It is all the rage, particularly during graduation season, for well-meaning self-help gurus to encourage you to write a letter to your younger self. Invariably to find words of wisdom accumulated through years of experience which support the phrase, “If I only knew then what I knew now.”
Newsflash: You didn’t.
Don’t dwell on it. None of your early knowledge will be better than your later experience. Right now, you have a set of values, a vision, and a mission that is important to you. You know where you want to go. You don’t have all the answers, but you already have a ‘true north’ you check in with to keep you on track, and just as importantly, you have enthusiasm. These positive feelings and behaviors have a tendency to wither over time and transform into regret. That’s why penning a letter to your younger self is so often recommended. It’s a way for you to get back in touch with your ‘inner child’ and extol a kind of parental wisdom on yourself.
I say, screw that. That’s frequently the problem with leadership autobiographies. The author whitewashes bad decisions and sacrifices perspective on the journey to make themselves look better on the outside and feel better on the inside. It is revisionist and helps no one.
To proactively defeat this problem you would be better served writing a letter to your future self. I don’t care if you are still in high school, graduating college, in your 40s, 60s or 80s. You, today, are your future younger self. Use the opportunity to speak some truth to power. You will change, some for the better, some perhaps, for the worse, in the next three to five years. Yell out to your future self, a reminder of what you stand for and want to accomplish. Write what you think will be important for you to know, believe, and hold dear while allowing room for growth and adaptability.
This letter will serve as your wake-up call two, three, or five years down the road. You may find what you write becomes your code of conduct, the behaviors you want to retain and be living by if you want your goals to have any merit or fulfillment. Archive your letter and set a date to open it in a few years. You will find it refreshing to learn how true to your younger self you have stayed. Or, if you face melancholy, you can decide to make a change and write a new letter. It’s your life and your choice. Any change you make will come in the future, not in the past.
Also published on Medium.