A friend of mine in her fifties wrote to me with sadness about how she felt she had not reached her potential nor achieved the life she had imagined for herself when she felt so powerful at the age of 22. She said, “I think I was really smart!!! My life has been a mess! Never turned out the way I imagined it!”
I think she is not alone in her experience, and so I would like to share in this Blog my reply to her, in case you may find something helpful if you too are feeling this way:
One of the wisest things I ever learnt was at the age of 21.
In my HDE year at university I had a Psychology of Education lecturer called Dr Gordon Bauer who made us date all of our submissions and add the word AMPLOS next to the date. It stood for, At My Present Level Of Sophistication. Just so we needn’t be held accountable in 5 years time for the rubbish we wrote today. There is a quote, which regrettably I can’t locate right now – by I think Marilyn Monroe – who was a sensitive and conscious human being despite the alternate hype, which goes something along the lines of, No-one consciously makes a bad decision. We all make choices based on what feels wise at the time. That with hindsight some choices work out to have been not the best, is the curve ball that life throws at us, and I think we need to deal compassionately with ourselves. We are human and not infallible. We do the best we can. There must be those people, but I have yet to meet someone who isn’t trying their best within their situation and their emotional, intellectual, psychological and physical resources.
My instincts are, if things have not turned out the way you imagined it, make peace with that. Certainly don’t waste energy on regret and self-recrimination. That’s counter productive – punishing yourself, but not serving any generative purpose. Feeling bad actually reduces our ability to be powerful in our lives. Breathe. Love yourself. Honour the wonderful human being that you are – right now – because it is important to see the wonder in yourself. Take stock. Scan the landscape. See what dreams you can dream for yourself going forward. And start a new page.
What is it that can be meaningful for you from this point onwards? What does it need in order to action it? What do you need to harness in service of it? And after breathing and taking stock, go for it! You still have within you your 22-year-old potential. I know you feel tired, and the 22-year-old in you is hard to find, but it is not you or your latent talent that has changed, but simply the starting and endpoints that have changed. All you need to do is to locate, make friends with, and then harness that 22-year-old within you. What would she have done, given your present landscape?
Because I know you to be a wonderful and conscious human being, who can run rings around many others who tick many ostensible boxes in terms of non-messy lives. But they hold hidden defects in terms of their humanity. We only grow and develop in proportion to our suffering. The poet Rumi said, The Wound is the Place where the Light Enters You. If you show me someone who has had an easy ride, I will show you someone who is truncated in their humanity.
These are the words to a Leonard Cohen song that speaks to what I’m saying.. Of which the most important words are, Ring the bells that still can ring, Forget your perfect offering; There is a crack, a crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in, That’s how the light gets in, That’s how the light gets in.