What would you tell your 5-year-old self if you had the chance to write a letter to your past self? Here’s my letter.
Dear 5-year-old me,
You’re 5 and all you care about right now is football. You love it. You just discovered it and it’s like a drug. No. Wait. I don’t want talk about drugs. Football is… REALLY FUN. Yeah. That’s better.
Sometimes you think about becoming a professional footballer and you put a lot of pressure on yourself. Why do you play football? Because you love it. No other reason Let yourself just love it.
Remember that you are good enough
When you get a little older you let kids boss you around. There’s one kid in particular. He barks orders at you and you follow them. Most of the time you’re easy going. You don’t mind.
Is it ok of this kid to boss you around? Is it ok for you to let people boss you around? Are you telling yourself that you’re not worth as much as they are? If you ever tell yourself that, don’t believe it. It’s not true and it never will be. You’re worthy. You’re enough. Forever.
Sometimes what seems wrong at the time, will turn out to be the best that will ever happen to you
When you’re 9 Mum and Dad decide they want to move. When you’re 10, we do. You cry. You beg and plead. You hate that you’re moving away from your friends. You feel like mum and dad ruin your life.
This is one of the best decisions mum and dad ever make. I promise you. I won’t ruin the surprise by telling you the reasons why. When you get upset, read this letter. Trust mum and dad. Trust me. Trust yourself.
Going after what you really want will change you
When you’re 11 you win the Maynard Cup. Well, the team does. You probably don’t even know what that is right now. You will soon. Wanting to win it becomes a dream for you. It’s the first dream you ever have. You’re desperate to win. You have to win.
It consumes you. It’s all you can think about. You even do things you’ve never done before like imploring your teammates to NOT dive into tackles with a certain player. He’s brilliant so you NEED to be sure they know what they’re doing. You won’t risk the alternative. You won’t risk losing.
When you start behaving differently, and for the better, you know you really want something. You hop on your dragon and fly around the Milky Way and pluck stars from their constellations. That’s how it feels to achieve a dream.
Write about what you love
You’ll never enjoy “creative writing.” Whatever that means. You just never know what to write about. You feel stuck. You’re nervous about your exams. You don’t fail at anything and you don’t want to fail at this. What would happen if you gave yourself permission to fail?
“Write about football.” That’s what mum and dad say. You can’t believe you’d never thought of it. It was so simple. They really mean “write about what you love.” Because of your essay in your exam you win the creative writing award. You’re shocked. You want to win the sports award. You don’t. The creative writing award is the award to win. Trust me. If you write, write what’s in your heart.
If you get lost, always try to find a way back to who you really are
When you’re in the classroom on your first day at secondary school you don’t want to talk to anyone. But secretly you want to talk to someone. You can’t, though. You won’t. A kid named Steven comes up to you and says “hello!” in his squeaky and obviously-not-broken voice. The sun rises from the horizon and bathes you in its warm glow. A friend.
From then on you always made an effort with the new kid. Always. You were the one that said hello. You were the one that made him feel welcome. You were the one who made him feel like he wasn’t all alone. I’m proud of us for that.
Steven helps you. He helps you get into trouble. The teachers tell you off for talking. You get detentions. You suffer academically. When you think of mum and dad, shame crawls over you.
Mr. Cross was your favourite teacher. And you were his favourite student (it’s ok, Sir, you can admit it). That’s why he notices you getting into trouble. That’s why he cares. He sees things in you that you don’t see in yourself. Not yet.
Do you know who you really are?
You and Steven queue up for class in the computer room. A computer room was actually a novelty back then. If only you could see the world now! As you walk in Mr. Cross pulls you aside. He towers over you like a dictator. But also like a father. He bends forwards. He looks you in the eye. He says: “I’m getting really sick of you.” He walks away.
You’re stunned. You’re stunned that he talked to you like that. You’re stunned that he cares that much. And you’re stunned that you agree. You’re sick of yourself. You’d been letting Steven pull you towards the abyss. You’re pretending you don’t care about all the stuff you do care about. Respecting people. Getting A’s. Being you.
None of the stuff you did with Steven felt right. Trust your gut. You know who you are and you know who you’re not. Act on it.
Look up to your mother’s strength
Mum gets cancer. You cry when they tell you. It’s ok. Let it out. But they’re going to need you to be strong. I know you’re young but you can do it. You visit her in the hospital after her operation. She’s just lying there. There are so many wires. You feel sick. Again, it’s ok. She’s ok.
Chemotherapy is a bitch. Not that you and I know. But mum knows. It drains you. So how she came with us and dad to watch the Harlem Globetrotters I’ll never know. That’s one of my favourite memories ever and it never would’ve happened if our mum wasn’t our mum. She’s strong. Stubborn, even. That’s probably an advantage when it comes to dealing with cancer. There was no way she was going to let this beat her.
Deal with problems how mum deals with cancer.
