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Wednesday, August 10, 2022
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50+ Pieces of Advice I Would Include in a Letter To My Younger Self


Today I turned 45… although, on most days, I genuinely feel about 15 years younger.

It was a weird thing yesterday, filling out a tour waiver here in Mexico and realizing it was the last time I could truthfully check off the 25-44 age bracket box.

It was even weirder because it was a day full of adventure, swimming with whale sharksmanta rays, and sea turtles with my 12-years-old daughter in Isla Holbox Mexico.

I’ve never been one to make a big deal out of my birthdays. But this one seems somehow significant, as if I’m entering a new phase in my life and ongoing personal evolution.

Feeling strangely contemplative, I came up with these 45 pieces of advice I would include in a letter to my younger self:

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Bret, age 3, Rocking Out On Drums As His Cousin Jon Watches

1) You’re good enough. Anyone who tells you different is just a jerk.

2) If you want something, just ask. The worst thing anyone can say in response is no.

3) Patience and persistence ultimately pay off. But they usually do so very slowly.

4) Do not let anyone ever tell you your dreams are out of reach. Only YOU know your full potential.

5) Dreams do come true. But dreams are nothing without action. Dream it, then DO it!

6) Fear is a wolf. Chase the wolf, and you’ll never be afraid of the things you once feared.

7) Smile more, worry less. Positivity is infectious, and happiness is a choice.

8) Life is called a “rat race,” but remember that it’s a marathon and not a sprint.

9) Do not ever judge yourself in comparison to others. Instead, judge yourself against what you know you’re capable of.

10) Love is all you need. But sometimes even love is not enough. Know when to say “when.”

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Bret with Santa
Bret (4 yrs) with Santa claus at an Atlanta Christmas Event

11) You can not change anyone, except yourself. Conversely, be wary of anyone who tries to change you to suit their ideal.

12) Write things down. You’ll be amazed at how many great ideas you forget!

13) Celebrate your victories in life… even the small ones.

14) It’s OK to test the waters, but do not be afraid to jump in. Otherwise you may never know what lies beneath the surface of your fears.

15) Do not worry about getting knocked down. Instead, focus on getting back up as quickly as possible.

16) The family you’re born with ultimately isn’t as important as the family you choose. Choose wisely!

17) The people who truly love you do not see all the flaws you see. Learn to see yourself through their eyes.

18) The scars you can not see are worse than those you can. Heal them, and you’ll heal yourself.

19) Do not think so much. Sometimes it’s OK to just BE.

20) Happiness isn’t a destination, but a lifelong journey. When in doubt, just keep swimming.

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Bret, the teen years - what would you tell your younger self
Bret (left, 20 yrs) with Cousin Jon, a Christmas Tradition

21) Do not look for a partner who makes you happy; look for someone who makes you want to be your best self.

22) Karma is circular: What goes around comes around. Put out into the Universe the positive energy you seek in return.

23) The road less traveled is not always easy, but it’s never boring.

24) Do not wait to learn from your own mistakes. Watch, listen, and learn from the mistakes of others.

25) Once you admit that you truly know nothing, life’s real education begins.

26) Parenthood isn’t that difficult. Ask yourself, “What would I have wanted my parents to do?” And then do that.

27) It’s great to have goals. Just remember that there’s always more than one path to achieving them.

28) Nobody ever made history by playing it safe. Be bold!

29) Never stop learning. Learning = growth = youth.

30) Treat life as an adventure. On their deathbeds, people usually regret the things they DIDN’T do.

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Bret at his pizza job - advice to my younger self
Bret (22 yrs old) at his pizza job in Georgia

31) Enjoy the frivolity of youth while you can, for it will be gone sooner than you think.

32) You’re never quite as smart as you think you are, nor as rich or thin as you want to be.

33) Do not let the highs get too high or the lows get too low. The key to happiness lies in the balance.

34) Never forget where you come from. Let the past keep you grounded and humble.

35) Do not let failure get you down. Look for the learning opportunity in every bad situation.

36) If you do not have a serious passion for what you’re doing, do something else instead. Life’s too short to work “just for the money.”

37) When a door closes, leave it closed. There’s always an open window just around the corner.

38) “I can not” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. In truth, you’ll never know until you try.

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Bret with Mary - what advice would you give your younger self
Bret (age 40) with Mary Gabbett

39) Listen to all advice and criticism that comes your way, but know when to ignore it completely.

40) Take your business seriously, but not yourself.

41) Take time to think before you speak, because you can not take words back. In moments of heightened tension, think twice.

42) Happiness is not just the most important thing in life; it’s the only thing that matters.

43) Invest yourself only in those willing to invest themselves in you. Toxic people and “takers” will suck your energy dry.

44) Learn to accept the unconditional love you deserve, and to give it tenfold in return.

45) No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to live the life you’ve always wanted.

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Us With Rhinos at Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya - what would you say to your younger self
Bret (age 50), Mary & Allie with the last two Northern White Rhinos in Kenya, Africa

ADDENDUM

When I wrote this story on a bus in Mexico back in 2013, I had no idea these navel-gazing musings would eventually be read by hundreds of thousands of people around the world.

Today the world seems like a very different place. My daughter is a junior in college, Mary and I recently celebrated our 13th anniversary, and COVID has turned our lives and businesses upside down.

As for me, I’m 8 years older. So here are 8 more things I wish I could tell my younger self:

46) They say that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. Learning how to figure out which is which, and how to let go when the time comes, is wisdom that comes with age.

47) It’s never too late to get a new lease on life. Starting over may seem scary, but the opportunity to reinvent yourself (or your career) is invigorating.

48) The older you get, the more you begin to recognize the value of good health. You do not have to treat your body as a templebut it’s important to treat it with respect, because it’s the only one you get.

49) Friends are increasingly hard to come by as you age. Making new friends may be silver, and keeping old friends may be gold. But learning to be a friend to yourself is priceless.

50) Turning 50 isn’t as scary as you think. And even though the person in the mirror may look a little older and have a few more silver hairs, you still feel like a kid inside.

51) You do not have to be your absolute best every day. In fact, it’s impossible. But if you keep showing up and doing the best you can, chances are it will get you very far.

52) Losing loved ones is never easy, but it becomes increasingly common as you age. The best way to honor their memory is to keep living your best life.

53) To quote one of my favorite poets, Dylan Thomas, “do not go gentle into that good night.” Live boldly, dream big, and set impossible goals for yourself. Even if you fail to reach them all, it’ll still be one helluva ride!

If you enjoyed reading 45 Things I Wish I Could Tell To My Younger Self, you might also like:

How To Be Happier: 5 Secrets To Improvising Your Life

The Science of Happiness: Expressing Gratitude

Our Happy Place- A Celebration of Staycations

Thoughts On Travel Blogging, Suicide and Living The Dream

The Creative Life: 10 Lessons From David Bowie

The Bee Gees, Rites of Passage & Staying Alive

Why I Quit My Travel Dream to Get a Job

Becoming A Professional Writer: How I Did It (& You Can, Too)

Why (and How) I Write

Holding On and Letting Go: A New Year’s Lesson in Acceptance

“You’re Not Good Enough” & Other Lies

How I Fell In Love With Travel (& Got Blessed By The Pope)

48 Hours In Edinburgh, Scotland: Meeting Sean Connery & My Grandfather’s Ghost

Ancestors & Expectations at the Acropolis of Athens

There’s Something About Mary: An Ode To Love

Bret & Mary: A Story About Love (& How GGT Was Born)

Celebrating 10 Years of Green Global Travel (& 12 Years of Love)





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