Depending on your proximity to the date line, you’re either one day or two into the new year. Here, in the Pacific Northwest corner of the United States, it’s a rare, sunny, bluebird day—bright sun, frost on the meadow, clear blue sky. Fittingly fresh and forward looking into 2016.

The transition between the old and new year is one of my favorite times. It’s a liminal time, a time of transitioning, of reflection and renewal.

Even the month carries this connotation. The Gregorian calendar begins in January, a month named after Janus, the two-faced deity, god of change and beginnings. One face looks backwards, to the past, and the other, ahead to the future.

So as we pause at the doorway between the years, I find myself, like Janus, looking back at the past year, and all that I did, all that it brought, all that I learned. And at a time of transition it’s hard not to also think of life transitions, not just moving from one year to the next, but from one life stage to the next, looking back at who we were, and how we’ve changed, or not.

And this reminds me, earlier this year, of a conference I attended. I heard a panel of luminaries, the elders in their field, answer the question: What do you know now, that you wish you knew when you were younger?

As I contemplated writing a post for the new year, I recalled that question, and so I asked about 50 friends, family members, and colleagues, ranging in age from 13 to 88.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger?

Here’s what I found:

By and large the biggest response was some variation on this: I wish I believed in, loved myself, or took myself more seriously than I did.

Followed by some variation of BE BOLD.

Here’s what people said:

 

Don’t sweat the small stuff

I would take more risks than I did earlier

I would have more courage to speak the truth

I would change nothing: everything I did, even out of ignorance, gave me experiences I needed.

Life will almost never turn out how you planned it –  not better or worse, but just different…

I would take my education more seriously, and savor the opportunity to learn.

I wish I had known my breasts would sag

I wish I knew when I was younger that I was much, much better in so many ways than I thought I was.

I wish I knew I would find the deepest fulfillment of my life in solitude – all the happiness I could ever want lives inside me, and has nothing to do with falling in love with another human being.

I wish I had known that it doesn’t matter what the neighbours think.

I wish I had been able to recognize when people or situations weren’t good for me and get out right away

It’s not about the what. It’s about the “How”. 

I wish I had known that I didn’t have to do anything to be lovable

I wish I had believed in self-belief

I wish I would have known that life would get easier, that I would have the capacity to navigate the complexities and difficulties with greater ease.

Life and love does not have to be a struggle but it is a personal choice as to how we deal with the gifts, whether they come in the form of pain or joy

To have the confidence to jump and believe that you can do it. Guess what…? You can! 

I wish I would have learned sooner that life is not a test in which I must get every moment/action/word “right” in order to feel good about myself, but rather a marvelous journey of discovery in which moments of not-knowing and floundering are every bit as meaningful and holy as moments of delightful achievement.

Hormones are more powerful than you think- and they influence many many important life decisions. I would have liked to know that. 

To be selfless not selfish

That some things take a long time to change.

I wish I knew when I was a younger that being gay is as natural as being straight and that its homophobia that is a disease, not homosexuality.

The one thing I wish I knew when I was younger was to have more patience in handling situations.

I didn’t have to give up my childhood dreams when I became an adult…

The one thing I wish I had realized earlier is the impact one often has on others — both in professional and personal relationships.

I should have slept around a lot more.

I wish I knew that as long as you work hard and stay positive that everything will work out for the best

I am more radical than I think

I wish I knew how time would seem to speed up. I think I would have paid more attention to using it more effectively.

Put far less energy into attempting to define yourself based upon others’ needs, world views, and expectations of you

Be more joyful, more often, with more people, and in more contexts of life – avoid those who judge and criticize you because they are uncomfortable being with such abundant happiness

You may not always have the abundant energy and desire to work, nor the sufficient funds to sustain your preferred lifestyle well into what may be a very long life. Save more sooner, and make other choices earlier in life, that still honor your need for spontaneity, impulsiveness, and pleasures-in-the-moment, while also preparing better for a later stage of life that you can’t begin to imagine.

When you fall in love, and commit to “forever”, know that you’re in a neuro-chemical-induced trance that will fade. Be ready for the choices you will have made after you emerge from the trance.

So, happy new year friends, and happy life transition. I pose this same question to you: What do you know now, that you wish you knew when you were younger?

And as you look back, don’t forget to look ahead, and ask yourself this as well: how might I use this knowledge, now, for this moment, and into the future?

It’s never too late to use the past to change your future!