Have you ever wanted to go back in time and give advice to your younger self? What would you say if you were standing face-to-face with a younger you? Would you give advice on loving your partner, leaving that job, whether to have kids or travel the world?
"What I Would Tell My Younger Self": Advice from an Author, a Rapper, and a Zen Poet:
Mary Roach, bestselling author
I would give the young Mary Roach some relationship and dating advice, and I would do that by way of a quick story I'm going to share, and this is something that happened to me a couple of years ago. I was going to a party. And I was driving down a very, very narrow street. And so, a car coming out and a car going in pass each other very slowly. And I looked over, and in the next car, there was this man who I took to be my husband's old friend, Joe. And I looked at him, and I said, "Hey! You're leaving? Why are you leaving? The party's just starting." And then, he looked at me. And he was smiling, and we talked a little bit. And then I realized: It's not Joe! It's not Joe. But in that moment where I realized, you know, I'd looked at this man, this good-looking man, and I'd said, “Hey! Why are you leaving?” It turned out there were two parties on the end of this street, and he was leaving the other party. It was in that moment I sort of saw how my whole youth could have been different. I realized that, like, the best pick-up line in the world is just, “Hey! Hi.” I wish I'd know then that, it's so easy, Mary. Just say hey. Hello."
Another piece of advice I would give the young, upstart Mary Roach—when you write that angry letter (it wouldn’t have been an email back then), or you’re ready to confront someone, give it 24 hours, because more than you could ever believe, it’s probably just hormones!
There’s one other thing [I would tell myself]: Mary Roach, your dad was this amazing artist. He did amazing caricatures, silkscreens, posters, such a huge talent. And you never really said anything to him. You never said, ‘Wow, that’s really good!’ And so now, he’s gone. He died when I was 23. So now I have his art on the walls, and I don’t have him to know that, or to tell him that.
Tom Shimura, aka Lyrics Born, rapper & songwriter
I would probably tell my younger self—and I’m more so thinking about myself in my twenties, probably–I would say, to not be afraid to lead. And if a situation doesn’t feel right, don’t stay in it. Don’t be afraid to move on. I think in the past, I probably holding out a little too much hope that maybe things that didn’t quite feel right would have turned around when there was, in hindsight, no indication that they really would have. I think I would have told that guy, don’t be afraid to really step on out of that and show by example and how to make a way.
I think maybe there was a time when I might have taken a look around, and I was the only guy out there who did what I did that looked like me, that had a name that ended in a vowel that was hard to pronounce. [laughs] You know? And I was sort of reluctantly forced to speak for a lot of people and sort of be that guy. And it wasn’t something that I was totally comfortable with because as far as I was concerned I just wanted to be recognized for the actual music I was making and the content that was there. But obviously I’m very proud of who I am and where I’ve come from, and my background and so forth. The only job I’ve ever had has been in the music business. And there is no road map. You can’t take a course on how to have a successful career in the music biz.
I think I was very fortunate that I knew what I wanted to do from the time I was 3 or 4 years old. I knew I wanted to be an artist. But it wasn’t until I heard hip hop that I knew what kind of artist that I wanted to be. And I was just fortunate enough that my father was a writer and my mother went along for the ride. And as I developed and got older, I had a really great support group of peers and friends, and so, I was very fortunate in that way. I think probably if I had not had that kind of support in such an unconventional field, I probably would have chosen a different path.
Norman Fischer, Zen Teacher & Poet
I would tell my younger self three things. First of all, pay a lot more attention to your friends because probably your whole life through, these are going to be people that you know, and shape who you are, and when you get older, you are really going to appreciate them. So, be careful with how you treat them now, and treat them as precious people in your life. The second thing I would tell my younger self is, get your head out of the clouds, and learn how to cook, clean, and take care of the garbage, because these are basic things you are going to be doing your whole life, and if you don’t focus on them and make them into arts and enjoyments, you are going to be missing out on something. And they’ll just be like, annoyances to you if you don’t really pay attention to them. And the third thing I would tell my younger self—because when I was younger I had a lot of thoughts about a lot of things and those thoughts didn’t necessarily serve me that well—I would tell my younger self, don’t worry so much about all of the things you are thinking. Enjoy your thinking, but don’t believe it all. And don’t take it all that seriously.
I’ve learned a different way of thinking. Instead of getting wrapped up in my thoughts, and perseverating, and going on and on, full of contradictions and worries and fretting, I’ve learned to just appreciate my thinking as it comes and goes, and with a point of view on life I can discriminate between, here’s a thought that makes sense and can be beneficial, and here’s another thought that’s just coming from my confusion, so I don’t really need to go that way. And I think a lot of thinking comes from our confusion, and our need to be right, our need to defend ourselves, our need to be important. So a lot of our thinking is useless, but human thought is a fantastic thing. So to be able to tell the difference between a thought that comes and is really useful and really noble and really worthwhile, and a thought that’s coming from our confusion—to tell the difference between those two is hard to do. And a lot of what you need to do in order to accomplish that is to, just like Michael and Oprah were saying, to learn how to relax your thought, and not believe every single thought, and not be pushed around by every single thought. Meditation has certainly helped me learn that style of thinking, that’s for sure.
Human beings are wonderful, magnificent, and very bright, but at the same time, destructive, confused, and nasty. So that’s the trouble. And every one of us has both sides of that. So when we talk about our instincts and our passions, where is the passion coming from? Where is the instinct coming from. We have instincts to tell us to do wonderful and good things, and the opposite. To be able to be quiet just long enough to be able to look at what those passions and instincts are, and to be able to discriminate between those passions and instincts that serve us and others and those passions and instincts that do the opposite, that’s the important thing. And how do you do that? Well, I think, trial and error. You begin to notice, ‘Oh, I followed that passion and look where it got me. Ouch.’ ‘Oh, I followed this one, and this was better.’ Well, what was the difference? How did that feel? And it’s not so easy to make that distinction, but one learns it through bitter experience over time.
Glynn Washington, "Snap Judgment" Host
The biggest thing, if I was to talk to younger Glynn, would be to, hit the road—to travel, where, every time you would go to a new country, maybe you don’t speak the language, maybe you don’t know what’s up. It’s like you have to start over at ground zero. It’s almost as if you’re a baby, to learn how to boat-navigate, to learn how to have friends. That process is so important and it’s something that I feed off of every day now.
Glynn Washington, host and executive producer of public radio's "Snap Judgment"
Norman Fischer, author, poet, former abbot of the San Francisco Zen Center and founder and spiritual director of the Everyday Zen Foundation
Mary Roach, author of "Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal"
Tsutomu "Tom" Shimura, rapper, producer and song writer known as Lyrics Born; and author of "Yes, Bay Area"