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Youth Day Musing: Advice to my younger self

International Performance Coach, Alvin Govender, reflects on the things he wishes he had known in his younger years.

“In youth, we learn; in age we understand.” This quote from 19th-century writer Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach is so apt. It’s said that with age comes wisdom. Wisdom is often accompanied by acceptance and peace. But does this mean that young people are unhappy? No. But they simply don’t know about lessons yet to be learned.

As a performance coach and motivational speaker, people open up to me easily, allowing me to learn from others’ experiences. I am passionate about helping young people develop their resilience and self-awareness skills through my youth seminars because the truth is that the younger you start being self-aware, the more likely you are to have a successful and fulfilling life.

If only I knew then what I know now.

Hurdles we all face

When I reflect on my younger years, I realise I had a few challenges which are widely relatable to most young people. My advice to my younger self can be used as a toolkit for any young person seeking guidance and tools for growth.

  • See your potential

I couldn’t recognise how much potential I had. Growing up, I was different to a lot of my peers. I was darker-skinned and had a naturally bulky build. I did not see this as an issue, but being constantly teased and labelled did impact my confidence. Not only did I look different, but I had a different way of thinking.

I often felt misunderstood and would look inward. In an effort to try to understand my feelings, I would meditate or journal which at the time was seen as ‘abnormal’ behaviour. I was methodical in trying to solve my problems, but as a teenager, you don’t appreciate what makes you different when all you’re trying to do is blend in.

  • Embrace and love yourself

It’s hard to learn who you are and be comfortable with that. As comfortable as I am now, I can say that between the ages of 16 to 25, my need to fit in was destructive.

I saw being different as a ‘bad’ thing. Instead of recognising that I had some great qualities, all I could see was that I was not the same as everyone else. 

I had different goals to everyone else. At the age of 16, I was already working on myself and I was naturally driven by what makes people successful. Embrace your authentic self.

  • Choose relationships wisely

Although it’s natural to struggle with relationships at times, it’s important to choose wisely. We often define ourselves by how much others accept us. Some people never break free from that thinking but it’s harmful. It can cause you to question if you’re good enough and affect your confidence.

There are a lot of people who feel dejected because they haven’t been accepted as part of a group. What if you’re too special to blend in? Perhaps you were made to stand out.

  • Don’t waste your energy on impressing others

While normal ‘growing pains’ include heartache, loss, and the occasional blues, your self-belief should come from a much stronger place within yourself rather than other people’s views of you. Have you ever heard the saying that other people’s opinions of you are none of your business? It’s true. Do not let negative opinions shape your feelings toward yourself.

Trying to impress others with material items or status can leave you empty and unfulfilled.  Invest that energy into yourself and your personal growth.

  • Self-awareness attracts opportunity

In retrospect, I can see that I was very self-aware and I do believe it has contributed to my success.

I believe that I attracted opportunities because I was acutely introspective. Perhaps at times too hard on myself, but I always wanted to work on myself. The opposite of doing that is trying to put all your energy or effort into another person or relationship to fulfil yourself. If your self-belief lies in a job title, address or even a relationship, you’re powerless to that.  Self-reliance and self-awareness are gifts and I am glad I got to master these at a young age.

  • Consciously choose role models and goals

At the age of about 20, I would watch Tony Robbins, the famous motivational speaker. I remember being enamoured but also thinking I couldn’t do a job like that. However, it ignited something in me.

I think that in the age of social media, it’s easy to allow our minds to get distracted by scattered forms of entertainment. I encourage you to focus on one long-term goal and plan how you can achieve that. 

Align yourself with the types of people you hope to become like.

  • Get comfortable with setbacks

Failure and suffering are a part of life. I’ve been through relationship breakups, and financial hardship and experienced pain in almost every area of my life. Stop seeing these setbacks as failures because they reward you in return. Whether it’s empathy or a stronger belief system, I encourage you to re-label failure.

  • Let go of toxic people or behaviour

Have the courage to keep positive company and walk away from damaging relationships. It takes bravery to walk away from something that doesn’t serve you. This is something that can be an ongoing battle because sometimes the comfort of certain relationships is easy to mistake for love. As you make better choices and walk away from things and people that are damaging, your value increases.

  • Get happy in your own company

Being still allows your mind to process your thoughts. The more self-reflection you do, the more you will be able to answer what we call the ‘big questions’ in coaching. What am I doing? What do I love? What am I grateful for? How can I serve?

Allow yourself to be quiet enough to search for the things that will help you grow.  90% of all people focus on instant gratification. Strive to be someone who can achieve long-term goals when instant gratification can so easily distract you.

My ultimate advice

Acquired wealth or success ultimately comes from sustained effort, and it takes years of consistent, hard work. Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

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