(No, not today. But yes, I was born in April!)
Dear Ying Yi,
Yes, I am writing a letter to the present you.
Why not? When I was searching for inspiration on Quora, I noticed that so many people write advice for their past or future selves. No one considered their present selves.
That’s a shame. The present is all we have now, and there’s a lot more we can do about it than the past and the future.
So, about your present.
I want to write about some things that have been bothering you for the past few months. You know what I mean.
You think you suck. You regret sucky things that happened before. You think maybe you suck at life.
It’s like all the sucky-ness of the past and present are coalescing into one giant mass of sucky-ness. A mass that lies in the pit of your stomach, weighing you down. It makes you anxious and stressed about the future. Slightly depressed, even.
Let’s deal with all that sucky-ness today, OK?
Huh. So many things.
At present, you are unhappy with some circumstances in life. You feel that you’re stagnating, you need to move on to bigger and better things. But so many obstacles along the way …
And then there are the ghosts of the past.
The bullying, both in school and at work. Near-lifelong eczema that made you feel ugly. Being taken advantage of. Rejection after rejection after rejection. Loving and losing.
And so on.
Why are they coming back to disturb your thoughts, have you never really moved on from them?
You think there’s something wrong with you. Maybe you’re weak, or you are just not good enough.
Do you remember when you met your ex-colleague, A, a few years ago? She said that after she left the company, she slipped into a depression. Possibly due to difficulties coping with her mother’s death and other factors.
A, depressed? You were surprised. You had always known A as a tough, no bullshit kind of person. You were even a little afraid of her. She wasn’t the kind of person you’d expect to suffer for depression for months. But she did.
Later, you realised that many of the most successful or talented people you know have suffered from depression too. Even your best mate did. You didn’t expect that of her either; she had always been the stoic and strong one.
People suffer from sadness that you don’t know of.
Or, they suffer from huge mistakes they’ve made.
A failed project caused a friend to lose more than ten thousand dollars. A mistake landed a fellow copywriter in jail for three years. A hasty decision left an acquaintance with no money.
Worse mistakes than yours. Made by people you admire and respect.
You think you suck, you think you have problems?
You’re not alone.
You and your life don’t suck as bad as you think
Let’s take a look at your life at the macro level.
You have a loving family and some friends you can trust. You live in a safe country. You’ve travelled to more than 25 countries and studied in three. You are healthy.
Those are worth feeling grateful for.
What about the things you did right?
You realised early in your adult life the importance of staying nimble and keeping your skills sharp. You managed to make the difficult transition from one industry to another unrelated one. You have an open mind and a thirst for knowledge. You are often described as authentic, hardworking, and kind.
There’s no denying that you’ve made some sucky mistakes in life. You’ve also had to go through various kinds of sucky crap.
But don’t say that you suck at life or that you suck as a person.
You’ve done well coming this far in life
Please keep going.
Don’t get too hung up on the sucky things that are happening or have happened.
Would you have done things differently, with the benefit of hindsight?
It’s hard to say “yes” to a question like that. Even if you had done the “correct” thing then, who’s to say that you would definitely be happier or more successful today? For all you know, you might still run into problems further down the road.
The truth is, there are a lot of circumstances beyond our control. It is rare for people’s lives to turn out exactly as planned.
You did what you could. Whatever choices you’ve made, even the suckiest ones, they shaped you to become who you are today.
Failure, as painful as it was, taught you all that.
Better to learn all these now than later in life.
I hope you feel better about yourself now
The best thing you can do, no matter your circumstances, is to keep an open mind and gain as much experiences as you can. Keep moving, keep learning, keep trying new things. Precession, you know.
Remember what your copywriting sensei Colin Theriot said about what to do when you are too afraid to make mistakes:
“Everyone sucks. You can be a person who sucks and doesn’t even do anything. Or you can be a sucky person who at least makes something useful. That’s how I look at it.
Impostor syndrome doesn’t ever go away. In fact, it can INCREASE with more success. So just learn to tell it to go sit in the corner and shut up and then do the work anyway.”
So, don’t be afraid, go ahead and explore the world around you.
Try. You might suck. Again. But so what?
Own the sucky-ness, learn, and move on.
The future is vast and promising
To wrap it all up:
You haven’t done too badly in the grand scheme of things.
You’re not better or worse off than the people around you or the people you know.
You are tougher than you think.
Your potential is huge.
There’s a vast and exciting world of possibilities and opportunities out there. All you need to do is step out, forge your own path, and find the treasures you seek.
All the best.
Happy birthday 😊