Dear Younger Me:

I know that many people have told you that you’re wise beyond your years—because you truly are. You have a remarkably high level of emotional intelligence and self-awareness. But I hope you never lose sight of the fact that you still have a lot left to learn.

Truth is, the learning never stops. It’s a lifelong endeavor. You stand to grow from both your successes and your setbacks. Pain and pleasure are there to teach you different things — and in different ways.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”

So, be unapologetically you. Sing your own unique rendition of the Song of Life loud and proud without fear of who might hear. But don’t be afraid to learn from how others use their voices as well. It’s through the blending of this chorus that we reach true harmony with the oneness of all life.

From a sea of solos, a symphony emerges.

I know you might not hear it now, but it’s there. And it’s beautiful. Below are the 16 different notes I’ve picked up on thus far. I hope they help you belt it out even louder — and live an even more fulfilling life.

With all my heart,

Ever-So-Slightly-Older Me

1. Know—and love—yourself first.

One of the greatest and most rewarding parts of your journey is the road inward. It can be dark and scary to go where no one else has ventured before, or to tread through terrain you’d rather leave unexplored, but that’s what makes it so important and exciting — and turns you into a trailblazer in the process. Because truly understanding and embracing yourself is a huge but necessary undertaking if you want to build authentic, lasting connections in life. Here are three roadmaps for finding your way as you dig deep within.

The Five Love Languages

Dr. Gary Chapman published his groundbreaking book, The Five Love Languages, in 1995 — and it’s been taking the world by storm ever since. With over 11 million copies sold, the book lays out a framework for understanding how you give and receive love in your personal and professional relationships, through five key “languages,” which are defined as:

  1. Words of affirmation: Building the other person up through compliments and other verbal reminders
  2. Quality time: Giving someone your undivided attention and spending time with that person
  3. Physical touch: Demonstrating that you care through varying degrees of physical intimacy
  4. Acts of service: Doing something on behalf of the other person that you know they’ll appreciate
  5. Gifts: Whether big or small, buying something thoughtful for the other person

Chapman proposes that we each have a primary and secondary love language, or means by which we receive love. The way in which you give love may also vary from the way you receive it, just as you may be more fluent in reading a language than you are in writing it. Understanding your relationships through this framework can help clarify why you may have felt attracted to certain people — or like they appreciated you. The bottom line: When someone speaks your love languages genuinely and often, it increases intimacy, closeness and attraction.

Try looking at your current or previous relationships — both personal and professional — through this lens. Can you see how aligned love languages can pull you closer, and how misaligned love languages can drive you apart? If you’re struggling in your relationship with a person right now, think about what their love languages might be, and how you can potentially better communicate your love and admiration through adapting to their needs — and better communicating what your needs are as well.

The Three Attachment Styles

How do you form bonds with other people? What is your dynamic like with them? What are your needs in a relationship? What are your core beliefs about yourself? These are the key questions that Attachment Theory seeks to answer.

First championed by psychologists John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth in the 1950s and 1960s, Attachment Theory is a behavioral framework for understanding the ways in which we build bonds in our relationships.

There are three main attachment styles:

  1. Secure: Just like it sounds, these folks understand how to build healthy, lasting bonds and are comfortable communicating their needs and growing in their intimacy with others. It is estimated that roughly 50% of the population is securely attached.
  2. Anxious: Acting on a core belief that their partner is bound to leave or abandon them, these folks have a need for reassurance and closeness. Often feeling unsure in their relationships, they act out in what’s called “protest behavior” to try to win back the attention and affection of their partner, only to have it typically backfire on them. In general, anxiously attached individuals over-identify with their relationships, causing them to become codependent and clingy, which tends to create a self-fulfilling prophecy of grasping and suffocating the very bonds they crave.
  3. Avoidant: This group of individuals tends to enjoy space and distance in their relationships, often keeping even those closest to them at arm’s length for fear of getting hurt. Instead of allowing others the opportunity to do emotional damage, they strike first, driving away closeness in most facets of their lives, often unexpectedly or out of the blue.

While those who have a secure attachment style tend to lift anyone with whom they bond into a healthier arrangement, there is one dynamic in particular that causes a lot of heartbreak and pain. The Anxious-Avoidant Trap, as it’s called, is what happens when someone with an anxious attachment style and someone with an avoidant attachment style get together. Often an intense emotional rollercoaster, the opposing needs of the two attachment styles keep them locked in a vicious cycle of pulling closer then driving away, affirming both the anxious person’s belief that they aren’t enough and the avoidant person’s belief that people always try to control them in relationships.

