Wisdom//

Letter to My 18-Year-Old Self

What if you could go back in time and advise your younger self? This writer takes a flight of fancy and does exactly that.

A few weeks ago, I was part of a team that was hosting a series of mental health workshops in my city. As the workshops chugged along, during a session, we decided to ask the participants to share a piece of advice they would give to their younger selves. It was rather enlightening to hear the responses. These pieces of advice were in equal measure heart-warming and came with a hint of a warning of the times to come.

During this time, I also came across a series hosted by a famous American news channel where celebrities read out letters they wrote to their younger selves. 

While these modes of introspection are not new, they still provoked me to look back and then hand down learnings that would have benefitted the 18-year-old me. Once I settled on the thoughts I had for myself; I realised these pieces of advice remained relevant for the days that lay ahead of me. 

Here is the letter I wrote to myself:

Dear Braces-Wearing-Recently-Podgy Sayan,

This is June 2005, and you are coming off what is your most significant academic triumph till date; a neat almost 90 per cent in the Board Exams. Congratulations! In two years’ time when you visit your high school and see a particular friend’s name on the honours roll as the topper of the Art’s Section, please do not diss her score in Mathematics that let her have the recognition. She deserved it. You know it as well. 

However, it is rather sad to note that this will be your last academic distinction. Your college scores will never go above a ‘just about’ higher-second class, and the graduate schools you will go to will not shine on your mark sheet save a few subjects where you will do well only because you enjoyed them. 

This brings me to advice number one: suck it up when you are made to do things you do not like. Find the discipline within you when you are given tasks to finish that do not appeal to your sensibilities. If it is a requirement to be done, then do not gaslight the work with your flawed rationale of how you should be absolved of the duty. You are not greater than the work.

If the person next to you is doing it, find a semblance of maturity and inspiration to finish the task the best way you can. Remember, there are no free lunches in this world. And yet, extremities do not work either. If a series of jobs do not serve the larger purpose of your growth, know it is time to move on.

Being grateful for work should never amount to being thankful for the sake of gratitude. With age, you will arrive at a rough sketch of who you are as a person and a professional. This will evolve continuously and as it does, keep an open mind about the work you receive and evaluate it while creating a balance between doing a job because it needs to be done, and refusing work gracefully that does not serve the larger purpose. 

‘The Best’ will be an oft-repeated phrase in your life and you will falsely equate perfection with being the best. They are poles apart, and this is my second advice to you. Do not run after perfection. Not that it is boring. It just does not exist.

Image courtesy: Sayan Supratim Das

Instead, do what your father says; autograph your work with excellence and then follow Oprah Winfrey who has always advocated that one does one’s absolute best. When you do your best at the moment you are in and operate with excellence; you will gain the recognition that will open doors that you seek. While you know that competition is meant to be with oneself (Goodness Gracious that you read Sean Covey and Richard Carlson already), avoid the trappings of comparison with others. You will only dress-rehearse tragedy if you do so. 

During your years in college, you will be told often that you resemble your father. You will wince because you want to be known as an individual in your own right. There is nothing wrong with that notion, but it is exceedingly fantastic to be like your father in letter and spirit. As the years will roll and the time with your Old Man will become finite, you will realise that being like him is a gift that keeps giving.

And if you can combine the kindness, the sense of responsibility, and softness of your mother with the farsightedness of your father, you will win most of the battles you contest. Know it is a human right for every child to say that they have the best parents ever. You are fortunate to be able to say this every day. And that would be my third advice to you. 

While you are in law school, you will recognise that you are not interested in law and that writing is your forte. For four years you will sit in the back benches of your classes and write a bad novel that will survive as a hard copy in your closet and in the e-mail inbox of your best friend (he will tease you endlessly about it). But surrounded by to-be lawyers, you will not know what you are writing. The only way to do so is to read. Read, read, read. Read furiously, read enthusiastically, read with pleasure.

And as you take care of your mind, mind your body as well. The fat you gained while studying for your 12th grade will not go away. In fact, it will persist for a decade and a half (and continues to this day). As you grow older, it becomes a lot more challenging to become fit. And so, run, play, swim, skip, and eat with discretion. Eating well and exercising is a sign of self-love and self-respect. Remember that. This would be my advice number four. 

While you begin and end law school, you will be excited for what is to come. However, all through college, you will feel inept and under-confident. You will feel you are not as good looking as those around you. You will be told you are not funny (it is not so), you will not understand sarcasm (it shall continue), and you will continue to question yourself (forever).

A year after you graduate, a job interview will forever scar you, and you will lose your confidence when it comes to presenting yourself to people. Worry not. This is temporary. In the years to come, you will come into your own. A little age on your skin will make you look at yourself in the mirror with kindness. Your humour will be appreciated (by very, very few) and you will start thinking you have a lot of wit to share (avoidable). But the road to success for you is so very long. You will be tested and tested some more. Do not be fearful about it. It is a cheap room to live in. Rather, take note from Nelson Mandel and make decisions with hope. Every success you have, small and private, will be hard earned. Every failure will be public and somewhat hurtful. But persevere and carry on. You will be fine. Success will be hard to come, and your dreams will come true, just that your timeline will not be accepted by time and destiny. And so, breathe. The journey will be worthy of its name. This is my fifth advice. 

And while I finish this letter, let me remind you that friendship and time are the most essential commodities you will have. You will be the luckiest of the lot for some fantastic friends are coming your way. Treasure them and make a family out of them. Social media will inundate your life as will entertainment. Like medicine, they must be taken sparsely. And when you can discern about your intake of these incredible escape mechanisms, you will also understand that every action has consequences.  And so, may your efforts be informed by your dreams, and the consequences remain in your favour. 

All my love,

Sayan, 14 years on.

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- Marcus Aurelius

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