Discover more from Trust, but verify (Doveryai, no proveryai)
Advice to my younger self
I decided to temporarily divert from the Paradox Series as I approach my birthday. This is a deeply personal post so please feel free to skip. Upon hitting 30, each subsequent year around my birth date brings with it mixed emotions. I become contemplative. This year I hit 35. Though not yet middle-aged, the first 40% or so of my life has been lived. How have I done? What has gone well? What do I wish I would have done differently? Is there anything from my life that would help someone else make better decisions?
I wish I would have said I love you more. It wasn’t until my mid-20’s I began telling others I appreciated and loved them. Stating these things is a measure of strength, not of weakness. I’m glad I was able to tell people I loved them before they died. A close friend of mine was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and shortly before passing, asked me if I still loved him.It broke my heart to know he had enough doubt to ask me and marked a turning point in my life.
I wish I hadn’t cared as much what others thought of me.
I wish I wouldn’t have burned myself out at work across multiple jobs. My identity was fastened securely to my job (which was above its pay grade). I attached my worth to something inherently unworthy - a job cannot determine someone’s value.
I wish I hadn’t outsourced responsibility for myself to others. I followed the “good girl” model of succeeding at school and getting a good job. I was lucky in that it turned out well. It would have been better had I asked myself what I want instead of living the life I thought others expected of me. I abdicated responsibility for myself because I didn’t trust myself. Whenever things went wrong, blame was projected on others since after all I didn’t choose it myself.
I wish I would have trusted myself and been my own advocate. We all are born alone and die alone. My therapist has said on multiple occasions I trend towards self-punishment.You are the greatest resource to yourself. If used wisely, your edge is yourself. Thus, it’s critically important to know yourself.
I wish I had been willing to engage in trial and error rather than always trying to be right. For fear of looking foolish, I have shortchanged myself. In reality, “Learning is serial incompetence on our way to getting better.”
I wish I had learned emotional regulation earlier on. For so long my regulation attempts involved stuffing my emotions down into the deepest recesses. The pendulum sharply swung the other way when I allowed myself to feel things and has been overwhelming at times.
I wish I knew earlier that feelings are not a zero-sum game. Your feelings do not negate mine. To put it in an extreme example, the fact that there are people starving in Africa does not mean you aren’t hurting. Both exist simultaneously.
I wish I wouldn’t have wasted so much time searching for an over-optimized, right answer. There are many rights in life. There is more than one right job, college, diet, place to live, and life partner. In college, I abused alcohol (and not because of typical college-aged antics). I had tremendous anxiety about finding the “right job” and what I was going to do with my life. So I amped up my drinking. I took alcohol to morning classes in a to-go coffee cup. I drank throughout career seminars to numb the panic. I could not be without vodka, whether hidden in my car or under my bed just in case I needed to de-pressurize.
Rory Sutherland, in his brilliant book, speaks to “satisficing”. Herbert Simon came up with the term and said, “decision makers can satisfice either by finding optimum solutions for a simplified world, or by finding satisfactory solutions for a more realistic world”. Satisficing is in contrast to obtaining a singular, optimally right answer (“maximizing”). We satisfice because we are making decisions in the presence of uncertainty, which involves different rules than when one has complete information. It’s highly ironic my desperate attempts at control only resulted in demonstrating how little direct control I have in many areas of life.
Many of these wishes have come from the deepest fear about myself. That is, that I’m irrevocably broken. That I haven’t merely fucked up, but am fucked up.What I was looking for was others to fill my perceived lack. And if they didn’t, it wasn’t like it was my fault with outsourcing my decision-making. So, as a “good girl”, I resorted to performance - I was trying to perform my way out of this core belief.
There is tension involved in discussing what I’d wish I’d done differently because it has made me who I am today. I now love myself and am proud of myself.On one hand, there is grief for things I wish I had done differently. However, it’s not a binary situation. At the same time, there has been redemption and growth. I call these time periods the best worst times.
For example, some of the best things have come out of my eating disorder. It was the best worst time. Through it, I discovered grace and moved from my legalistic state of being. It gave rise to healthier family dynamics. I met others on similar journeys and was inspired by how they transcended terrible, exogenous life events. While thankfully I never relapsed, it was merely the beginning of a long journey that has continued to this day.
My “mistakes” are not lost in a vacuum. Context is crucial. Maybe I would have become a better person in their absence, or maybe not. I’ll never know and it’s no use to war game it. I look at it as part of a complex system, which gives rise to emergent behavior.My own narrative tells me the benefits aren’t happenstance, and exceed post-hoc rationalization. They are hard won. I’m thankful for these regrets because of the person I am today. It doesn’t mean others have to go through the same circumstances as I did. Each journey is our own. I love this picture by Wait But Why demonstrating our opportunity set:
The goal of this post is two-fold:
You’re not alone in your struggles and you can use them to catalyze growth
“If we don't change, we don't grow. If we don't grow, we are not really living.
Growth demands a temporary surrender of security. It may mean a giving up of familiar but limiting patterns, safe but unrewarding work, values no longer believed in, relationships that have lost their meaning. As Dostoevsky put it, "Taking a new step, uttering a new word, is what people fear most." The real fear should be of the opposite course.” - Gail Sheehy
Enable the avoidance of unnecessary pain in light of new information. Through my reading of others’ stories, I have likely sidestepped other tribulations. I highly recommend reading Top five regrets of the dying.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” - Maya Angelou
I grew up in the Bible Belt and my friend had recently come out to me.
Having a job that required a lot of hours also came in beneficial (or so I thought) with respect to social anxiety. I always had an out by blaming work.
Perhaps this is a reason I love intense, muscle-burning workouts?
Quote by Seth Godin
If this struggle sounds familiar I highly recommend finding a qualified counselor you gel with. We simply must face the things that terrify us the most.
Spoiler alert: It never satisfies for long
Could this have happened without certain struggles? Almost certainly, but revisionist history has little upside in this context.
In emergent behavior, it’s not the individual parts but the arrangement of the parts that’s critical.
It is useful to begin with the end in mind. And what is a more ultimate end than death itself?