The Importance of Personal Reflection

This weekend, I took some time for one of my most favorite activities, organizing! As I was going through my keepsake box, I came across an article that I had written in 2013 for the bizTiMES (a product of the Telegraph Herald, my home town paper).

As I reread the article, I thought about the timing of this article and wondered if it had anything to do with the major life changes I made mere months after it was published.

The article was titled, “If I Knew Then What I Know Now…Advice for my Teenage Self.” I remember it took me weeks to write. My older brother, Luke, who was back home for the summer, was kind enough to help me with the article. When we sat down to work on it, I would go on and on about what I wanted to say to my younger self, but he would stop me and ask “That is good advice, but what is the main point you want to get across?”

I remember this was the hardest part of the article, as I knew what I would tell myself when I was a teenager: “Stop caring so much about what other people think” or “Getting a boyfriend shouldn’t be your only goal in life” or “Stop obsessing over the way you look” …but I was unsure how that all fit into a main point.

Through weeks of reflection and talking with my brother, he was able to find a common denominator: Fear. We would go on to write this passage together:

“I carried far too much of it (fear), and it really held be back. I spent so much time afraid I wouldn’t get into college, afraid that people didn’t like me, afraid that I wouldn’t get asked to prom … I looked at teen magazines, worrying about how I didn’t look like the air-brushed models. I looked at flashy new cars, and wished I could have one, fearing people wouldn’t like me if I drove my parents’ old Subaru Legacy. I looked at my clothing, and wished I could have had a more fashionable wardrobe, fearing the way I dressed wasn’t cool enough.”

excerpt from my article “If I Knew then what I know now…Advice for my teenage self” in biz TiMES, August 2013

The article is centered around the fear and worry that I carried when I was a teenager and how it held me back. I think the most powerful realization from those weeks of reflection and writing, and rewriting, was that when I was a teenager: “I spent so much time worrying about whether people liked me that I didn’t stop and think about whether I liked myself”

After I submitted the article, the editor called me to let me know they had selected my article as the cover story for the August 2013 edition of the bizTiMES!

Photo Credit: Dave Kettering

I was proud of the article and thankful to my brother for his help (and teaching me an important lesson, always think about the main point before starting any speech, presentation or article!) Putting his advice into action now, the main point: After rereading my article this weekend, I wondered if the reflection I had done to write the article, might have played into the significant life changes I made soon after.

Less than three months after the article was published, I was about to leave my hometown (somewhere I had lived my entire life) and move 2000 miles away to a city I had never even been to and start a job that I had no idea if I would be good at (sales!!) YIKES!

Yikes is right. There were many times before I moved that I thought about changing my mind. Even on the flight from Iowa to Seattle I had tears running down my face and I asked myself what I had gotten myself into.

But reflecting now, I wonder if one of the reasons I decided to go through with it was the realization that for most of my life I had run from the fear?

Those weeks I spent reflecting on my teenage self and what advice I would have given her, was one of the few times in my life that I had taken time to reflect on such a powerful question. It was uncomfortable to think about what I wished I would have done differently when I was younger. I worried that I would be left with nothing but regrets and longing. But looking back now, I am thankful I had that “forced” opportunity.

I think the reflection made me realize that I always took the safe way out and never did anything that made me feel uncomfortable; as soon as I felt the fear or worry, I stopped. I am sure I wondered consciously or subconsciously if that was the reason I was unhappy and had a restless feeling. I also wonder if I realized that the advice that I was giving my teenage self was still applicable to my 29 year old self – that I was still playing it safe. So when the opportunity for a new job and scary adventure came my way, instead of saying no, I said yes!

For the first time in my life, I stopped running from fear and instead embraced it!

Flash forward to this last weekend, the realization of the power of reflection has given me pause, to pause more and reflect and ask myself those tough, scary questions again (and more often) … “What do I regret?” “What advice would I give my younger self?” “What advice would I give myself now from an older me?”

