Tell someone who cares: some thoughts for my younger self

I don’t know if this is just a me-thing, but I doubt it. Maybe an Australian-thing, maybe a girl-thing. Quite possibly an Australian-girl thing. Please let me know if you have any idea, because these days I’m old enough and wise enough to know that the thought is really quite silly, and it needs to be stopped. I’m not sure why the thinking is so prevalent to begin with.

Here’s the thing, the phrase that got bandied around my mind for so many years, and, if I think about it, the minds of a few of my friends, too: Don’t Ask For Help. People Have Enough Troubles Of Their Own Already.

Have you ever thought that, or been told that? It seems quite silly now, especially as we’re also taught (hopefully) at a young age that love makes the world go round, and we need to be kind to other people. But we also seem to be taught (at least I was) not to pry into other people’s business. Don’t ask personal questions. Don’t go round uninvited. Don’t outstay your welcome. Don’t call, it may not be appropriate. Don’t put your hand up, they may not want you.

The trouble is this: that kind of thinking doesn’t build community. It doesn’t build relationships. It builds islands.

The trouble is also this: we aren’t taught how to get off our islands. Instead we are taught how to kindly remove people who have sailed their little fishing-boats to ours.

Island

Island.

I don’t like it. And, to be honest after all these years, I think it’s wrong. Wherever this idea came from, whoever first started teaching this to their children, they missed the boat.

When I was younger there was a lot of talk about setting clear personal boundaries, and I’m still all for that. I’m an introvert at heart too, and go a bit crazy if I don’t get enough time by myself. And I’ve had friends (obviously not ones who learned this particular lesson early in life, as I did) who would come over for hours longer than I wanted to see them for, and download their problems to me on some kind of constant and never-ending high-rotation loop and completely ignore my subtle (and not-so-subtle) attempts to get them to stop.

Maybe it’s because of those friends that I decided, too, that I didn’t want to burden other people. We were all young. None of us, in hindsight, knew much about anything.

Here’s an interesting thing though: I still have those friends. I still love them dearly. I am proud of them, and proud of the fact that, after some twenty years, they’ve held their heads high through those struggles. I’m well beyond pleased that I was there for them when they needed to download-on-high-rotation. Even though at the time they annoyed me, we are still friends. It’s possibly because their little fishing boat spent so much time at my island that I got involved, got to caring, got to want to know what will happen next, how they’ll sort it out. Like a TV soap maybe. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing. I couldn’t fix their problems, but I could listen and nod and make them cups of tea, and open my door when they turned up the next day as well, and the next. And I could keep my mouth shut when they annoyed me, and forgive them, and stay friends.

So, if I could go back in time, here’s what I’d say to my younger self:

  • Island living is for birds, not people.
  • Talk. Tell people stuff. Ask questions. Listen.
  • People will care if you let them. If they don’t, that’s their fault. Try someone else.
  • Your needs are as important as the next person’s. Make sure you get yourself heard.
  • Take people’s advice, especially if they’re older and wiser people. That’s called Mentoring. It’s worth sucking up a bit of pride to receive.
  • If people won’t give you advice, ask for it. Then take it. The wisdom and mistakes of other people are how you learn the best way to live.
  • You might have been born on an island, but you don’t need to stay there.

What do YOU think? Have I missed anything I need to tell my younger self? Have you struggled with island living as I have? Do you have any great tips or advice for people learning to get–and stay–connected? 

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17 thoughts on “Tell someone who cares: some thoughts for my younger self

    • Thanks Jennifer!
      Yeah, that’s the flip side isn’t it, people trying to clone others into their own image and likeness. Hopefully we can learn from our own experiences and mentor people the way THEY need, not the way WE need.
      By the way, the thought process behind this post was inspired, in part, by the wonderful Married…with fiction post the other day. You are mentoring already!

      • Megan, how sweet! When I was a teen, I loved the “I am a Rock, I am an Island” song by Simon/Garfunkel. Now…definitely not (and I was kidding myself then–I wanted a hubby/best friend for life!). So thrilled you’re enjoying Married…with Fiction. We love the idea of community. There are so many ups and downs in writing and marriage, we need to encourage each other along the way. BTW–did you see the latest gift basket? It’s up today!

