If I could send a message to 18-year-old me

Do you ever imagine what you’d say to younger-you if you had the chance?

Life is really wonderful and beautiful and full of magic and excitement and love. But life is also weird for each one of us, sometimes a really tough kind of weird. The kind of weird that can make you feel lonely and misunderstood. The kind of weird that makes it hard to go to sleep sometimes, and when you do fall asleep gives you restless sleep and upsetting dreams. The kind of weird that can blindside you on what you thought was a good day and leave you questioning yourself and what you thought you had.

I think we all need help with these weird life-things. But sometimes the different paths you and I have walked, even just the fact that you’re not me, makes it really hard for you to find hope in my words, or me to find hope in yours.

Imagine that you got to talk to your younger self, though. And that your younger self could really listen, because you get them–you were them, are them.

What would you tell your younger self?

If I could talk to 18-year-old me, it might go something like this.

 

Hey buddy,

 

You are free.

You love people. You know people matter and you want to take care of their hearts. This is good. So good. You don’t matter less than other people, though. You need to accept that.

It is okay if some people don’t love you.

You are so much stronger than you think. You can speak up more boldly than you think, you can run harder than you think, and you can be a better friend than you think.

You are strong, but you are not superhuman. Don’t stoically or slavishly disregard your feelings and emotional needs. They’ll only get deeper.

It is okay if you want to dance. But it is also okay if you can’t dance because you’re feeling scared.

Not everything has to have a deeper meaning. You don’t have to always feel profound, always be growing, always be deep. Lots of good life is simple life.

A thing isn’t necessarily going to be better once you understand it. Knowledge isn’t always the answer.

There is SO much you don’t know. That’s okay. Let it stay that way, because it will anyway.

 

Feeling yucky does not necessarily mean you need to fix something. Some things will always, always, always feel yucky.

Sometimes you’ll even feel tremendously guilty for something you really can’t help, can’t fix. And rationally accepting that it is not your fault won’t stop the waves of guilt. You’ll still feel guilty.

When someone has broken your trust so much, or done you so much damage, that you cannot have a healthy relationship with them, it does not have to mean that they are a completely, irredeemably bad person. You have to learn to let someone be unhealthy-for-you without internalizing the lesson that people who make you feel hurt are inherently unsafe. Remember that when someone has hurt you too much, you don’t have to stay there to help the person who has hurt you come back from it. Sometimes a relationship needs to be over. But you have to let humans be just-humans in your mind. Or else humans will always feel too dangerous for you. And that will leave you very much alone.

There’s another reason you have to remember that even people who hurt you are still just humans. You’re going to hurt someone, too, someday. And if you learned to create your boundaries because the people who hurt you were somehow unworthy, or absolutely bad, then when you discover you also can hurt people, you’re going to feel like giving up all those boundaries you ever made. And that would be very bad. So remember from the beginning that people are just people, because if you create all your boundaries to keep out monsters, those boundaries might come crashing down when you realize people really are just people. And some of those boundaries needed to stay up. Not because there were monsters on the other side of them. Just because the real human on the other side of them was no longer healthy for you. Period. So learn early on to set boundaries just because your relationship with that other person is never going to be healthy for you, even while you see they’re just human.

Healing is going to take a long, long time, and it will be like peeling off the layers of an onion. Trust that process.

It is okay to be frustrated by someone else–that doesn’t mean you don’t love them.

Maybe you couldn’t hear that. Honestly, it really, really, really is okay to be mad. To be disappointed. Annoyed. It is okay to tell someone you don’t like something, that you’re unhappy. You need to express those things sometimes. You don’t have to do it in a mean way, but you do need to say how you really feel. If you don’t, things will get worse, not better.

When you screw up, you don’t have to earn back the right to be loved or to love yourself.

If you feel a desperate need for a thing to make you feel better, remember that there’s an underlying reason you don’t feel good, and until you deal with that underlying reason, you won’t really feel better.

If a thing has helped you make it through the tough times, even if you don’t think it’s healthy and don’t want to keep that thing as a part of who you are, try not to feel guilty about it or angry at yourself because of it. Appreciate what it has done for you. It helped you make it this far.

Let yourself not be okay. Having “problems” is okay.

You are not alone. The world is full of people who understand how you feel.

If you need a therapist, that’s not embarrassing, that’s okay. Therapy is good. For everybody.

