A letter to my 20 year-old self

This post is a part of #tsql2sday, a monthly community ritual where a topic is proposed by a community member and everyone is invited to join in.

This month’s topic is from Mohammad Darab, who encouraged us to: “Write your 20 year old self a letter. If you could go back in time and give yourself advice, what would it be?”

The advice I would give to my 20 year old self is the same advice I give to myself today, more than 20 years later:

You are a person who throws yourself into your work — ALL the way into your work

You tend to define yourself by your professional activities, and you expect your work to be consistently of very high quality.

One of your greatest strengths is that you are a creative person, but when you narrow your focus too much, when you make your life too much about work, and when you try to make things ‘perfect’, your creativity suffers. Life is a messy business, and to both be productive and to enjoy life, you need to get out of your “WORK ROBOT” mindset quite often.

For these reasons, it is important for you to set some boundaries on your work life, and to also put effort into tending to your life outside of work.

Tactically, this means that you need to practice:

  • Regularly turning away from work messaging and tasks when you are not at work and not on-call. That email can wait, no matter what that little voice in your head suggests.
  • Finding hobbies and activities outside of the workplace and showing up for them, regularly.
  • Staying in communication with your friends and family, and practicing getting back in touch with people you value when you drift apart.
  • Saying “no” at work in a multitude of ways, many of which don’t use the word “no” directly, but do involve you not doing everything yourself. You will feel guilty most times you do this, but that does not mean that the practice is wrong.
  • Asking for help at work in a multitude of ways when tasks can’t be completed as they were estimated.
  • Accepting that “good enough” is often, in fact, good enough. You will repeatedly be frustrated when you can’t make something perfect and when you make mistakes. Often, it is best to own up to the flaws in yourself and the situation and simply accept it, then move on to the next challenge where you may be able to contribute more. Look forward, girl, there’s cool stuff ahead.

On a personal level, throughout the years you will worry — you will worry A LOT

You will worry about being a nerd, and that you will never really be loved because you are too loud / too fat / too nerdy / too opinionated / not nice enough / not pretty enough / not clever enough / too ‘much’.

You will worry that not everyone likes you, and need to constantly remind yourself that it’s fine and right and normal for not everyone to like you, and that “being liked” is not your measure of success.

You will struggle to shore up your confidence, again and again.

You will frequently experience “Impostor Syndrome,” and to compensate for this you will tend to spend even more time working, even more time attempting to work on something so hard that it is beyond criticism.

There is no easy fix for over-worrying. Tending to your non-work life and helping that flourish will help: this wider perspective helps you to better find role models and sponsors, appreciate your strengths, find opportunities to help others, take criticism constructively, let non-constructive trolling roll away into the abyss of the internet, and to enjoy speaking in your own voice.

But there is no way to banish an over-worrying tendency forever. Learning to let your worries pass instead of clinging onto them like the world’s worst life raft will be a life-long project. You will constantly find new tools. You will always need to adapt.

The good news is that you do seem to love a good long project.

So get at it, friend. There’s still a lot of awesome things to do. Life passes in a flash, but while we are here, we always have the chance to appreciate it and to make it better.

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