I started journaling consistently in 2014b. Since then I have filled a lot of notebooks.
I don’t often look back at past journal entries, even though I know that retrospecting can be a powerful tool. As my stack of filled journals grows, the thought of looking back feels even more daunting.
Recently, however, I was thinking about where I was back when I first started journaling seriously—that was a pivotal year for me—and felt curious enough to dig out my old journals.
When I started reading things I’d written more than five years ago, I was surprised that my response was Oh, honey… (I never call anyone honey) and an urge to wrap my past self in the biggest bear hug and just hold her until she felt safe to relax a little bit.
I could hear the voices and expectations of other people pouring out through her pencil. I could feel her trying to convince herself of the things she thought would let her finally be enough.
I could see where she was starting to put into words ideas she’d hardly dared even to think. The possibility that things could be different was so exciting. It was also terrifying.
A lot of the questions I was wrestling with then are actually still questions I think about now, but I don’t feel the same desperation to find solid answers. My thinking about them has evolved and I’m more willing to let them unfold as I continue to learn and grow.
It’s a big deal to me that I was able to respond tenderly to my past self. I used to be so harsh with myself and I still am sometimes, but it was encouraging to see how much my self-compassion has grown. It still feels easier to be kind to my past self than my present self, but the shift is real.
As I was thinking about all the things I would say to my past self if I could write her a letter, I found myself wishing I could read a similar letter from my future self. It made me laugh a little to realize that five years from now my future self could likely look back and have a similar response to present day me. And that made me curious—why should I wait another five years to give that compassion to my present day self?
Of course, I can’t know for sure where I’ll be in five years. It’s hard to predict which of life’s current struggles will no longer feel like a big deal and which I’ll still be learning to navigate. The point isn’t to be able to give myself the answers to all of my questions. That’s not what I needed most then and it’s not what I need most now.
I can trust that I’ll keep learning how to be kind to myself. I can imagine myself in the future as a way to get a little distance from the present. I can look at myself through my most compassionate eyes and I can write a letter to my present day self.
What I really needed in the past was for someone to see me and tell me it was ok to be where I was. The future would, of course, hold challenges, but I wasn’t stuck. I could keep growing to meet them. I didn’t need someone to fix me or rescue me. I just needed someone to be with me. And that’s what I need now as well…as much as I may think I just want the answers to my burning questions.
That’s what I’m doing this week. I’m writing a letter from my future self to my current self and I’m filling it with as much compassion as I can manage. I’d love for you to join me. If you could look back at yourself from the future, what would you want to say? What words do you most need to hear today?
Maybe that feels like too much of a reach. That’s ok too. Shifting to treat ourselves with kindness instead of harshness takes time and practice. Here are some thoughts I previously shared about practicing gentleness with ourselves . Maybe you could try writing a letter to your past self at a point where it feels easier to find a little tenderness.
Do you tend to be harsh or gentle with yourself? What do you wish you could tell your past self? If your future self could wrap you in a big hug right now, what would you hope to hear whispered in your ear?