thinking about what we’re doing here. We don’t consider what our younger, or older, selves would think about where we are today. We just are.
But what if we could change how we live through the simple task of asking ourselves what would my younger self do? Or what would my older self think of me right now? If you’re stuck in negative self-talk, ask yourself if you could say those things to your cute little four-year-old self. Ask what your elderly self, who is lonely in a care home or stuck in the chaotic mind that is dementia, would say to you about your inner critic.
Either way, I believe we owe it to our younger selves to live out her dreams. And we owe our future self the satisfaction of knowing we did all we could to live our best life, so even when her body fails her and she can no longer move the way we can now, she’ll still have the amazing memories we gave her along the way.
And this person we are now? We deserve all the goodness our younger selves ever imagined for us. Because, the truth is, that little girl is still inside of us, celebrating losing a tooth and laughing with her friends as they hang upside down on the monkey bars. And all she wants is for us to be happy with who we’ve become.