Salute the life you didn’t choose with help from Cheryl Strayed

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One of the biggest changes in my last five years came during EMDR therapy, when my therapist asked me to imagine my ten-year-old self. He then asked me to tell her she was safe and had a good life ahead of her.

This all sounds like generic therapy stuff, but I think it really was a turning point. I had been stuck in the past, holding onto my old ideas of who I was and wasn’t. It was then that I finally understood it was possible to break away and start afresh.

Every younger me seems like a different person now. Like an unfamiliar face who occasionally stops by.

I don’t want to say goodbye, I just want to look back fondly and pass on regards. To know how far I’ve come and how much was inside me all along. I’m proud of each younger me, but I know they are behind me for happy reasons. So if they show up, I can give a friendly wave and moment of acknowledgment. But then keep moving forward on my way.

This journey has been made all the better with some help from Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There. Here are the pieces of wisdom I wanted to share with you.

The best life advice from Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

1. Salute the life you didn’t choose from the shore

“I’ll never know, and neither will you, of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”

2. Continue to be bold and courageous

“This is who I am even if you’ll crucify me for it”.

3. Do everything you can to avoid regret

“Do not reach the era of child-rearing and real jobs with a guitar case full of crushing regret for all the things you wished you’d done in your youth. I know too many people who didn’t do those things. They all end up mingy, addled, shrink-wrapped versions of the people they intended to be”.

4. Read in your twenties… and keep reading

“go to a bookstore and buy ten books of poetry and read them each five times. Why? Because the truth is inside.”

5. Sometimes, your choice is to build something better or let go

“Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go.”

6. Think about the future you

“I make lists. I attempt to analyze the situation from the perspective of my “best self”—the one that’s generous, reasonable, forgiving, loving, big hearted, and grateful.”

“I think really hard about what I’ll wish I did a year from now. I map out the consequences of the various actions I could take. I ask what my motivations are, what my desires are, what my fears are, what I have to lose, and what I have to gain. I move toward the light, even if it’s a hard direction in which to move. I trust myself. I keep the faith. I mess up sometimes.”

7. Make life lists

“Write down everything you don’t know about your future life—which is everything, of course—but use your imagination. What are the thoughts and images that come to mind when you picture yourself at twice the age you are now?”

“What is a good life? Write “good life” and list everything that you associate with a good life, then rank that list in order of importance. Have the most meaningful things in your life come to you as a result of ease or struggle? What scares you about sacrifice? What scares you about not sacrificing?”

“The sketches of your real life and your sister life are right there before you and you get to decide what to do. One is the life you’ll have; the other is the one you won’t. Switch them around in your head and see how it feels.”

8. P.S. Your English degree isn’t pointless

“I hope when people ask what you’re going to do with your English and/or creative writing degree you’ll say: Continue my bookish examination of the contradictions and complexities of human motivation and desire; or maybe just: Carry it with me, as I do everything that matters. And then smile very serenely until they say, Oh.”

And finally, “know that all those stories, poems, plays, and novels are a part of you now and that they are bigger than you and they will always be”.

You can get more sage snippets in Cheryl Strayed’s great selection of quotes and wisdom, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Someone Who’s Been There.

After reading her bestselling Wild,  I went down a Cheryl Strayed rabbit hole with Tiny Beautiful Things and then Brave Enough: A Mini Instruction Manual for the Soul. I read the latter from a Copenhagen coffee shop, on my way back home after wandering around Greenland. It was the perfect choice.

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