  1. Setting personal boundaries became a big thing with the rise of “I’m-in-it-for-ME” pop psychology – the 70s, if I remember correctly. It’s from the thought that we can be our own master, and that we shouldn’t be beholden to anyone, for anything (except money, of course).

    Before that, we lived in a community where those boundaries were flexible, and when necessary, permeable. If you needed help, you generally got it, whether you wanted it or not. Thus is community, and love, built.

    It strikes me as odd that the pendulum has swung so far the other way, and that we are now living on psychological advice from an era that considered polyester bell-bottoms and gold chains the height of fashion.

    • Andrew that’s a really interesting insight, thank you. I often wonder how our society got to be the way that it did, and when/how/why the changes happened.
      Although as for polyester bellbottoms–well, there are people around today who consider them the height of fashion yet again. Hmmmm.

      • My thought is that it grew out of the two great wars of the 20th century.

        The huge, and often pointless loss of life among the young men of Britain and France after the First World War produced what we remember as the ‘lost generation’ of writers, whose work was influential in pointing out the perceived blunders and betrayals of those in power. Their analysis was heartfelt, but simplistic – and became popular precisely because it rendered a verdict that was both emotionally satisfying and easy to understand.

        After WW2, the largely patrician societies of the West were changed forever. Women and minorities entered both the technical workforce and the miloitary for the first time, and their presence and success called into question (again) the policies oif the past.

        The ‘thinkers’ who gave us the philosophies of the 70s (such as Benjamin Spock) were products of this period in history, and while much of what molded them was true and just – much wasn’t, and the conclusions they drew, centered on a rejection of older values and an emphasis on the primacy of an individual’s emotional ‘rights’ made selfishness ‘self-actualization’, and made duty and community appear to be a form of bondage.

        Please pardon my long-winded response – but it’s a subject I care about – as, I gather, do you.

  2. Thank you for posting this!! (And several other recent posts! I’ve been too jetlagged to respond but have been really blessed!!) I have lived with this mentality for years as well and have been needing to break free of it now as I finally see how wrong and dangerous it has been. I too am an introvert, but can use that as an excuse or barrier to avoid opening up and needing people. As I have been trying to do it more, I see how amazing people are, and as you said, how wonderfully happy they are to hear my struggles and help! And FYI… I’ve missed you with all the chaos surrounding my trip… hope to catch up more soon!

    • Ah, great to hear from you Kathi! I’m glad to hear you’re breaking out of that thinking. For me, breaking out was a tough, tough journey–and still is sometimes. But so, so, SO worth it! It’s weird to think, looking back, on the beliefs I used to hold.
      Here’s to community! Looking forward to hearing more about how things are going for you soon too.

  3. Heather I did! Love your gift basket idea. I just don’t love the fact that you have to live in the US to receive it 😦
    Ah well, that’s what life’s like when you live on an island…literally! 🙂

  4. Oh, oh. Guilty on all counts – and old enough to know better.
    Sometimes, “doing to others as you would have them do to you,” gets me in trouble. I love my quiet and my space and I leave others alone too long. Also, I forget to reciprocate and be vulnerable and open. I expect others to come to me with their burdens, but far be it from me to show cracks in my stoicism or self-reliance.

    • Hey Cherry, nice to see you! Thanks for dropping by 🙂
      You’ve summed it up well here. I do exactly the same thing. Funnily enough for me it took the major crisis of a friend, and watching how she dealt with it, for me to finally realise the world wouldn’t end if I perhaps asked someone for help. Sheesh, talk about a slow learner sometimes!

  5. Andrew your long-winded response is very welcome 🙂 I’ve read through it a couple of times, and I think you’ve made some excellent observations. Wish I could find something remotely intelligent to say in response, but it’s the wrong end of the day for that, so I’ll stick to “thank you”.

  6. I know a certain person who has no boundaries and no idea. Of personal space, of asking if they can help, and is proof that this can be taken too far in the other direction. Control, timing and compassion are the key 🙂

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