Dear Harriet: A Letter to Your Younger Self

Dear Harriet,

I’m writing to you from the future, from an age at which your Mum seemed much older than you feel now. But, then again, I’ve come to realise that as you grow up, you will still feel the same youthful spirit inside. Age and appearance are not of huge importance, and, as I tell your children – please care more about how you are – your health, attitude and what you do – than what you look like. Without my increasing age, I wouldn’t feel as positive about you as I do now.  As Mum says, “the older I get, the better I was”.  You are great, and I love your enthusiasm and positive attitude.

I’d like to share with you some things that I wish I’d known or believed more when I was younger.  As I look back, I now see the value of many of these things with such clarity.  Of course, if you really read this in the past, you may have made different decisions, and I can’t possibly say these haven’t resulted in our wonderful life.  Keep it up!

Carry on doing your best, like you promised to do as a Brownie, as a Guide, as a Young Leader, and many, many times, as a leader. Your best is the best you can do. Some days your best is not as good as others, but as long as you’ve given all you can that day, that’s all that counts.  Don’t let your expectations or the expectation of others prevent you from seeing what you achieve or from doing what you believe is right.  Life is not about comparing yourself to what someone else wants, values, needs or judges. Use both your head and your heart to make decisions – you need them both.

Know that everyone makes mistakes and, truly, nobody is perfect.  Try not to give yourself or others too hard a time about making errors – we learn a huge amount from them, and often what you do after a hiccup is even greater. Understand that things not going right, or not being able to do something is not always a failure.  You might not make it to what you thought you wanted, but the alternative may well be better.  You’re doing great things, even when you feel you are not.  Try everything you can, even if you think it may not be your thing or you might fail – you’ll learn to persevere with those things you truly want or need to achieve, like your driving test; don’t worry, you’ll get there in the end! 

Value what you do, and trust that all experiences, good, bad, indifferent and sad; happy, exciting, and frightening; boring, challenging and more, teach and shape you.  Face them all.  Being part of Girlguiding will help you more than you can recognise. 

Harriet, the Brownie, you will learn it’s ok to make mistakes, that friends are there to help and that you can overcome with your shyness. 

Harriet, the Guide, stick with it and trust that Guides is a good and highly valuable experience.  You will grow immeasurably, learn to work in very mixed and ever-changing patrols, use a wide variety of badges, trips and camp experiences to truly widen your outlook and self-belief, and develop your personal organisation and target setting skills. 

Harriet, if you are reading this as a Young Leader, you’ve already developed resilience and self-belief to keep in guiding and made a lifelong friendship to treasure – you’re doing a brilliant job with both school and guiding, and in years to come, you will be proud that you completed your leadership training and Guider’s Warrant at 18.  You’ll also be amused to know that the farmer’s badge you gained as a Guide for beekeeping is often mentioned when, as an adult, you become a sheep farmer. 

I’m proud to know that you treat people kindly and grow to be able to think even more kindly by seeing things from someone else’s point of view.  Be kind to yourself and try to recognise the positives that you would so readily see and celebrate in others.  Please be kind to your mind and your body – keep doing things that you enjoy, but look after yourself, for physical and mental health.  Know that you cannot change someone else’s behavior, only your response to it, and sometimes walking away is the best choice.  

Last, but not least, if you can’t keep your room tidy, at least continue to keep it clean. You are not naturally tidy, but you can work on that, even if it’s a (very) long term project.  Don’t underestimate your ability to learn, grow, develop and love life. You don’t get a second chance  – make the most of enjoying it. 

You will make a difference. Matilda was right, somewhere in all of us there really is the power to change the world – you just can’t always see the change you make. 

By Harriet, leader and division commissioner in Girlguiding Lancashire East County.