 

“Nice” isn’t all it takes. Honest matters, too.

Don’t be afraid of bullies. They’re hurting people. Do something about it, even if it makes others uncomfortable.

Learn to say no. It isn’t just a thing-you-could-do. It is a skill, a tough skill, one you need to practice, and one that you desperately need to have. Learn how to say no to invitations. No to requests. No to others’ behavior. No to opportunities. Just say the Yeses you actually want to say.

 

There are lots of safe people in the world. Trust me, you’re going to find some of them and they are going to be amazing.

You will find some people who are safe and don’t want to hurt you or control you even when they are mad at you.

The amazing people in your life are going to have rough days, tough things, moods that don’t match yours. This is okay.

In any given moment, you are not responsible for the happiness of the person next to you.

You need friends. Real friends. More than one.

Even if it’s not normal, connect deeply with people.

 

Please don’t stop being a little weird. Nobody is normal and that’s what gives each person their unique beauty.

Do your own thing. Just because the world isn’t used to it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Elope. Change your name. Walk to work. Have slumber parties even though you’re an adult. Take drives for no reason. Skip college (without apologizing) or get seven degrees. Eat bell peppers whole like you’d eat an apple. Lay in the grass too long. Drive to the airport just to play the piano. If books and fresh air are your happy things, read a book while you’re taking a walk–even after a bartender says “Hey I recognize you, were you walking down the sidewalk reading a book?” Different isn’t bad. You are different, and you only have one life.

 

It is okay to do great things.

Don’t put off what you want to do until everyone is okay with it.

Don’t wait for permission to be epic, to do big things, to chase your dreams.

Ask for things.

It is okay to do “unimportant” things.

You don’t have to do the best thing. It is okay to let yourself really love and want something, no matter how insignificant you feel like it is.

 

Remember to look closely at the things around you, just to see them.

Remember that you will never live a “yesterday” or a “tomorrow.”

It is okay to be happy.

It is okay to be sad.

It is okay to be tired.

When you can’t know that all these things are okay, just breathe.

Sometimes you just need to be alone.

Sometimes you just need to call a friend, and honestly, they probably really want to be there for you.

Again, it is okay to have “problems.”

You don’t need to hide.

You have to let people love you. When someone gives you their love, let it happen. When someone praises you, let yourself smile really, really big. Feel it soak in. Unconditional love from someone who loves you won’t get through to you if you can’t unconditionally accept it. Only letting someone fill your tank when you’re filling their tank back isn’t safer. It will just make you feel a little more alone and unworthy.

 

Please, please let yourself get a good night’s sleep.

Music helps. You’ll get busy and distracted, so don’t forget about music.

Laugh so much.

Set aside times to think about life.

Take time to be quiet. Like, a lot.

Give more hugs and get more hugs.

 

P.S. You’re 18. It’s okay if it takes you all your life to learn all these things. Lots of them might not make any sense right now. Lots of things I’m learning still aren’t making sense to me. You’ll always have a little bit of confused-kid in you. So if you don’t know what to think, that’s okay! You don’t need to “get it right.” I promise.
brown sketchers, faded blue jeans, brown t-shirt

 

What does your letter look like?

Try writing it. I bet you find it therapeutic. I bet you find that it brings you feelings of compassion, feelings of peace with who you’ve been and where you’ve come. And I bet the stuff you needed to hear then, you still need to hear on some of the weird days now.

And you and I and all these other weird humans with weird life-things are a lot more alike than we tend to think. So I bet your letter helps me, too. I’d really love to read it.

We’re all in this together.

Dare to connect

There are lots and lots of people in the world.

And all of them want friends.

Everybody wants the really good kind of friends–the kind that support. The kind you can be real around. The kind that smile and hug and laugh. The kind you can call when you need.

You’re not the only one who feels this deep need to make a friend, to connect.

You’re very much not alone. You just might not know that you’re not alone.

The people really are out there. They all, like you, know what it’s like to be a person. So deep down they, also, are ready for connection.

So make that awkward move. Dare to connect.

You never, ever, ever know what might happen.

 

Maya Angelou - friend may be waiting behind a stranger's face

Be epic.

Sometimes I try to live really safe. To keep a lid on the version of me I’d really like to be. Afraid of what people will think.

