“The brightest light moving away from us, unless it be reflected, is darkness to us.”

Imagine if you could go back in time, grab your younger self by the shoulders and speak to him or her. What would you say? Would you gently lead your younger self to a new way of thinking or reprimand yourself for an inappropriate course of action?

At a recent Extreme Esteem Workshop, I offered participants the opportunity to do just that with an exercise called Write a Letter to Yourself. The logic behind the exercise is that everyone needs help at different stages of life but often doesn’t receive it or doesn’t heed it until much later. Reaching back in time, we can recognize and validate the struggle we experienced back then. We can bring that struggle into the light.

I rolled out four questions for each participant to ponder before writing.

  1. Which periods of your life have been the most challenging? What was so hard about them? What information, advice or insight would have helped?
  2. Which decisions in your life have been the most difficult? Why were they so tough? What did you need to know to make the right choice?
  3. Have you made any decisions you wish you could go back and change?
  4. Think of a time when you did something that was completely right for you? Do you wish you had been praised for it or encouraged to move forward in that direction?

The results were astounding. Figuratively speaking, light bulbs were going on all over the room. When I followed the template and wrote a letter to my younger self, I found the results startling, illuminating and ultimately, life changing. Here is my letter.

Dear Murray,

You’re 14 right now and your life seems a jumble of conflicting thoughts and emotions. You’re becoming a young man and the idea is terrifying. You want to stay a kid forever – to cling to childhood fantasies – but you can’t and you shouldn’t.

 You desperately crave acceptance from your family. You don’t seem to fit. You feel like an outsider and think of yourself as faulty merchandise. Your birth was not a mistake.

You’re afraid most of the time. Conflict terrifies you. You do everything you can to avoid it. You try to be everyone’s friend. You try to anticipate people’s needs. It’s OK and healthy to stand up for yourself. You have a right to be heard. Your feelings matter.

Stop being a people-pleaser. It’s not your job. I know why you’re doing it. You think if everyone is happy, no one will have a reason to get angry with you. When people get angry with you, it crushes your spirit. You can’t please everyone. No-one can!

I want to tell you something about your father. You desperately want his approval. You want him to say that he loves you, that you’re important to him and that you’re a good and worthwhile person. He will never tell you so, though he has shown you many times by his actions. Find the expression of love you need there.

The world is filled with bullies. As you get older, they will use words instead of fists and shoves. The bullying will only end when you stand up and say enough.

Some people won’t like you. I know that’s hard to hear, but it’s a fact, and you can’t change it. They may even blame you for the sad state of their lives. So be it. Please, don’t take it personally. It’s not your fault. You didn’t do anything wrong.   

Let go of the unfounded belief that life should be fair. It’s not. It just is. If you hang onto this idea, you’ll find yourself forever being hurt, frustrated and disappointed.

Right now you feel incredibly inadequate. Believe me when I say that you haven’t been shortchanged. You really can do anything. You’re just as smart and capable as anyone else. Some people are great at math. So what? You have other talents.

Keep writing in that black journal. Work on your spelling and grammar. One day you’ll make an amazing friend who will help you in this regard. And one day, your writing will change lives. You’re going to look back on the perceived unfairness of your early years and find a veritable goldmine of information and life lessons there.

You are lovable. In fact, you’re going to have a big family – a quirky, dysfunctional, amazing family. Remember to tell them every day how much you love them. 

A few final thoughts before I leave you:

Keep a sense of humour, especially about yourself – it makes life gentler.

Stay out of debt and try to save – you don’t need to spend every penny.

A kind and sensitive nature is not a weakness; however, it must be tempered.

I’m telling you straight – so please hear me – there has never been anyone like you before. There never will be anyone exactly like you again. That makes you unique, precious – one of a kind – a treasure to be cherished. You are worthy of love, acceptance and forgiveness. Love unconditionally. Accept completely. Forgive wholly.

It was Madeleine L’Engle, the American young adult novelist and Newbery Medal winner who wrote, “When we were children, we used to think that when we were grown-up we would no longer be vulnerable. But to grow up is to accept vulnerability…. To be alive is to be vulnerable.” If you were to write a letter to your younger self, what would you say? I challenge you to find out.

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