What advice would you give your 21 year old self?
If you could see where you will be when you write this to yourself in 25 years’ time, trust me, you would not believe it. All the dreams you have for your future right now don’t begin to describe how your life will turn out. You create a family that will bring you joy, happiness and love you didn’t know was possible. You learn more through formal and informal education than you ever expected. You travel to countries that you have always dreamt about visiting. Your career takes twists and turns and sees you succeeding in ways and achieving goals that you did not know existed.
But it is not all perfect. Things don’t go to plan when you had hoped they would. You make plenty of mistakes along the way and continue to have lessons you never seem to learn. You have friends that you haven’t stayed in touch with and opportunities you have missed. The important thing I want you to know is that despite the challenges, you are able to look back at your life, 25 years on, and feel grateful for all that has passed.
So as you read this, before any of that is to happen, I want to share some advice with you that I wish I had known.
The first is to say yes to opportunities as they come along. When I think about all the opportunities we have ever been offered, whether they be jobs, or studying or even having children, you have a default thought that you could not possibly do it. You worry about what will be involved, whether you will fail, whether you will end up making a bad decision. You wonder why they are asking you – surely there is someone more qualified, more suited to the opportunity. You will come to understand all too well the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ that many women struggle with regardless of whatever the opportunity is you may be offered.
So here is what I would have loved to have told you –
- Stop trying to predict what might be around the corner or what could go wrong – you have no reason to think you will fail so seize every experience and go for it 100%;
- Continue to be yourself and trust that you will be successful as you, not as the person anyone else thinks you should be; and
- Say yes – while you may not think you are ready or that you don’t have the precise experience needed, trust that it will come; you will be successful. You will become a better leader for being willing to learn. And even if you don’t see your potential, others do. Believe in them.
The second thing I would say is that trying to be perfect is exhausting. Unfortunately perfectionism will serve you well in helping you to achieve many of your goals but over the years you will see that like everything, perfectionism has a dark side that will cause you to be far too hard on yourself if you fail to achieve incredibly high standards.
Knowing this, I would have said to myself when I was 21 –
- Allow yourself to be a beginner – no one starts out as excellent.
- Be kind to yourself – just learn from your mistakes and move on. What is guaranteed is you are bound to make more so there is no time to worry about what has happened, just keep moving forward and keep learning.
Finally, I would tell you at 21 that you cannot do this alone and if you should be so fortunate as to achieve your own goals – whatever they may be – you have a responsibility to help others get there too. I would let you know that you will end up finding some of the most rewarding times in your life when you help other women – whether that is to help a woman you know apply for a trade they have always considered starting, or helping a friend find a safer environment to live in at home, or encouraging a woman you work with to accept a promotion she has been offered but isn’t too sure she can do. Help other women wherever you can. You will learn that you need to forget that old saying to drop the ladder down to help the next person up behind you – a ladder will only help one person at a time. Rather make sure you throw down a fishing net and help many, many women raise up together.
If I think about the past 25 years, of course there have been challenges. Of course there have been things I wish we could have done differently. Things we have said and later regretted. Opportunities we may have turned down and wished we had accepted. People we are no longer in touch with that deserved our gratitude and time. Lessons we never seem to learn.
Yet over the past 25 years you can feel proud you have taken responsibility for your life. You have made choices every day to become better at what you do. You have lived your life with a deep sense of purpose, true to your core values and integrity. You have looked to empower and provide opportunities to those around us. You have built enduring relationships in all facets of our life. And most importantly you have dedicated time to developing yourself because you know that being a leader, whatever your role, takes a lifetime of personal growth and learning.
Be aware now that your experience in becoming more skilled, more aware of who you are and understanding how you role model to others never ends. Over the next 25 years you will find there will be times to be inspiring and motivating, and times to be tough. There are going to be times when you will need to delegate and times when you need to immerse yourself in the details. There will be times for you to make grand public statements, and times when private, authentic conversations are required.
Trust in yourself and be kind to yourself since I know you can do this. You are going to love every minute of this amazing adventure of a life you will create.
This letter was published in a book commemorating the 21st anniversary of Lou’s Place, a refuge in Sydney for female victim’s of domestic violence.