I worry a lot that if I let the world see my “awesome,” they won’t think it’s awesome, and somehow that will ruin my life.

Connecting is dangerous. Loving is dangerous. Dancing is dangerous. Shining is dangerous. All the things are dangerous.

So I choose a lot of times not to be bold. Not to be boldly me. Boldly epic.

But here’s the thing . . . you only live once.

So f*** it. Be epic.

3 Unique Suggestions for Connecting Deeply

One-on-one. A group of friends. An audience watching you on stage. Whatever the context–truly, deeply connecting is the key to making a difference, to getting your message across, to building trust, to leaving a lasting impression, to inspiring good.

And I don’t think the ingredients in genuine connection differ too much from context to context.

So how DO you truly connect?

These aren’t the “top 3 ways.” There are lots of top 3 ways. But here are 3 ways that I found EXTREMELY useful in crafting a recent speech for my Toastmasters club:

1. Don’t describe your history. Use stories that give them the chance to feel your history.

Stories are said to increase your audience’s memory by twenty-two times what they’ll retain from the rest of your words. Stories are powerful.

I think where we can go wrong with stories, though, is telling people everything we think about our stories–how we felt about them, how we understood them, how everything fit in. Those aren’t bad things, but they’re not what’s memorable. What’s memorable–what really connects–is taking your audience’s hand and walking them through the story for themselves. It’s okay if they fill the story in with a few different colors and shapes than you. Let their imagination do its thing. All you need to do is put the audience right there. To put them through the experience as bluntly as you can.

I will understand you far better by reliving a couple crazy moments from your childhood than by hearing all the philosophizing you want to do about it all.

2. Get weirdly specific.

I wish I could take credit for this idea. I have learned to use it a lot, but I learned its value from an interview with a comedian. I’m pretty sure it was John Mulaney. Might have been Mike Birbiglia. It may have been John Mulaney talking about what he learned from Mike Birbiglia–who knows. Either way, here’s the gist: It’s easy to assume that the more broadly shared your experiences, the more people will get you. Well actually, it turns out that people get realness, not generic-ness. Even if their real was a little different than yours–they can feel your realness. People’s own lives aren’t generic, they’re extremely specific. So get very, super, weirdly specific.

For example: “When I was 18 I used to covertly bypass our burglar alarm at night so that I could sneak out later to take walks . . . alone . . . in the dark . . . in my trench coat.”

I could have told you all about how sheltered I felt my childhood was, the lack of freedom I felt, my desperation to get away, my loneliness and what a lifesaver my loneliness actually was to me, my fear and my need to keep my deepest needs sacred, my imagination and its strangely confident sense of my cool self, and the future version of me I expected to be. But those are ideas–concepts–concepts you may have experienced in your own ways in your own life. And making you listen while I analyze all those ideas through my own lenses requires a lot of attention. It requires a lot of you accepting and translating my interpretations. I don’t need to do all that work with you. And you may not have the time or patience. Instead, I can just give you a few really weird details. Details that make you go, “Oh yeah, I also have a weird life,” and then leaves your imagination filling in the blanks in my story. “What kind of kid wears a trench coat?”

3. Make it a roller coaster.

Don’t stay funny. Don’t stay happy. Don’t stay sad. Don’t stay serious. Don’t stay positive. Don’t stay hopeful. Don’t stay negative. Don’t stay bitter.

Life is a roller coaster. A crazy, spicy, ridiculous roller coaster.

Emotional roller coasters get people right in the feels. And getting people right in the feels is what sticks with them.

So lift your audience up. Then dash their hopes. Then show them the beauty in the ashes.

I bet that is an experience they can relate to.

Good luck!

Let’s use our stories to inspire hope and love in each other every chance we get. We’re all in this together!

Jimmy Neil Smith - connection of storytelling

Blogging 101: 3 Do’s & Don’ts

“Ouch…”

The ominous title to one of my first ever blog posts.

“Tried to barehand a flyball today. Worst case scenario: Root canal.”

Another gem from 14-year-old-blogger-me:

“Does anybody want to buy me a package of two-hundred fifty-three thousand four-hundred and twenty-nine glow in the dark frisbee’s? I’d be much obliged. I can’t even begin to describe how much I would love that many glow-frisbees!”

