When I was ten, I was in grade four at primary school. I was one of the tallest kids in the class and fairly skinny and uncoordinated.
I loved sport and computer games. I enjoyed living where I did in the northeast suburbs of Melbourne and had some good friends that I spent a lot of time with.
I was not too fond of school, talking on the phone, doing chores around the house, and my little sister. I also tried to take sick days from school fairly regularly with a sore tummy that I only realised years later was actually anxiety. I’d had a horrible teacher the year before who really didn’t seem to like me and had no idea how to cope.
Here are the first ten thoughts that come to mind that I would say to myself if I could go back in time and have a chat with my ten-year-old self:
1. Before you do anything else, breathe
I know you worry a lot and stress yourself out by overthinking, but you don’t have to have all the answers yet, or maybe ever. So before you do something you may regret, stop, take ten slow, deep breaths into and out of your belly, and try to breathe out all the air with each breath. Then see how you feel and what you can do.
2. Focus on one thing at a time
I know that you feel that you have too many things to do and not enough time. But multitasking is a myth and will stress you out more. Instead, determine whatever is most important to you in any given moment, and then try to put all of your intention and effort into that until it is complete, or you need to take a break or have a rest or something more important comes along.
3. Don’t always believe what your thoughts tell you
I know that you personalise things a lot and catastrophise or imagine the worst. Some things are your fault, but many things are not. You are not “bad” or “evil”, but you can do some pretty mean things if you want to. You’re also probably not going to die about the homework assignment that you forgot to save on your computer. Start meditating 10 minutes a day before you go to bed, and you will be successfully understanding your thoughts and managing your emotions in no time.
4. Write things down
I know you feel that your mum and dad don’t always understand you, but you can learn to understand yourself through reflection. First, write down 3 things that you are grateful for every day. Then, make a plan to address any concerns or worries before they all build up and become overwhelming for you. If you spend 5–10 minutes writing in a journal every day, you won’t regret it. Also, learn how to use a calendar or diary as soon as you can. Good organisational habits now will make life much easier for you later on.
5. Don’t forget to have fun
I know that you are super competitive and hate to lose, but basketball, swimming, tennis, baseball or any other sport that you do is meant to be fun. Practice isn’t always fun as that’s focused on helping you get better, but if you don’t enjoy competing or playing the games, find another sport that you think you will enjoy, and put more time into that. You are not going to be a professional athlete who gets paid, and that is okay. Sport is a very healthy hobby to have, and if you can enjoy it, it’s even better.
6. It’s okay to make mistakes, get rejected or fail
I know that you struggle not being very good at something. Even though it doesn’t feel that good to be a novice or a beginner, the only way to become good at something is to first be okay at sucking at it. If you can persist through the sucking part, you will become a lot better over time, not suck so much eventually, and probably even enjoy it. So keep playing and practising guitar and trombone, drawing and being creative, and paying attention in Italian class. It’s pretty cool to make art and speak multiple languages, and easier to learn when you are still young. Also, take French at high school, not Indonesian.
7. Keep reading and learning outside of school
I know you don’t like school much at the moment, but don’t just let your teachers dictate what you should learn. If something interests you, explore it further. If you have questions that you want to answer, see if you can find the answers in books. There are a lot of wise people that have clarified their thoughts and written them down for you. Their words will help you a lot as you get older, and fostering curiosity and a love of learning at your age is awesome. If mum wants to teach you how to cook, bake, clean, iron, sew, listen to her, watch what she does, try it and get feedback until you know what you are doing. The same goes with dad trying to teach you about sport, cars, gardening and making things with tools. You won’t regret having these skills once you move out on your own.
8. Make time for friends and family
I know that playing video games is fun, but technology shouldn’t replace face-to-face contact with other people. Be interested in people more than you are in things. You will learn a lot from them, and it will make you happier if you are yourself and they appreciate you for it. Your family won’t always be around as much as they are now, so try to enjoy the time you have with them even though they can all be annoying at times. And be nice to your sister. It’s not her fault that she is cuter and more extroverted than you. She’ll actually turn out to be a pretty cool person and a good friend to you one day.
9. Invest in index funds
I know that it is fun to spend money if you have it, but saving and investing doesn’t have to take much time and effort and is worth it. No matter how much money you earn or are given, put 10% aside and stick it into an index fund. The power of compounding interest means that you will be setting yourself up for your financial future, giving you more freedom to do the things you want to do when you are older without worrying about money. You probably won’t feel like you are sacrificing much, but the long-term benefit will be great.
10. Try to be the best you that you can be; everyone else is taken
You often compare yourself to others and don’t feel like you are as good or as lovable as them. The truth is you will never be as good as your brother at being your brother, so don’t even try. Rather than comparing yourself to who others are today, try to compare yourself to who you were yesterday. As long as you strive to be a better person each day, that is all you can do, so be proud of yourself for who you are and for the effort you put in. Although it doesn’t feel like it sometimes, know that mum and dad are proud of you and love you too, even if they don’t always show it in the way you want them to. Your life will be pretty cool in the future, and it doesn’t just get harder and harder, so try not to worry about the future too much. Focus on what is in your control each day, and the future will take care of itself!
Dr Damon Ashworth