Personally, I’ve made strides to become more secure in my relationships over the years, but I still have some anxious attachment tendencies. I seriously wish I would have known about this framework earlier on in my dating life so I could better understand my needs and communicate them more effectively. I also would have cut off situations with avoidant attached individuals sooner, or better understood their need for space.

Wherever you sit on the spectrum of attachment, knowing your attachment style — and the attachment style of your partner — is a powerful first step to become aware of the ways in which you form bonds. With this new awareness, you can approach intimacy in a more secure way, helping to break the cycle and form healthier relationships with more stable intimacy within them.

The 50 Shades of Personality Tests

Personality tests are another fun way to understand your character and behavior in a more structured way. There’s a plethora of them out there, but here’s a couple to try:

Because knowing yourself is the first step to magnifying your strengths and shoring yourself up where you may be weaker. It’s also a great way to fall more in love with who you are and what you have to offer the world. And that’s the cornerstone of building an authentic, happy life.

2. Quality over quantity.

Life is not a numbers game. It’s not about how much money you make or how many pairs of shoes you own. It’s not about the size of your house or the type of car you drive. It’s not about how much you weigh or what you look like. Because no amount of endowment in the physical world has any meaning or value on a deeper, universal level.

Our greatest experiences in life are not centered around things — or in the world of form. They’re centered around people. And people are unquantifiable. Each person has something valuable and exciting to add to the mix. We create a beautiful rainbow when we all come together.

So, focus on quality. Go deeper in relationships. Don’t worry too much about material possessions. Those things can provide temporary pleasure in the physical world, but there is no longevity in them. People and experiences are the purpose of life. Love is the only thing we leave behind.

3. Keep an open heart and an open mind.

In general, human beings are pretty shortsighted. Our thoughts and emotions make us think there’s a crisis or something is “good” or “bad” when in reality things are the way they are, and “good” or “bad” are just relative labels based on how we perceive the world.

Point is: Blessings come in many forms. And sometimes they may come disguised as something not working out the way you expected. That’s just a part of life.

Don’t close your heart or your mind to what the world has to offer. Learn to see rejection as simply a redirection to what is meant for you. Welcome the detours on your winding road. They’ll take you further and to more beautiful destinations than you could ever get to on your own.

4. If you never ask, the answer is always no.

People are much more willing to help others than you may expect. But you’ll never get what you don’t ask for. So pipe up, chime in and follow up if you don’t hear back. If the answer is no, you’re right back where you started anyway. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain by asking for what you want — even if it’s just telling the Universe that you’re open to receiving what may come your way.

5. The only person with whom you should compare yourself is who you were yesterday.
Avoid comparing yourself to others at all costs. Your quest in life will not look exactly the same as anyone else’s — and that’s a beautiful truth. Your genes, environment, personality, pace and priorities all come together to create your own unique path. So, while looking to others for inspiration can be fun, try to stay focused on what you bring to the table and how you can stand out as opposed to how you can fit in.

Remember: You’re here to play your one note in the Song of Life. Don’t go through life trying to claim someone else’s note as your own. You’ll only sabotage your own joy in the process.

6. Never stop learning.

Mistakes are a key part of the curriculum of life. But a mistake made more than once is a choice. Don’t waste precious time going through the same cycles over and over. Always focus on the lessons you can learn and move forward with the knowledge that every situation is beneficial because it has something to teach you. And as long as you pay attention and heed the message the Universe is sending your way, you’ll progress to higher ground than you ever thought possible.

In short, you grow through what you go through. And the battles of today are preparing you for the battles you’ll face in the ring tomorrow. But not if you keep allowing yourself to get knocked out in round one.

Also, read lots of books. Learn from the mistakes that others make. Be a sponge and soak up as much as you can. Never stop trying to improve. It’ll help you help yourself — and lift others up along the way as well.

7. The people with whom you surround yourself matters—a lot.

Speaking of lifting others up, your core group of friends can make or break your life. And your participation can make or break theirs as well.

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn is famous for advocating the idea that you become like the handful of people with whom you spend the most time. So, is your handful of folks pushing you to achieve your goals, hopes and dreams — or are they holding you back? Only you can decide.

So, get real with the people you care about. Scrutinize your friendships and cut those that are frivolous, alcohol-based or just keeping you from being bored.

You might just find that you have more time left over for the people who really matter.

