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November 19, 2009

This Wonderful Life: I wish someone had told me


Disclaimer: Because my son more or less demanded that I stop using him and his life as material for my column back when he was 12 or 13, I want to make it perfectly clear to all my readers (and any legal professionals who are now retained or may be retained at some future time by aforementioned son) that this column is not about him. It’s about me. The fact that he happened to turn 21 on Saturday is mere coincidence. So help me God.

Whenever I’m feeling uncertain or like I may be listing a bit off course, I like to do this exercise that I once heard Helen Gurley Brown describe.

Imagine having tea or coffee with your older, wiser, more confident self.

What would she say? What advice would she give?

Would she think you’re worrying over all the right things? Would she illuminate a better way of getting where you want to go? How has her journey been different (and richer?) than the one you can currently imagine?

I know, it sounds hokey.

And I don’t believe that this exercise has any kind of magical properties. It’s just a way to check in with myself and articulate to myself what I want and where I might shift gears.

If only it were possible to really jump into a time machine and pour your younger self a nice cup of tea and experience. Putting aside for just a moment the reality that, at 21, I considered myself too savvy and together to have listened to anyone’s wisdom, even my own, here’s what I wish I could go back and impart: Today is ``some day’’ - as in the mythical future date when all conditions are perfectly aligned to allow you to pursue Big Scary Dreams. When you say, ``Some day, I want to spend s summer in Italy,’’ what you really mean is, ``Since I’m not going to figure out a plan of action to make something like that happen, I think I’ll just feel inordinately wistful for the next 20 years every time I watch a film set in Italy.’’

You don’t have to have a fool-proof plan for the future. If you keep waiting for the plan to seem foolproof, you’ll lose valuable time that you could be using to do things like figure out how to take a trip to Italy or learn how to paint.

It’s no disgrace to be less than a wunderkind. Instead of thinking of Mary Shelley writing ``Frankenstein’’ when she was 19, think of Frank McCourt, who spent his career teaching high school students, then wrote ``Angela’s Ashes’’ and won a Pulitzer Prize after age 65.

You can spend years in passive introspection and self-reflection in hopes of solving your problems and discovering yourself. Or you can spend hours actively working to apply whatever time, talents and resources you have to solving someone else’s problems, and end up creating yourself in the process.

You don’t always have to be so savvy and together.

You’re the only one who’s constantly watching to see if you’ve made a mistake.

Elizabeth Trever Buchinger still probably wouldn’t listen to her time-traveling self, but that makes life more interesting. You can connect with her at www. moremindfulfamily.wordpress. com.