Recently, I participated in an ambitious community art project called Autumn Leaves. The gatherings celebrated elders and youth, and featured art, performance, and sharing what gives our lives meaning. We were invited to give our response to three questions, one of which was: What would you say to your 21-year-old self?
My first thought was, this young woman needed so much advice! I’m not sure she would have heeded any of it, but here’s what I had planned to say.
First, rely on your heart. Learn to listen to your inner voice, and be a channel for what wants to come through you, because you’re unique and the world needs what you can bring forth. Since your work is bigger than you, you don’t have to worry about whether it’s good enough.
Don’t be afraid to fail or to disappoint others. Assume you will disappoint others, even (or especially) those closest to you. It’s inevitable if you’re out there participating in life. Resist putting much stake in other people’s responses to you – praise or criticism. Source your whole approach to your life from what’s true in your heart.
Hold things more lightly. Remember this especially when you’re afraid or angry: loosen your grip and see what you notice. Hands aren’t made for clinging or clutching. They are made for creating and serving.
This next advice was given to my 24-year-old self during a time of crisis. The first part was given by a trusted mentor, the second by my father. The first is: You can’t get off the bus. No matter what is boiling around you, you have to see it through, that’s just the way life is. And you will get through it. And my father’s piece was almost the opposite: Life’s too short. If you are in a really miserable situation, essentially, you can get off the bus. At the time, these both helped me and I didn’t even notice they were contradictory. And isn’t that the way of life – we are dancing between opposites all the time. As Einstein said: Life is like a bicycle. You have to keep moving to stay balanced.
Notice with wonder the love of family and friends, the beauty of the world around you, the miracles of sunsets and clouds and flowers. Use your imagination to recognize all of it as kin, as humans did for millennia before us and you just might feel a sense of peace and belonging that has so far eluded you.
Above all, the one thing this 21-year-old young woman needed to hear, and still needs to hear: You are enough.