Sometimes you won’t get what you want and that’s ok
You make the east of England basketball squad. Woo! Check you out. Even though you went to trials in a full kit and sweatbands. Nobody picks the kid who does that. You’re not really sure you deserve to be picked. Everyone else is tall or has muscles or a beard. You’re just a kid. That’s how you define yourself.
In the penultimate practice game, before those who went onto England trials were picked, you play brilliantly. You don’t miss a shot. You’re in the zone. You’re the Grand Master and the other players are pawns. You’re happy.
In the final practice game the coach tells you to focus on defense. Just defense. So you do. You do exactly that. Your man barely touches the ball. He doesn’t score. For a small white kid lacking in athleticism you do ok. The game ends. I can’t even remember who wins. The only thing left to happen is for the coach to name the players going to England trials.
The locker room is a prison of anxiety. Only 2 people don’t get picked. You’re one of them. You’re not good enough. How do you feel? Like a hot poker has been driven between your ribs? Like your gut has been sliced open?
One of the player’s dads, who was friends with the coach, came to every single practice. The coach already knew some of the players. You weren’t tall. Or athletic.
Those are excuses. Not reasons. Sometimes you sweat and you hurt and you give everything but you still get brushed aside. You didn’t make the team because you weren’t good enough.
And that’s ok. You don’t deserve to have what you want just because you tried hard. I’m not saying that to depress you. I’m saying it because then you’ll do things you love and not worry about the results.
Even then you still won’t be chosen. But that’s not the point. You’ll choose yourself. (shout out to James Altucher.)
Don’t expect that others will treat you like you would treat them
You go to college to do a Sports Science BTEC rather than stay at school and do A Levels against the advice of everyone. No one listens to advice anyway and no one should. Going to college is what’s in your heart.
The older kids at college don’t seem to like you. They’re clique-y. You still want to be wanted at this point without ever thinking if you like who you want to be wanted by.
You’re the only first year to be picked for the first team. Even though you’re still small and can’t jump.
The first team train on a Tuesday night and every time you wake up in your bed on Tuesday morning you dread what’s to come. You play against some of the best players in the country but your spirit is wrestled to the ground and left to cower. You don’t understand why they don’t like you. You’re desperate to fit in and you’re unhappy you can’t. The worst thing is that you look up to them. As basketball players. They’re the best players you’ve played with. And they treat you like you treat yourself when you make even the smallest mistake.
You want one of them to take you under their wing. To ask you if you’re ok. To stand up for you. To care about you. How many times have you truly cared about yourself? You would have mad friends with the new guy because you know what it’s like to be on the outside. To have your heart screaming but have your brain shutting it up. You would’ve wanted to save them.
Some people would do exactly the same as you because you’ve both known the same pain. How else could you love a stranger? The older kids don’t do what you would do. They don’t do the right thing because the right thing is your right thing. They did their right thing. And that’s ok.
I’m going to have to go all Good Will Hunting on you and say this: It’s not your fault. Forgive them.
Stop holding yourself back
On your first day of work you arrive early. An hour early. You sit in the car with a blank face and a wire crossed mind. What have you done? You’ve never had a proper job before. “What’s an office like? What are the people like? What will I even be doing? What will my boss be like? How much is lunch? How many times am I going to mess up?” Those are 6 of the 453,962 thoughts that go through your head in the car. How many of them are positive? How many of your thoughts are ever positive?
Later in the day you’re sitting at “your” desk and you get that all too familiar feeling. You need the toilet.
What on earth are you supposed to do? Do you have to ask? What will your boss say? What will your team say? Will they ask you where you’re going? Will everyone in the office simultaneously stand up and accuse you of slacking off? Will the CEO ride in on a white horse, put his joust to your neck and fire you?
Breathe. You’re not that important. You’re paralysed. You look around for help. Help with what? Justifying your decision? TO GO TO THE TOILET?! You don’t want to ask because you don’t want to look stupid. You don’t want to stand up and go because you don’t want to look stupid.
What would happen if you stopped overthinking? Eventually, SOMEhow, SOMEway… you go. You make a run for it. You do your thing. You walk back. You sit down. And SOMEhow, SOMEway… the world is still spinning. People are still doing their jobs. The CEO is nowhere to be seen.
Stop holding back. Stop stopping yourself. Stop wearing a mask. What would happen if you were the Real You?
In the end you have to learn your lessons nevertheless
I don’t even know what this letter is trying to say. Maybe it’s just therapy for the 24 year old me. Maybe I’m trying to say all the clichés you’ll learn: You’re ok. You’re enough. Be kind to yourself. You learn the most when you’re wading through shit. If you let yourself. Be not a victim but a Man. The “you” that you pretend to be is no match for the Real You.
Don’t believe any of this. Seriously. Find out for yourself. Live for yourself. Stay curious. Stay playful. We learn through play and you probably play more because you’re 5 and I’m 24.
Love, your future-you
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