Dear 21-year-old me
I know you think you have something to prove, but you don’t. Those eyes of judgement which you feel nipping at your soul, they don’t matter. I promise that the heart condition which you were born with is going to become one of the least remarkable things about you. Sure, it’s lingering presence will shape your life in ways which you, as yet, can’t imagine or predict, but you will become the victor and not the victim in your story.
The chip which you carry on your shoulder can make or break you. You have already climbed more mountains than many people of your age but being angry at your body for its imperfections will only hurt you. Channel that energy and instead use it to push yourself to greater heights, as you can be so much more than you imagine at this point!
That emotional pain which you harbour, with the voice in your head which tells you that you must deny your heart condition in order to be seen on an equal footing to everyone else, it’s not true. The medical challenges you have faced (and will continue to face) are your greatest strength. The tenacity, resilience and fortitude which you have shown will become positive traits which will carry over into all aspects of your life and allow you to thrive.
You don’t need to be in such a hurry to find success. Everything happens in its own time and you need to show yourself more compassion and be patient. The pressure which you feel to have it all figured out is causing you undue stress. Smelling the roses is just as important as pursuing the next goal. In fact, unless you slow down, you won’t enjoy the moment.
Remember that we learn more from defeat than we ever do from victory. It is ok to try and then fail, but the only real loss comes if you never try at all. You are going to get good at letting go – of hopes, dreams and ability – but also of switching things up so you can pursue alternative goals with equal passion and will. Everything will be alright in the end.
I know that your years at school and university made you feel like an outsider and that you would never fit in. You will come to understand that you don’t need to conform in order to be happy. You will watch many of your friends equally struggle with the pressures of trying to appear as something they are not, and this will lead them to much resentment and discontent. You, on the other hand, should hold firm and lead a life without regret. Be proud of yourself and who you are.
There are ultimately no prizes for having the right job, the right relationship or the right home if that comes at the expense of who you truly want to be. You have always been an independent thinker, so never fall into the trap of trying to appease others at the expense of your own peace of mind. It’s not easy to go against the grain, especially when it comes to those you love, but the only person you need to do the right thing by, is yourself.
The growing confidence you’re starting to feel in your body will take you to places you never dreamt possible; Ironman races, marathons, and physical pursuits will become the complete expression of who and what you are. Much as you are enjoying this new-found physical capability, be careful not to push yourself to destruction. I know how much you want to prove that you are not defined by your heart condition, but it is an inescapable part of you and does not make you less of a person.
In time will come to see that far from relegating you to a life as a physically inferior being, you are significantly more able than you ever dreamt possible. Your desire to distance yourself from the heart disease label will allow you to push your physical limits have countless amazing experiences races and events around the world. Never forget to enjoy it, every single moment.
It’s going to take many years of self-determined focus and the dogged pursuit of your goals for you to feel that you have accomplished anything, but it is okay that others will not always understand the inner force which drives you. You can be confident that you are on the right path.
Don’t be afraid to follow your heart when it comes to how you earn a living. The uncertainty you felt at school, and your current confusion will all resolve and become clear. This growing passion you are developing for health and fitness will come to influence your life in countless ways and become a driving force which shapes your future – and that of the many people you will meet. Never underestimate the impact you can have.
Your unflinching support of the underdog will ultimately lead you to a fulfilling career supporting people who want to invest in improving their own health, especially those who face medical challenges of their own. It turns out that you have been preparing perfectly for what comes next!
I understand that your medical history and heart condition makes you reluctant to appear vulnerable – as if it is a sign of weakness. It is going to take you time to understand that until you are prepared to truly show your struggles, you will never fully connect with other people and will feel alone. It is ok to drop your guard and let people in. It is our flaws and imperfections which make us human, and no one is invincible.
You are great at showing empathy and kindness to others, but less willing to be compassionate with yourself. This is a mistake. Self-acceptance is not a sign of complacency but can co-exist with your inherent desire to always learn and grow. It is time to appreciate the amazing person you already are!
Now that I have buoyed you up, I need to take you aside to reinforce something which deep down you already know; you are not that special. Yes, you are born with a heart condition and that defined some parts of your childhood, here you are now at 21 and it’s time to get over it. Everyone has their challenges to deal with, and you can live for ever with this giant chip on your shoulder, making out that you’re in any way special, or you can accept right now this is just one aspect of your story and it doesn’t make you better or worse than anyone else. It’s simply an anatomical fact.
Your heart condition alone does not elevate you into some rarefied air; it is what you do with your life despite that small disadvantage which will ultimately come to define you. You will come to see it as a gift for the incredible sense of self awareness and inner strength which it has forced you to nurture. It is not your greatest handicap but instead your biggest asset if you allow it to shine.
It’s time to stop being ashamed of it. I want you to know how little it is going to matter when it comes to who you are and what you make of this life. Only you can decide if it becomes a blanket behind which you hide, or the stepping-stone which you use to propel yourself forward is. You cannot bring back time you wasted in your teenage years feeling that life in some way owed you an apology for your circumstances, but you can make a pact with yourself never to go back to that place.
Brace yourself for the health challenges ahead. You will face what at times will seem like unfair obstacles and setbacks. You won’t be able to anticipate when these occur, so please don’t waste time worrying about these possibilities as in doing so you can only lose your ability to enjoy what is right now. You have all the tools you need to bounce back. Everything is always exactly as it is meant to be.
There is potential burning inside you if only let it show. The inroads which were starting to make into redefining your physical potential will prove to be so much more important than you can anticipate at this time. Never lose belief in your ability to vastly exceed your self-imposed limitations. You are so much more capable than you can ever dream is possible.
Last but by no means least, remember that this is your one life. Live it with the expectation that every day is the most important one of your life so far. Be grateful for everything, the good and bad, for only by truly appreciating the struggle can we learn to excel. You have absolutely got what it takes!
With love from your 47-year old self.