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Advice to my younger self

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What advice would post-sabbatical Rinku give to the Rinku of 20 years ago? - Steve from San Francisco

Dear Steve-

I try to have compassion for my younger self while giving her advice. She did the best she could with what she had at the time. Still, there are some things that might have made life easier and conserved her energy to generate greater impact in the world. Three occur to me now, after taking a couple of months off from work. Twenty years ago, I was 30.

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Hey Rinku, here’s some unsolicited advice from your older self.

Listen more, talk less. You were always the kid in class whose hand was first up, sometimes before the question was fully out of the teacher’s mouth. But I can see in the last 20 years, not to mention the period before that, all the times that listening harder on the front end could have prevented a lot of drama later. Listening can be painful, and also feel less exciting than talking, especially if the other party is offering critique (gently or otherwise) or disagreeing with you. If you give yourself permission not to answer right away, or develop the discipline not to react while you’re triggered, you’ll get a better read on what people want and need from you. Then you can decide more responsibly and straightforwardly whether and how to meet that need. But even if the circumstances aren’t testy, you’ll miss a lot when you don’t really listen because you’re distracted. And just know, that new cell phone you got is clunky now, but soon it’s going to become a sleekly seductive source of distraction. Don’t surf the internet while you’re talking to people on the phone. They can tell.

Quit trying to improve your shortcomings and just go with your gifts. You have many, and also you’re not perfect. You have to figure out which of your flaws are fatal to your vision of the future, and which are just not worth tripping over. Work hard to shift the first (going to journalism school to force yourself to meet a deadline might be a good idea, and so would learning enough about finance so you can see a deficit beaming at you). But most of your flaws are not going to be worth spending money and time on because changing them will run so far counter to your nature that you’ll be miserable even if you do “improve” in that area. Accept your gifts, use them, and don’t waste time and potential trying to be like someone else. Better to join or build teams with people who are good at the stuff you’re not good at, and trust them to do their thing while you do yours.

Chill. You’re not that important. How hard you work is not the sole determinant of whether the movement wins or loses. Paradoxically, you are so important that your community needs you to be healthy and happy. Read novels. Go to the movies. Get enough sleep. Take proper vacations. Nature is healing, so try to get more of it.

I know you won’t do these things for a few more years but I love you anyway. R

This is great advice even for "old" me. Listen, don't take yourself too seriously, but do take time for yourself. Things we all should do more of.

Agreed. I am often surprised at how much time it takes to care for myself: buying good food, cooking, washing tupperware and pots, walking, exercising, sleeping, napping...It really takes commitment. It is very easy, especially when under stress, to cut corners on myself. And then I pay the price in other ways.

That was one of the big lessons of being on sabbatical. Most of the time I just ignore domestic things, don't cook, don't clean, etc. Actually doing these things gave me huge appreciation for my mom, who did it all while we were growing up, and for all the women who do that second shift at home after working all day. It just takes time to keep a household running, even a household of 1 like mine.

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