I had always been a person who said, “I don’t have any regrets, everything I have done has made me who I am today.” This is true, but as I look back, I wonder if how much of me saying that was hiding from the fact that I do have regrets? I also wonder why having regrets is considered bad? If you learn from it, shouldn’t it be what matters? But how can you learn if you do not reflect?

This realization was the extra push I needed to add more judgement free reflection to my daily/weekly routine; as this personal reflection might be the reason I decided to make an important change in my life years ago.

As in all things, I will be starting small and building on it. Below are some of the questions I will be asking myself; I invite you to start too, if you feel it may be helpful.

  1. List 20 things that make you smile.
  2. How will your life be different in a year?
  3. When was the last time you left your comfort zone? How did it feel?
  4. What does your “perfect day” look like?
  5. What is your biggest fear? Why is it a fear? What would happened if the fear came true?
  6. What is your #1 embarrassing moment? Why do you think it was so embarrassing?
  7. What are somethings that you wished people knew about you?
  8. Describe yourself in 10 words. Do you think those words have changed through the years? What words do you think your 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 year old self would have written?
  9. What advice would you give your teenage self?
  10. What advice do you think your older self would give you now?
Looking for more?
Here are some of my favorite personal-branding books that ask similar questions*

I bring these journals on vacations, walks, and even on work trips (well pre-COVID). These all give something a little different, but they all have the same theme in mind: to reflect and ask yourself questions that help to discover (and understand) who you are.


My original article published in the August 2013 issue of the bizTiMES

“Can you play the guitar? If you can, congratulations! I wish I could. I can still learn, of course — it’s never too late. My desire to learn the guitar, however, is often crowded out by other things these days — work, household chores, MBA courses, work, family, friends and work. I had a lot more time when I was a teenager.

Growing up, there was always music around. My father played guitar, and my brothers are both accomplished musicians. I was not a terribly talented teenager when it came to music, but looking back, I know now that I was far from hopeless — I could have learned to play at least a little bit if I had wanted to, so why didn’t I?

The answer, of course, is fear. I carried far too much of it, and it really held me back. I spent so much time afraid I wouldn’t get into college, afraid that people didn’t like me, afraid that I wouldn’t get asked to prom, and all that other typical teenage nonsense. All that time, the guitar sat aging in one corner while I sat worrying in the other. I looked at teen magazines, worrying about how I didn’t look like the airbrushed models. I looked at flashy new cars, and wished I could have one, fearing that people wouldn’t like me if I drove my parents’ old Subaru Legacy. I looked at my clothing, and wished I could have had a more fashionable wardrobe, fearing that the way I dressed wasn’t cool enough.

I spent so much time worrying about whether people liked me that I didn’t stop and think about whether I liked myself.

The irony here, of course, is that if I had spent time learning the guitar, I would have liked myself more. I would have carried less fear, which would have made me more confident, and as a result, people would have liked me more. I would have also had a skill that would have helped me meet new people and create better shared experiences. And, while it probably would not have helped me get into a college, it would have helped me craft a college identity that was better and more full — I could have been that interesting girl who plays guitar down the hall.

I know it sounds like I’m burning with regret over my nonexistent rock star music career, but I’m not. (I have a letter here from my 45-year-old self that congratulates me on my success so far and tells me to stop wasting time on regret, and I intend to follow that advice.) I’m simply saying that if I could talk to my teenage self, I would have advised that girl to let go of her fear. Displace it with something more productive and interesting — like guitar. Or dance. Or painting. Heck, even learning to ride the unicycle would have been a better use of time. My point is this: Fill your time with something more important than fear.”


* Note: Trying something new! The book suggestions above link out to Amazon, so you can learn more about that book. If you end up purchasing something I recommend or link to, as an Amazon Associate, I earn from those qualifying purchases. I love nothing more than helping people and being the voice I wish I had. I will never promote a product that I have not personally used.

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