I turned 25 on July 30th, 2021.
About a year ago, on September 30th, 2020, I began writing this article to capture some of the lessons I would teach my younger self should traveling back in time achieve fruition in my lifetime.
Below is a letter I wrote to my 15-year-old self to share the 10 lessons I would teach her if I could meet her.
10 Lessons I Would Teach My 15-Year-Old Self
Happy 15th birthday! <3
This is your 25-year-old future self coming back in time to teach you 10 quick lessons that will significantly change your life over the next 10 years.
P.S. You will undergo a monumental transformation in the next 10 years. I hope you’re ready for it!
1. Learn to understand, not to win. You’re the only one walking your path, no one else. Everyone has their own paths to walk on. I know you’ve been conditioned into focusing on the outcome rather than the process, but it’s time to uncondition yourself. Unlearn how to tie the shoelace, even if it takes a few years. The world is not built on a zero-sum game. Look at everything from the lens of abundance; especially education. Learn to understand and indulge in your curiosity, don’t learn to win a battle and in turn lose the war. This time that you get to spend in school, in classes, surrounded by a community of learners, is a privilege. Use it well.
2. Free things come at a cost: You will make enough money in the future to satisfy all of your basic needs, so don’t try to optimize for it now. Free food comes at the cost of a healthy diet. Free books come at the cost of compromising on your values as a creator. Free anything will come at the cost of diminishing the more important verticals in your life. You need lesser money than you think you do. We all need lesser than we think we do. Respect the need for and importance of money, without becoming a victim of cupidity. On the flip side, detach yourself from the materialistic culture. Invest in possessions that truly improve your happiness. And, want to know the best investment you can make? Investing in yourself.
3. Don’t underestimate compound effects: If you wrote down one idea everyday, just one, that will translate to 365 ideas in just one year. It’s easier to go for a 3-hour run on a single day than to go for a 30-minute run six days in a row, isn’t it Pooja? But the latter is what will help you gain mastery over a skill. It’s okay to dabble and indulge in your curiosities — you’re a curious maverick after all — but begin thinking about nurturing a few daily habits (hint: meditation, writing, reading, thinking) that will begin giving back exponentially when you reach my age.
4. Cultivate self-love: Begin observing the way you talk to yourself; your mental monologue. Knowing you (or knowing myself?), it’s probably a pessimistic and insecure one. And that’s okay. It can (and will) be changed over the next 10 years, but I’d like you to start sooner. The words we use create the stories that construct our reality. Be conscious of the words you utter, both to yourself and to those around you. The more positive words there are in your diction, the more positive thoughts there will be in your stream of consciousness, leading to a happier temperament and a very content life. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. Become your biggest champion and cheerleader.
5. What you’re good at is not always what you love. In 5 years, you will realize the power of this phrase, and transition away from a career in research. And you will keep realizing it further on, both in your life and in those around you. It’s possible to get reasonably good at anything, with sufficient diligence and practice, but I don’t believe it’s possible to feel passionate about just anything. Passion is derived from a variety of factors, including one’s temperament, what content they’re exposed to, their life experiences, what the world needs, and much more that is beyond my sphere of knowledge. Your intuition will guide you on the right path; you just need to train yourself to listen to it and follow it.
6. It’s the process, not the outcome: Set up systems and build habits that lead to consistent results, not one-off successes. Schools and colleges will teach you how to ace schools and colleges, not how to lead a fulfilled life. Your education system will wrongly incentivize you with a focus on outcomes, not the process. But, what good is a desired outcome without a joyful process? Life is lived in the 100 million steps you take during your lifetime, not in the 100 milestones you reach along the way. Every time you reach a milestone, you will be told to immediately look ahead for the next. Don’t. Pause. Look around instead. It’s okay to slow down: procrastination is your body’s way of asking you to slow down; it’s the protective blanket that shields you from burnout.
7. Balance compassion outward and inward: Everyone you meet is suffering, the source of which runs the gamut of human experiences. Every single person is suffering. That is reason enough for you to treat those you meet with compassion and kindness. And that includes you as well. You cannot give what you don’t have, so begin with yourself and radiate it outward. However, there will come times when treating someone else with compassion will come at the cost of treating yourself with it: these are the people who will take and take from you without giving anything in return. Step out of their life; remove them from yours; simply be indifferent towards them without harboring any ill will. Your time, and attention, are precious. Only shower it on those who deserve it.
8. Be interested to be interesting: Your education will partly teach you how to present your story to others; you might have to learn some on your own. But, it will not teach you how to practice empathetic listening when someone else is presenting their story. Sadly, what we desperately need the most from each other is what we excessively lack the most from each other: feeling truly heard and belonged. Let the change begin with you. Everyone you meet has a story worth sharing: hear them out. When you meet someone new, ask them, What excites you? If you had unlimited resources, what would you like to do? How are you feeling now, really? As you give others space to share their story, they too will want to hear yours; except now, the curiosity will be genuine.
9. Everything is a hypothesis. Very few things in life are entirely black or white, but more often different shades of grey. Everything you’ve been taught and told — ranging from theories on religion to money to science — is a hypothesis; some well-supported and some supported purely on anecdotes. The same also applies to the story you tell yourself of yourself. Remove hyperboles such as I’m always and I can never from your vocabulary. You’re ever-evolving. I know life lead with such an ideology will not be easy: you will begin to question everything you hear and constantly keep updating your latticework of mental models; but doing so will forever expand your mind and give you a life filled with possibilities.
10. Think of chronic – not acute – risks: What risk really looks like is not doing something that you will spend your life regretting. I want you to live a life of minimal regrets. This requires developing a strong filter between your intuition and the outside world. Over and over again, you will be discouraged by some to not pursue a path because of reasons that spring from their experiences. Listen to them, but have a filter. Begin everyday thinking, This could be my last day (okay okay, you’re going to live for at least 10 more years but you get my point). Life is too short to not be doing something that consumes you; it’s too short to spend time complaining, hating, and living someone else’s life. Collapse your timeline. Love people. Build companies. Write books. Start movements. Travel the world. And let no one take away your spark ✨
Done reading the letter?
Now, read it again.
Happy birthday and remember: you’re an extraordinary woman and a force of nature.
Your 25-year-old self 🙂