In People magazine’s 40th Anniversary issue (Oct. 20, 2014), they ask a host of celebs to look back and give advice to their younger selves. Much of the advice is surprisingly personal, if brief and familiar (“laugh a lot”; “it gets better”).
Michelle Obama’s essay on the theme dives a bit deeper, including touching on my favorite topic of questioning. Since I couldn’t find the whole thing online, am reprinting it here. If you’re the type who shares inspirational graduation-type speeches with people, you may want to share this one, especially with girls.
If I could give my younger self just one piece of advice, it would be this: Stop being so afraid! That’s really what strikes me when I look back—the sheer amount of time I spent tangled up in fears and doubts that were entirely of my own creation. I was afraid of not knowing the answer in class and looking stupid, or worried about what some boy thought of me, or wondering whether the other girls liked my clothes or my hair, or angsting about some offhand comment someone made to me in the lunchroom.
I would love to go back in time and tell my younger self, “Michelle, these middle and high school years are just a tiny blip in your life, and all the slights and embarrassments and heartaches, all those times you got that one question wrong on that test—none of that is important in the scheme of things.”
Instead what matters are the true friends you make, the activities you throw yourself into the books you read, the skills and knowledge you acquire. Those experiences—the ones that make you stronger, smarter, and braver—are what really matter.
So I would have told myself:
Walk away from ‘friendships’ that make you feel small and insecure, and seek out people who inspire you and support you.
And for heaven’s sake, let yourself really fail once in a while—not some tiny little mistakes here and there, but big, glaring, confidence-shaking, dark-night-of-the-soul-inducing failures.
Understand that no one—especially folks who are truly successful—simply coasts from achievement to achievement. The most accomplished people in the world fail and fail big. That’s how they learn so much and grow so quickly and become so interesting and wise.
In short, stop trying to be someone who will impress everyone else, and just focus on being and becoming fully, sincerely, and passionately yourself.