You’re welcome, World, for sharing the dorky ambitions and random words of wisdom that only a 14-year-old could share. A few nights ago, I stumbled upon my oooold blog, hidden in the nether regions of the internet. I promise you, you will never find it. Thank God.

 

I’ve been blogging since I was a kid. Unfortunately.

On a more serious note, I’ve been writing on this blog for the last several years and have taken blogging seriously as a skill worth learning as well as I can. I write about anything and everything I’ve learned–at work, in my personal life, about communication, about motivation–anything that may be of a little help to someone else walking their own path in this journey we call life.

I’ve grown to really appreciate blogging and to wish that more people would try it. I see two big reasons for people to blog:

 

For other people.

Sure, there’s already a lot of noise out there. So many blogs, articles, opinions. Why would you want to add to it?

The truth is, you really don’t know who your unique way of seeing and saying things may help.

You have had a rich life full of all kinds of experiences, good and bad. You’ve learned from things you’ve seen, heard, and done. You have a lot more wisdom to share than you may think. And every day, others are muddling their way through the same complicated, confusing, challenging life things you have. Or maybe it’s not as deep as all that. Maybe somebody just needs help deciding which new pair of hiking shoes to buy. Can you help with that?

And even if these people find someone else who has learned the same lessons you have and has put it down in words for them, maybe those words weren’t spoken in the unique way that would resonate. Maybe that writer’s perspective isn’t quite what these people need. Maybe your unique experiences and emotions are what will make those lessons click for some.

And even if these people have already found an answer to their questions that resonated–even if they already know–they may still need to hear the lesson said again and again and again and again and again. We’re strange creatures. Sometimes we need to hear what we already know to remember it. Sometimes we just need a little inspiration.

“Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.” – Andre Gide

So don’t be afraid to increase the volume of kind, positive wisdom in this world. We’re all in this together.

 

For yourself.

I think the writer may get more out of the practice of blogging than any reader ever will.

Writing–especially what’s deep in your heart–is an incredibly freeing and therapeutic experience. Try it and see for yourself.

As you put down in words the things you feel deeply and believe deeply, what you care passionately about and what you desire, and the ideas you most want to help others find–as you put these down in words, your thoughts become clearer, your convictions become stronger, and your ideas become more concrete. The practice of thinking and talking through something analytically, searching for the right language to use, is incredibly educational and thought-provoking. Writing is one of the best ways to learn.

And then, after you’ve written for a few years–after you’ve written to help others, written to feel freedom and healing, written to gain clarity and understanding–you look back and realize that your blog is really a journal as much as it is anything. How rewarding to look back and see how your thoughts and cares have developed over time with the turns your life has taken! And best of all, every now and then you will stumble across some of your own words of wisdom: Words you had forgotten, but that you desperately needed to remember on this exact day.

Bonus benefit: If you’re ever in a situation where there’s a need or an opportunity for someone to give a last minute presentation of any nature–inspirational, instructional, etc–having tons of your own prepared presentations at your fingertips is a lifesaver!

 

So why don’t you try blogging?

If you were to give blogging a go, what would you write about? What lessons have you learned in the last year? What do you care most deeply about in life? What have you struggled with? What has made you ecstatically happy?

If you’re ready, there are plenty of places to get started easily and without paying a cent. I use wordpress.com. You can create a blog free and start writing. And if you’re feeling nervous, they’ll let you hide your blog so you can give it a shot without any prying eyes.

What if you don’t know what to write about? What your big message will be? What your topic of expertise will be? That’s okay. Just write what you’re thinking about today, what you learned this year, what you want next year, and what you believe most strongly. What do you wish you could help the world to know? Just start writing. Or maybe write about your hiking shoes.

 

When you’re ready to give blogging a try, here are 3 Do’s and 3 Don’ts that I’ve learned (the hard way) in my experience as a blogger. Let’s start with what not to do.

 

DON’T . . .

. . . try to blog perfectly.

You never will. If you wait till you can do it perfectly, you’ll never publish a single post. Besides, sometimes you’ll think you’ve written your best piece and it won’t resonate with anyone. And then you’ll write one you just think is weak and poorly written, and you’ll be surprised to discover it spoke deeply to lots of readers. Your “best” will sometimes be your worst, and your “worst” will often be your best. So don’t try to blog perfectly.

. . . try to keep everyone happy.

