Life Lessons Personal Growth

A Letter To My Past Self

The past six years have taught me several hard-fought life lessons.

Change is a given in our twenties. Therefore, it is not uncommon for twentysomethings to go through several transition periods as they shape their character from one form to another. High points such as graduating from university, securing a career, getting married, having kids in the family and more are some of the phases we go through during our twentysomething years.

Reflecting on my origin, the obstacles I have jumped over, and the missions I have accomplished over the years has played a significant role in developing and better understanding myself. I frequently look back on my previous behavioural patterns and thought processes, how they have evolved during my early twenties, and how I have moved on, given that I am four years away from reaching thirty.

Long story short, I have done things that I am not proud of to this day, but I am glad they happened because I have learned a lot from those experiences. In the process, I upgraded my life in terms of how I think and behave. When I piece everything together, I wake up every day with the idea of feeling good and confident about myself. Again, I had to weather several gruelling moments of my life to get this far, but that is how life works anyway.

It is difficult to recognise that you are in a tough spot until someone must point it out to you. However, when you give yourself sufficient time to think about it, you can view it more clearly. That being said, if only we could find the means to travel back in time and inform our past selves in order for us to dodge the painful lessons.

If a time machine does exist and I have access to it, here are some of the pearls of wisdom I would like to inform my past self to ensure younger Terence understood what older Terence currently understands.

1. You are going to appreciate your body, even its shortcomings.

It was until my mid-twenties that I have decided to adopt a healthy lifestyle by routinely performing fitness workouts at home. I started my fitness journey because I wanted to look good and live as long as possible. Moreover, many in my family tree have a history of health problems, and I strive to break the chain. I struggled to reduce my belly fat, improve my body’s physique, and boost my muscle endurance. To this day, I am still doing my best to improve my overall health and fitness. Eventually, I realised that it does not bring any value.

Life is more about staying healthy instead of looking healthy. Therefore, if you are following a fitness program simply because you want to fit yourself into a specific size of shorts, you are dishonouring your body, health, and life. Yes, I want to be good-looking in the eyes of the public. However, I wish to be healthy because that is more important than anything else.

Listening to what my body says and satisfying its needs has made me appreciate my body more than I ever had before. To all who has something disgraceful to say about my physical outlook, this is my life. Your words carry no weight, and I will not give you the satisfaction of sabotaging my efforts to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

2. One day, you will realise that family is a matter of choice.

There is no shortage of loss in my life. For example, when I was pursuing my engineering degree in the United Kingdom, I have lost more friendships than I made them. Whenever my loved ones are in the vicinity, I do not talk much due to personal reasons. Likewise, I have lost connections with ex-colleagues over the years after jumping from one career ship to another.

There are several things you must know about loss. Firstly, it is unavoidable. Second, everyone has their own way of experiencing the grief that follows a loss. For me, although I am given a choice to either get into a fit of rage or be in denial upon experiencing a loss, I chose a third option: acceptance. Accepting my losses has made me more emotionally intelligent and confident in the relationships that are still very much alive in my life.

Eventually, it occurred to me: you decide who earns a spot in your life. If you have toxic relationships with your loved ones, delete them because your happiness should come first before anyone else’s. Family blood is still blood; it is not as strong as you may believe. I have formed my family, and I am deeply pleased with the decisions I have made.

As I draw my attention to the past, I actually had lots more relationships, but the majority of them did not satisfy the sustainability benchmark that I set in place. Some of them were parasitic in nature. Currently, I am doing all I can to preserve the connections I have today, and I observe how imperative it is to piece together a jigsaw with those who do not hesitate to lend a helping hand and love you for who you are.

Younger Terence was used to be a people-pleaser. Today, my happiness is my highest priority, and I am not giving up on those who view me as a priority instead of an option.

3. Do not sweat about your GPA because it is worthless.

I used to obey the typical Asian philosophy, which states that if you do not do well in your academics, you are bound to fail in life the moment you graduate. Hence, I worked profusely to obtain flying colours in my academics report card. In the end, after burning lots of midnight oil, I reaped the rewards in the form of numerous commendation letters issued by numerous academic staff and the head of the university.

However, because I was hell-bent on being the best in the cohort, I spent more time studying in the quiet spaces of the library than attending the social events organised by various student-driven clubs and societies. Consequently, I stuck out like a sore thumb. My life back then consists of my full-time job as a university student, my part-time job as a photographer and a whole lot of reading. Looking back, I have no regrets, but it is safe to say that my university life did not turn out the way my older siblings expected.

One thing I would say to younger Terence is that securing a stellar GPA does not necessarily mean you are guaranteed a job that pays you highly. Furthermore, younger Terence should be aware that one does not need to pursue a career that is in line with the major pursued at the university. Most significant of all, I wish younger Terence knew back then that owning an undergraduate degree from a prestigious university does not make you any more intelligent than someone who lacks quality education.

Years after graduating from university, I discovered that some of the most intelligent individuals I know never had a chance to enter college, let alone grad school. What is even more incredible is that many of them are now bringing home bigger bucks, have better career stability and more content with their job than others who are degree holders.

4. The fight to now allow anyone to steal your happiness will be worth it.

As time goes by, I have pondered about ways to keep myself balanced. Now that I am twenty-six, I must learn to juggle my work, personal financial statements and happiness. Sometimes, it can be incredibly frustrating to trade time for money in order to keep yourself afloat every day. However, it is also important to make time for the things that put a smile on your face.

Younger Terence thought he should forget about the idea of fun and purely focus on his studies and work obligations. Now that I am six years into my twenties, I wish younger Terence knew that life is short. I work my full-time job as a writer, I cover my essential debts monthly, but I hate to waste my time doing things that rob me of my right to enjoy life.

I have found my happiness, and I do not intend to lose it nor let anyone take it away from me. Unquestionably, my work will continue. Yes, I complete all the house chores myself. However, I still make time for window shopping, reading, working out and having a date night with my girlfriend.

Once my time on this planet is up, I want to leave this world knowing that I have given my happiness my utmost priority. Unfortunately, younger Terence did not consider that. Not anymore.

Final 2¢: Be a risk taker, stay optimistic and just do it.

Realistically speaking, it is sad (perhaps not) that we do not have the means to travel back in time to alert our past selves about what the future holds. We cannot always accurately predict the consequences of our decisions and actions.

You will never know when you will lose someone that matters for good or how to formulate a thinking strategy that will lead to the wisest decision. Nothing except death is guaranteed in this world. Hence, the best thing for us to do while we are still breathing is to take risks and hope for the best.

Younger Terence was not always the most rational, joyful, or intelligent. There were moments when my judgements were where they should not be, and I lost part of my identity while I was chasing after a goal, only to find that it was unrealistic. If you were to ask me about my stance presently, here is my answer: life brought itself together for me. Thirties is not a distant galaxy away, and I can sincerely state that I could not be happier with my current position in life. I still have plenty of time to use, but in the meantime, I am feeling good about myself. If only younger Terence knew that it is not worth sweating excessively about the future.

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