"Just a Thought..."
By Jon Dupin
Here’s an exercise I think everyone over the age of 30 should do at least once a year: Travel back in time and talk to your 17-year-old self. Sounds bazaar at first—time travel and self-dialogue—but stick with me, because there’s a surprise at the end.
The high school my wife and I graduated from invited me to give the commencement address for the Class of 2012. Part of me was energized because this meant I could reconnect with old friends and teachers but another part of me was anxious, because I was blank on what to say to the students. Weeks passed and nothing; no shards of wisdom, no clever anecdotes, just a vacant Word document saved as “Commencement Talk.” Two weeks out from the ceremony, the clock was ticking and I still had zilch.
Then, one morning I went to brew coffee and an old Kodak picture sat on the kitchen countertop nearby. My wife, Tammy, rediscovered it a couple days before in a storage box and left it there for kicks. The image showed us both at a dinner party just days after my high school graduation. My 17-year-old self was gathered around a table with her and some other family, and I faced the camera surprised, like the photographer was just doing a drive-by—“Hey, everybody look here and smile!” The expression on my face back then haunted me. Why wasn’t I smiling in the shot? Why did I seem so dazed and fearful?
Right then, I was startled by empathy for that kid, the “Young Jon.” It’s like I jumped inside the photograph and could talk to my younger self again. Here’s what I told him, “Relax, Jon, you don’t have to know everything right now, but there are two things I want to help you get soon, so you can save us both some fruitless and regretful seasons.”
In my mind, I just started to notify him that he quickly needed to discover his wiring (or divine design). Once he recognizes how God made him (strengths and weaknesses), he won’t waste those few years trying to be someone he’s not, or being what Marcus Buckingham calls a “second rate version of someone else.”
I believe there is so much freedom for us all when we give ourselves permission to not be those people we admire or envy, and instead be the most noble us in all human history. Because, truthfully, there will never be another you or me on planet earth. So, that’s what I told Young Jon.
Next, I urged Young Jon to look over at the girl beside him, the one who, in a flash, would be his wife and the mother of his children. I said, “Look at her. She and those kids are going to need you to understand something. You got a lot of wounds you need to admit to and start healing.”
Realistically, there is no way Young Jon could know that his days as a religious hypocrite and rebel, coupled with growing up with an alcoholic parent, would teach him not to trust people with his heart and secrets. That kid would drag all those walls and injuries right into his marriage and some critical seasons of his calling. I started to let Young Jon know that the sooner he let go of self-preservation and became vulnerable with safe hearts and wise voices, the sooner he’d start to be whole and the sooner he’d be a safe and wise soul for others.
The same goes for us all. When we finally stop protecting our image and defending our pride, then we can really get traction on letting go of bitterness and other easily suppressed hurts. It won’t take long until we surround ourselves with those safe and supportive people who can help carry us to new places in relationships and callings.
But, how would Young Jon respond to all this reality? Well, it took him the next 18 years to do so, and the man typing these words lives in his skin now. So, as you guessed, neither you nor I can actually go back and talk to our past self. But what we can do is seize the moments to be that voice for a younger generation. What if you used the gift of living past 30 or 40 or 50 to mentor a young person who needs a future version of them—a wiser, more whole version—to help them find their way sooner?
That brings me to the moment I stood before the Class of 2012. The beginning of my speech went like this: “I recently studied a photo of myself when I was your age. And, I wanted to go back in time to share some things with my younger self back then, but I can’t, so let me open my heart to you…”
Days later, I got a call from the school principal. He said, “We’ve never had such an overwhelming response to a commencement speaker before. Thank you for being so honest with our students. I don’t think they’ll ever forget what you said.”
The same is true for you. Seize the moment and share. That young person is waiting to learn from your time travel.
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