It’s something both Bill Gates and Kesha have done – but whether it truly helps is another matter
In the journal Psychological Science, two US researchers just published the first serious study of a question that seems to obsess millions, and to which every celebrity, from Bill Gates to Kesha, is required to have an answer: what advice would you give your younger self? Robin Kowalski and Annie McCord asked more than 400 participants, aged over 30, and got some entertaining replies (“Don’t marry her. Do. Not. Marry. Her”). But we’re little closer to clarifying the mystery that’s always bothered me: what, precisely, do people take themselves to be doing when they ask themselves this question?
Because it rests, pretty obviously, on a paradox. You only acquired the wisdom on which your advice is based by making the mistakes you’re now advising your former self to avoid. For example, many respondents gave some version of the answer “Stop being so afraid” – of failure, of other people’s judgments, of life. Excellent advice, but you’ll never feel its force until you’ve first acted afraid and seen where that got you. Experience, as the saying goes, is a harsh teacher: it makes you sit the test first and only gives you the lesson afterwards.