To my 20-year-old self: Not-to-do List

AUG 17, 2020

Dear Deborah,

I write these two letters to you, not out of nostalgia, nor out of regret. No, those are not my motives. For no one can achieve a perfect 10 in life. In any case, young people like you will ultimately move forward with courage, with ambition. What I have here are a few thoughts and deductions from my life experience. Some light bulb moments for you, perhaps.

After all, I’ve had my fair share of tripping up, of falling flat on my face. And I too, have seen others let once-in-a-lifetime opportunities passed them by. Only I was young then. I wasn’t aware that one’s decision in a moment often alters one’s destiny for life. Now in my 60’s, I realize that had I, in my 20s, been clearer in my intentions, and said ‘no’ to some things much, much earlier, I would’ve saved so much time getting to where I’d wanted.

Ahh…if only I could turn back the clock, these would be the three things I wish you would say ‘no’ to.

Not-to-Do #1. Don’t settle too soon for less
Many people say life gives them no opportunity to demonstrate their talent, employ their skills. They feel like ‘heroic knights without a battlefield’. That’s just nonsense! To me, this attitude is an excuse to absolve themselves from procrastination, from arrogance, from laziness. In school, there is a right answer to every question. So, the ‘smart ones’ can score 100, while the ‘dumb ones’ maybe 30. But after graduating, you will discover that at work and in business, there is rarely a right answer. Your talent and your professional capability are only the prerequisites, and not a guarantee, of success. You will be competing with others on EQ, mindset, interpersonal relationship, etc. So, at moments when you feel your voice unheard, your opinion unvalued, don’t take the arrogant stand and think others are foolish for not appreciating you. But neither should you give up on yourself, and feel you have to settle for a lifetime of mediocrity. Be humble. Work harder. Sharpen your saw. And while you are at it, strengthen your relationship with colleagues and superiors. Learn to observe and interpret their words and body language, so you can improve your interpersonal skills.
Where you stand now depends less on who you’ve met, more on who you’ve become.

And change your attitude. Find answers in your own actions, instead of blaming your situation on the cruelty of fate. Banish envy—for there are always reason for others’ success. When your aspiration is too high for your ability, you will find obstacles everywhere.

Not-to-Do #2. Don’t be unreservedly kind

Kindness is a virtue. But it can be foolish to be unreservedly kind. I say this because you may end up spoiling others and demeaning yourself. In the workplace, people who are ‘too nice’ and ‘without temper’ often end up being ‘minions’, performing tasks that others avoid…all because they are too timid, too embarrassed, or simply incapable of saying “no.” Many such people use kindness to conceal their lack of confidence and conviction. They live their lives following others’ will, just to earn an occasional nod or applause. This should not be your way of deriving self-worth.

A perspective on responsibility: Have clear boundaries. Say no to things that cross them.

Of course, the workplace isn’t always fair. But you can’t always worry about being taken advantage of either. So, if in doubt, ask yourself two questions:
Am I sincerely happy doing this, or am I merely afraid of offending others?
Is this really for my peace of mind, or is it simply to assuage my fear of facing potential conflict?

Showing kindness is not being stupid. But true kindness should go hand in hand with wisdom. To me, that means doing what brings the best outcome under any circumstances, without crossing red lines I have drawn for myself.

Not-to-Do #3. Don’t let love consume your life
When you were in your teens, romance is all you can think of. (I know.) Nothing wrong with that. Just realize that there will be many more things in the world that is worth your time to pursue. Enjoy the romance…just don’t make one person the centre of your entire universe. Sure, passion burns hot during our youth. I see you yearning for his company every second of every minute. I see you worship the ground he walks on, every step of every trek. Yes, this selfless devotion can be the fuel for a good life together, but don’t ever invest everything you’ve got on him, and nothing on yourself. For you may not now foresee a time when your investment brings you only contempt and derision, when you could do nothing but plead and beg him to stay. Be an enlightened woman. Invest in yourself—develop yourself, your interest, and your career. Keep your body and mind in peak condition. Only by caring for yourself can you persuade him to cherish you. What’s more, should he ever leave, you will always have the company of what’s important to you, and the self-confidence that attracts the next in line. I wish you luck. Love, Deborah

1 comment

  1. Absolutely agreed with your view


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