I find myself in a profession where I have the opportunity to analyze my professional path on a regular basis. I'm a firm believer that the key to career advancement is self-awareness and self-acceptance, which inevitably incites an immense amount of self-reflection and personal historical context to dig through. These moments of reflection have given me an immeasurable amount of time to think about my younger self.

By 18, I had my entire life planned, and the truth is, now, I am not even remotely close to what I had planned out.

Somewhere around the age of 11, I morphed into this individual who not only strived to achieve perfection but also thought it was my purpose on this planet. And without perfection, or the outward appearance of perfection, nothing would fall into place. It happened at 11, like clockwork. I am so certain that I even dedicated my first book to my 10-year-old self because she was the last version of authenticity I could connect with. From age 11 to 18, what some may argue are your formative years, I created an unhealthy mindset that, now, looking back I wish my future self could have stepped in — somewhat like Cinderella's fairy godmother magically redirected my misguided thoughts.

So what advice would I give my 18-year-old self?

You don't have to write your story before you live it. Over-planning and the inevitably immense amount of expectations that comes with it create disappointment and disillusion over what's really important. By 18, I had my entire life planned, and the truth is, now, I am not even remotely close to what I had planned out. And you know what? I survived. Actually, I've thrived! We are all so concerned with our future self and the story we want that we can't even live in the moment and allow the true story we can actually value to unfold. I wish I could tell my younger self that her story is an evolution, not a script. It's impossible to know the depths of who you are without the shaping of experiences yet to come. This story is not only unrealistic, it's probably not even going to scratch the surface at what your potential truly is. Listen and live your story, don't bother trying to write it ahead of time.

You don't have to fake it until you make it. Not everything is going to be positive, so burying the negative isn't how you learn from it. I'm a serial emotion burier. For years, if it wasn't positive, especially in the workplace, I didn't even allow myself to seek its purpose let alone understand it's real service to me. I always refer to these as my white hat moments. Instead of trying to understand the negative and actually process those feelings, I felt clouded with guilt. Faking your way through a situation never allows you to be authentic. Authenticity requires vulnerability, which I've found to be the common denominator in true connection with yourself and others. Faking perfection is not the same thing as perfection. And while we're at it, why don't we just tack on the reality that perfection is unattainable in the first place!

Listen and live your story, don't bother trying to write it ahead of time.

You're not going to be for everyone, and that's okay. We're taught at such a young age that acceptance has a direct correlation to self-worth. I struggled with this for a long time. If I'm being fully transparent, it's something I have to remind myself daily, especially in the workplace. At 18, I had this idea that being different or not fitting the mold of what an 18-year-old should be meant that something was wrong. The reality of it is, it meant that something was right.

It meant that my individuality aligned with myself first and others second. I've spent the last five years of my career embracing and writing about that concept. As long as the person looking back at me in the mirror understands my value and my intention, it really isn't my business to know or care of others' opinions of me. Universal acceptance is not the goal and not the validation model anyone should be working from.

I've grown leaps and bounds since I was 18, and I hope I can continue to do so in a meaningful way as I age. Self-reflection is a tricky beast, but if we take the advice we'd give to our younger self and use it to hold ourselves accountable in the current moment, I think it's a validation of the evolution and growth that is the strongest example of true self-love.


Jennifer Fitta