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?