You can’t. You have so many strong, genuine, deeply caring messages inside of you to give. So many ideas and experiences that could help others. But every one of those messages is going to piss someone off. It’s okay. You have to be okay with it. If you try to keep everyone happy, you’ll water down everything you write until your words don’t help anybody. (And then someone will still be displeased with you for being a people-pleaser.)

. . . be embarrassed.

Eventually, you’ll look back at a post you wrote a long time ago and you won’t like it. Your face will go beet-red, like mine always does. You’ll cringe and shake your head and panic a little. “I can’t believe I shared this with the world! This is awful! What was I thinking?” And then you’ll realize that everything is okay and that life went on. That’s a good moment to experience.

 

DO . . .

. . . write from your heart.

I know this is so cliche. But I think it’s the strongest and best advice anyone can possibly give. Even if it’s not blogging–maybe you’re a writer, a speaker, a leader, or an influencer of any kind. Be genuine! People can tell. And when you truly speak your honest and passionate message from deep down inside of you, that will connect with people.

. . . promote yourself.

It’s as simple as this: If you want to talk to people, tell them. Let the world know you’re hear to say something. It just might listen. There’s no shame in asking to be heard.

. . . keep writing.

You’ll probably feel like a fraud. It’s a thing. Whether you’re an occasional writer, a hobby blogger, or you make a career of it–you’ll feel like you’re not good enough, not committed enough, and that people won’t take you seriously. Especially early on. You’ll feel self-conscious as you look at how little you’ve done. You’ll feel embarrassed that you only post once or twice a month, that it’s sporadic, or that you’ve lost touch with it for a time. That’s okay. Write another post. And then another. Just keep writing. Baby steps. It’s amazing how a few pieces written here and there add up over several years. Suddenly you’ll turn around and see behind you a hundred posts you’ve written. Words that may have helped countless people along the way and may still help others. Words that have helped you already and will help you again. Just keep writing.

 

Neil Gaiman, one of my favorite writers, said this. And it’s one of my favorite things ever said about being a creator. Whether you blog, write, speak, record a podcast, whatever you do…

“The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.” – Neil Gaiman

I hope you share your message with the world. Blogging may be just the way to do it. What do you think? Will you give blogging a try?

If you already are, good luck and keep up the good work! :)

 

I recently presented this material as a Toastmasters speech entitled Blogging 101. At the end of it, I held a Q&A session to further the discussion about what blogging looks like–for me and for others. A few of the questions prompted some great conversation. I’m sharing them here in case it helps.

Q: Is there anything you WON’T write or post about publicly? Anything you wouldn’t want people from work to see? Anything that’s too personal?
A: Not much anymore. There used to be a lot. And then I learned the lesson that a very wise friend of mine once put into words: “People connect at the level of their struggles.” We’re all in this together. If anything, I’m happy to help everyone see that being real is okay.

Q: CAN you decide who gets to see what you write? Can you keep certain people from seeing it?
A: Yes. You can make a blog totally private, so that nobody but you can access it. You can share it with a few certain people so that only they can access it. You can change its search settings such that it’s easy to share but people won’t find it just by searching the internet. Some people who make money by writing valuable content will have their blog set up so that only people who have paid for subscriptions or who have used another related program can access the blog. All kinds of options!

Q: With so many opinions out there, how can you trust that the information you’re getting from a blog is accurate? Like someone’s review of a product?
A: Great question! First of all, there’s no guarantee. You use your best judgment. But a couple helpful ideas: First, if you’re looking for specific information, like feedback or tips on traveling to a certain destination or on which product to buy, does the review or blog you’re reading seem to match the feedback of others? If almost everyone agrees, that tells you something. Second, one of the advantages to blogs is that they’re typically independent. Sure, some bloggers are being paid by the company whose product or service they’re recommending. Generally, they’ll have to disclose this somewhere. But you’ll also find lots of independent third party bloggers who are just writing their own real experiences. If anything, these are more helpful than advertisements and biased info you’ll get on a company’s own website.

Q: Can you blog under a pen name?
A: Yes! Absolutely! You can do that forever, or you can do it to help you get started if you’re nervous.

I’d love to know your answers to these questions! And I’d love to hear if there are any other questions or thoughts you’d like to share.

 

If you are a writer, or are interested in writing, or just like reading about writing, check out My 100th Blog Post: A Few Thoughts About Writing.

Neil Gaiman - As Only You Can