What Advice Would You Give Your Younger Self? [It’s not what you might think]

Since our book launched in November I’ve been a guest on about 35 podcasts sharing the story and message of Meaningful Work. On one of my first near the end of the show the host asked me “What advice would you give to your younger self?

The question gives us the chance to deeply reflect on things like regret, youthful anger, materialism, arrogance, strength, ego and the impact they have had in our lives. Would our younger selves listen to our advice from further ahead and take action or change course? Probably not. I am pretty sure I would not have listened. Is the advice given intended for the speaker/older version of us or the listener/younger ones? Perhaps it’s therapeutic for us to recount the long dead end trails we’ve traipsed down only to realize we’re mistaken and turn back. The laundry list of $hit we wish we wouldn’t’ have done or said might be long; it is for me.

When you’re asked this question on a panel, for an article, or in my case a podcast then the intention is: what advice would you give younger listeners? That’s the heart of the question.

I took the question literally. I answered it not as if I was writing a letter to younger me. I answered the question as if I encountered him, the younger me. As I was answering this question I placed the image of this meeting in my mind. I saw myself walking up to young me and not sure why but I’d place the young me in my early 30s. I saw him recognize me and smile. I could see him breathing from his shoulders as he stood there with great confidence.

I told the interviewer I would not give my younger self any advice at all.

I was only a few feet from the younger me in my picture and could sense his heartache and fears. I knew that some anxiety and depression would be just around the corner. I realized that words would fail in this moment. When I pictured the scene in my mind any advice seemed like a successories motivational poster.

I said, in reply to the question, I would give the younger me an uncomfortably long hug and let him know how much I love him. He would want to pull away but I would hold on tight. That’s it. No advice. No expectation. Just love and imparting the mystery of life in my embrace.

When I concluded my short response I felt a sense of right question, right answer, right time in a way that I cannot fully describe. A kind of warmth as if I’d just done what I said I would do if it really happened. I felt good about my reply and that’s not often the case.

I write all of this today not to recount the story but hoping that you might find this useful as a meditation exercise. After that podcast interview I thought it might be interesting to try this as a meditation one morning after my prayers and it was powerful.

Try closing your eyes, focusing on your in and out breaths. Then let your mind see you as you are now however old you are. You’re slowing walking towards the younger you. Eyes still closed, still breathing, you see each other. What age is she/he? You sense the heartache and fears of the younger you. Breathe that in and out for a bit. Then give your younger self a big wholehearted hug. A long one and don’t let you pull away. Quietly, tell that younger you that you love him or her. Keep breathing and let that scene stay as long as you’d like. That’s it, nothing fancy but quite possibly very powerful.