Wise words to a younger version of myself

A lot of water under the bridge - C. Pennell

Seven years ago I was struggling: life was not going the way I planned, I was essentially broke, my business was not working out well…

There are a lot of other things I could throw on the pile, but I think you get the idea.

However, change was in the air. Little did I know, but I was about to embark on a life-transforming journey, one where I was able to leave the old me behind and take the first tentative steps in the direction of my dreams. I certainly have no regrets, but big changes in mid-life are not always easy…

And there are some things I wish I’d known back then.

If only the future me could have written a great post on Medium and sent me the link…but life was different back then. I had to work a lot of this stuff out myself, and it took me years. A lot of water has gone under the bridge, but it’s been worth it.

So seven years on, having come through some of the most challenging and fruitful years of my life so far, here’s what I would have wanted to know.

If you are at a similar place in life, or you know people who might be (but are either afraid to admit it or ignore it altogether) then may you find here some pearls of wisdom to take into a new day…

1. Stop complaining and learn the lesson.

A change of perspective can do amazing things. Looking back I can see that I was very much in a rut for some years, and there seemed like no option but to trudge along until I found the end.

Yes, there really were problems — financial, business, family and friendships!

But if at the time I’d been more aware of the growth and development happening in me, I wouldn’t have found things so hard to deal with.

I know that my pride got in the way a number of times. After all, I was 41, and I should by this time in my life know what the heck I was doing, right?

Age and wisdom don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

I didn’t appreciate the fact that in order for changes to take place, I needed to change! I had to learn what life was trying to teach me in those difficult times, because I know now that we can’t stay the same.

So focusing on the problems, getting down, or complaining about life in general would get me…nowhere.

Instead I had to learn from failure, get better and move on.

“Don’t wish it was easier, wish you were better.” — Jim Rohn

2. You have to have a dream but don’t trim it down.

Having a dream can do wonders. Dreams can give us hope for a better tomorrow and help us to focus on what needs to be done.

But dreams are like Christmas trees.

Imagine winter is coming, snow has already begun to fall, and you go out to buy a lovely, big Christmas tree. One of those real ones that sheds pine needles all over the carpet.

But when you get home, you realize it’s too big to fit in the corner of the lounge, so what do you do? The only thing you can do is cut the top off!

Still, you figure it’s better that way: easier to decorate, a lot less mess, and the star won’t keep falling off the top. But there’s a problem. Your lovely tree is no more. Because now it’s a Christmas bush. And to be honest it’s a little embarrassing.

But it’s so easy to do this with our dreams — cut them down to a manageable size. Make them more attainable, more within our reach. And sadly, much less powerful. And yes, I am going to write a book about this so don’t even think about it!

After years of chopping my dreams down to size I discovered something: I was making my dreams into a to-do list. There was nothing left of the deep desires I used to have, and I had to search hard to find the real dreams again.

I’m glad I did. Because real dreams, those ones that stir you, that you can’t stop thinking about, that won’t go away, those ones will get you moving forward…

If you allow them to. Make sure you allow them to.

3. Stand up and take the wheel.

It’s easy to look back and see how I should have done things differently. I should have known that, I should have realized this particular truth, I could have made different choices.

It’s also very easy to slip into a victim mentality, meaning that you begin to blame outside circumstances, God, the Government or the weather for your lack or loss.

What I know now is that we can be shaped by situations, or we can shape them. In my books I refer to this as taking the wheel on your life-ship, taking your rightful place as captain, and making intentional decisions to steer things in the right direction.

Some wise person, but probably not Abraham Lincoln, once said that it’s not what happens to you that counts, it’s what you do about it.

It’s really comes down to taking responsibility for your life, and taking intentional steps to make things happen. It is just not possible to live a fuller, bigger life when you are waiting around for the right circumstances to materialize.

4. Start working on yourself today.

Yes I know you’re busy. Yes I know that there’s always so much to do, there’s always an errand to run, always the demands of job, career and family.

Those things won’t go away any time soon, and obviously it’s very important to make time for family, friends and fun.

But you and I know that we don’t have to watch TV. We don’t have to waste hours liking posts on Facebook. And we don’t have to read trash novels late at night, oversleep in the morning and end up chasing our tails all day.

What we must do is realize that who we are today has taken us this far. But if we are to move forward, live outside of our comfort zones and embrace a fuller tomorrow, then we must become more than we are now.

We need to grow. We need to learn to stretch ourselves, to demand (in a positive way) that we don’t remain the same. That means it’s time to leave behind old habits, restrictive mindsets, as well as regrets and grudges.

It’s pretty freeing, in reality.

Think about going into a new day knowing in your heart that you are not the same as you were yesterday. You’ve grown, you’ve taken steps forward. Your dreams are one day closer to becoming real.

Photo C. Pennell

5. Kids grow fast and need you to be there.

It doesn’t matter what’s going on, the kids need to know they are loved, they are safe, and they are part of something bigger.

Hey, in seven years from now you aren’t going to be able to carry your teenage son on your shoulders. But he might be able to carry you. So enjoy the moments. Make moments, both for you and for them.

Here’s what you should do: eat more ice-cream, talk about stuff, and be present and available when they are around. There will come a time when school or friends or football is more important to them than walking to the store with Mum or Dad.

And no matter how many times someone tells you “they grow up so fast”, you won’t believe it.

A word of caution, though. Life is not all about your kids. They are gifts to be treasured, and they can teach us so much about ourselves, about real love and true commitment. But don’t sacrifice your life in order that your kids can have the best start in life.

Is there even such a thing?

The only thing they will learn from that is that they will have to do the same for their children. What a weight to carry.

One of the best things you can do for your kids right now is show them that life is bigger and more amazing than they can imagine, that they can be world changers too, and their best years are still ahead of them.

6. The journey is more important than the destination.

I talked about dreams earlier. Dreams are important, but none of us can predict the future. Where you find yourself now is not the whole picture, and you can only see so far ahead.

The key for you right now is to unearth those buried dreams, and start doing something about them. Don’t worry that your dreams are small and you don’t have a amazing life vision. I know you can only believe for so much, you can only hope for a little better. But that will all change once you start taking action.

And believe me…once you start moving, the road will rise to meet you.

There’s no better way to dream big dreams than to start small and keep going.

Then when today turns into yesterday you’ll be able to say “I took one step forward, I can do it again.”

This is the journey. And it’s on this journey, when you are taking one step after another, where you discover who you are. Where you begin to find out what you are made of and what really drives you deep inside.

It’s on the journey that your belief in yourself and what is possible will grow. It’s here where you find your passion and taste true fulfillment.

Go for it.