8. Focus your attention.

You are not your thoughts. You are not your emotions. You are not the sensations you experience. You are the observer of all of those things. The only thing you really have control over in life is your attention.

So, wield it like the only weapon you have in your arsenal — because it is. Focus on the things that will help you grow. Don’t pay attention to the doubts in your head. Push through the fear and the anxiety and the dread and do it anyway.

Bottom line: You get to choose whether to indulge and perpetuate the negative energy that can hold you back. Or you can choose to stay present and receptive and energetically aligned. That’s how you really manifest the life you deserve.

9. Seize the moment.

Life is too damn short. As sad as it is, tragedy strikes every day. People and pets die all the time. Friends get married and start their families and buy homes across the country. It’s all a natural part of the cycle of life and the ebb and flow of all things.

Don’t take a single second for granted. Tell people how you really feel. Show them that you care. Don’t put something off that you can handle right now.

Because tomorrow’s not guaranteed. And the only regrets you’ll have in life are the chances you didn’t have the courage to take.

10. Vulnerability is bravery.

You may think that telling the truth about what you’ve been through and the pain and heartbreak you’ve experienced is weak and unwise. But that’s just a lie we tell ourselves.

The real act of courage is showing up — wounds and all — and baring your soul anyway. Because we all have been hurt by something. That’s what makes us human. And talking about it is what brings us together in a deep and meaningful way.

Your past only has power over you if you keep it locked away in the dark. But it’s no match for the light of the truth. Watch as folks gravitate towards this light like bugs to a bulb.

Vulnerability is magic. And that magic is magnetic. And healing.

11. Nobody really knows what they’re doing.

“Fake it ‘til you make it” is the name of the game. Just show up, be honest and speak from experience and you’ll be just fine.

12. You can’t change people—and you shouldn’t try.

This is such a difficult but important lesson to learn.

The only thing that can make someone change and grow is his or her own desire to do so. By all means, create a positive, uplifting and supportive environment — but don’t try to fix anyone. Only they can accept that they need to evolve — and then seek out the guidance to make it happen.

Focus on being the example instead. Often, the very things we want to change in other people are the things we need to work on ourselves.

13. Resistance is futile.

You only really have two choices in life:

  1. Accept what you cannot change
  2. Change what you cannot accept

Most of what happens in life falls in the first bucket. You cannot, for the most part, control death or disease or disruption in many forms. But that doesn’t stop you from resisting the harsh reality of the way things are. You thought things would be different. And now that they’re not, you’re devastated and heartbroken and don’t know what to do about it.

I’ll tell you what you need to do: You need to learn how to lean in to the twists and turns of life. They aren’t going away. And there’s honestly nothing you can really do about it. So stop the resistance. It’s not doing anything except making you miserable.

For those things that fall into the second bucket, by all means, pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work. This includes your outlook, your energy, your attitude, the stories you tell yourself, etc. Basically, you can control how you interpret your experience, but you have limited control over your experience itself.

Learn to accept and accommodate — and even embrace — accordingly.

14. See the world with the wonder of a child.

Sometimes in our old adult ways we forget just how awesome and exciting life is. And how much opportunity and possibility there is. Children are incredible reminders that being present and joyful is not just an option — it’s a priority. So welcome the wonder with open arms. And get to laughing and playing and not taking things so seriously. Your life and happiness could depend on it.

15. Own it.

Did you make a mistake? Own it.

Did you do something wrong? Own it.

Did something happen to you? Own it.

Were you wronged in the past? Own it.

Did someone hurt you? Own it.

You are the author of your own story. It’s time to own your narrative.

16. Expect nothing. Give everything.

Expecting the world is a great way to end up disappointed. Instead of thinking about what you stand to gain, stay focused on how you can lift others and you’ll be lifted even higher in the process.

What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned in life? Share them in the comments — or Tweet me at @crackliffe.

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  • Chris Rackliffe

    Author and Storyteller

    Chris Rackliffe, or @crackliffe, as he is fondly known by friends and colleagues, is an award-winning storyteller, motivator and marketer who has driven over one billion clicks and over six billion interactions as head of social media for some of the biggest magazines in the world, including Entertainment Weekly, Men’s Health, PEOPLE and more. With a B.S. in Advertising and Psychology from the University of Miami—and a Ph.D. in the School of Life—Chris tells first-person stories that cut straight to the heart. Chris has made it his sole purpose to empower and uplift others and help them find peace, perspective and power through what they’ve endured. You can read his work as published or featured in BuzzFeed, The Huffington Post, TIME, Women’s Health and many more.