‘Things I Would Tell My 20 Year Old Self’ (but question is…would she listen?)

Here I am, back online. I know I’ve been rather quiet on the writing front these last two months but let me assure you that all is as fine as can be.  Chris and I have taken a hiatus from the trip and have enjoyed a splendid break from all things travel related. Well, as much one can when one is riding a motorbike through Kyrgyzstan.

Anyway, another reason why I’ve been quiet is because I have also been in a bit of an introspective mood as of late. It’s actually a ‘habit’ which I have noticed forming over the last half a decade. Every year, around the same time, I tend to take stock of all I have achieved and all I’m hoping the future will bring.

Coincidence? Me thinks not!

I’m about to celebrate my birthday. I’m turning 41. That’s a serious number, right there. A kick-ass age, if I may be so blunt. There’s no mucking around anymore: this is who I am, who I have become. This is me…all grown up. It is often said that the greatest challenge in life is discovering who you are. The second greatest? Liking what you find.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones: I like what I see. Well for the most part, anyway. I could do with a more sedate temperament and, perhaps, a better aptitude for solving mechanical problems on the road; however, I’m quite confident I can live the rest of my life without less of one or more of the other. I actually do enjoy cracking the shits on bad days and then regretting it the next. If it wasn’t for that I’d be flamin’ perfect and, let’s face it…that just wouldn’t be fair on everyone else. 😉

My personal imperfections are a consistent and poignant reminder that no matter how hard I try, I will never have everything (especially myself) under control. I’m far from perfect and I actually LIKE that about myself.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah…my impending birthday.

So…just as I was in the midst of my annual soul-searching expedition, I came across a Facebook post which seemed to have been catching a good, healthy dose of virality. The title was this: ‘If there were only 2 words you could tell your 20-year-old-self…what would they be?’

About a nanosecond after I read it I already knew what the answer would be, for myself: DREAM.BIG.

This, I gathered, would be an all-encompassing recommendation; from me to me. Dream big, don’t be afraid, don’t settle for the mediocre and, for goodness sake, take risks! Life is too short, too precious and too damn fragile to waste even a single moment doing, being and loving, all the wrong things. I would keep telling my young, naive self to ‘dream big’ over and over again until it became a mantra and a subconscious drive to achieve all I possibly could.

Soon after this post went viral, I stumbled across a myriad of articles titled ‘Things I would tell my 20-year-old-self’. All of a sudden…two words just weren’t enough. There are, currently, over 183 million hits for this tile on Google. It seems that everyone, the world over, wishes they could travel back in time and teach themselves a thing or two about life.

I admit it. At first, I also jumped on the bandwagon and made a swift mental list of all the things my own 1993-self would have been wise to hear. I didn’t find myself to be particularly unique, or inventive. It seems that most 40yos would tell most 20yos the same things:

Follow your heart

Don’t blame your parents

Don’t fall for peer pressure

You can’t have it all…choose wisely

Don’t assume you have time

Appreciate what you have. Appreciate what you have lost. Appreciate the fact that you are here today.

Travel far and wide…and as much as you can for as long as you can

(OK, the last one is perhaps not the most common of all 🙂 )

Now, the thing is, the moment I finalised the list, I smiled to myself and shook my head. I immediately considered it a waste of time. Why? Because the most poignant irony of all is that there is no way in hell my 20-year-old-self would have ever listened.

Not listening to other people’s advice was quite possibly, at that age, my entire reason for existing. I was the epitome of stubborn yet to be perfectly honest, I don’t think this was necessarily a negative way to be. Stubborn 20yos protest, rebel and make waves; they don’t listen to reason, are not pragmatic, too logical or warped by deep disappointments. The world needs stubborn 20yo if it ever hopes to change in any positive way.

Does this mean that every parent should simply leave their kids alone to err as they wish? Not exactly. The responsibility to advice and lead must be the single, most important role any parent has, in the rearing of their children. As long as that comes with the realistic acknowledgement that only a portion of it will ever be actually absorbed, then all will be well.

For me, life has been damn beautiful because there was never a 41-year-old-me busting to advice. ‘Oh put a cork in it!’ I’d say to her. ‘Keep your recommendations to yourself. What on earth would the point be if I could simply learn all I had to learn from just listening to you ramble on?’

Can ANYONE learn by default, I wonder? Personally, I need to trip, tumble and slide into a kaleidoscope of errors, bad choices and wrong turns if I ever hope to learn anything. I sincerely believe this is the deal with most people. So just let the 20 year old be. Let them do it their way: alone, unassisted and (somewhat) unadvised. If they stuff up, at least it will be THEIR choices they will have to ponder and learn from, not anyone else’s.

And so it is with travel. Every single day, along every single mile, I learn something new; something which I did not know the day or mile before, both of myself and the world I see through my eyes. If I could learn by advice then it would be reasonable to assume that I could just talk to someone who travels long-term, or at the very least, read a book or watch a documentary about a specific region of the world I intend travelling through. But I know, as well as you do, that all these would be totally useless things to do. You may learn some facts about the world, but not the feeling of travelling through it, of actually  living it. Moreover, you’ll learn nothing of yourself by travelling vicariously through someone else. Sure, I may be able to accurately describe the feeling of crossing the Pamirs in sub-zero temps: of frozen bones, tear-inducing hardships and the sudden, soul-reviving exhilaration of catching breathtaking views. But you will never know what that really feels like, deep inside your soul.

It is the learning process and the experiencing of the consequences of your choices which shape you and determine what kind of person you become; not the retrospective lessons you store in the end. Deleting or skipping this most pivotal of life stages would be counter-productive.

Besides, it’s not as if at the ripe old age of 41 I know all there is to know about life and can arrogantly assume to be a good mentor for my 20yo self. My 60yo self may come closer…yet I bet even she would get excited about getting a dog-decorated triple-chocolate cake for her birthday.

Because at the end of the day, even with all the life-altering experiences I’ve had…it’s also comforting to know that there are things that will never really change 🙂


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4 Responses to ‘Things I Would Tell My 20 Year Old Self’ (but question is…would she listen?)

  1. stefan says:

    Hey Laura,

    love your Text!! Most of the authors really forget about the “non-listening” attitude of early 20yos.

    I also thought about a shortcut for learning, guess there is none. So I’ll take your lessons as inspiration and wait for my own mistakes and wrong turns 🙂


  2. Ken Holmes says:

    Funny thing is I remember getting advice from a 40yr old when I was 20 and as I have passed on my advice to other 20yr olds I see the same look of mild contempt I probably gave. I am 48 now. Cheers, ken.

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