I have thought about this letter for a long time. At age 40 it seems like I have had so many lessons to teach, yet not the words to express them. Maybe that comes in the next half of my life, your life, our life.

Our life has taken many different paths – professional ballet dancer, sick person, business student with a passion for economics, film and tv director, university academic teaching the opposite of what I learnt in undergrad economics, mother and futurist. These careers may seem tangential but looking back on this path, I can trace a line through. It is the path of someone curious about why the world works the way it does, and who finds the answers in stories.

If I have learnt one thing it is that stories shape everything that we do. The stories Mum told us shaped our values. The stories our peers told us shaped our attitudes. The stories our work colleagues told us shaped our habits. The stories the media told us shaped our beliefs. Stories share with us a belief around what is normal, what is aspirational, what is to be avoided. They shape how we think the world works, and shape how we think about ourselves. The problem that I have realised in the last few years is that our economic system – capitalism – shapes many of these stories. So, my one piece of advice for you is don’t let capitalism get in your head. Let me give you some examples.

When we were 17 we got really sick with Glandular fever/Epsetin Barr virus. This virus is going to recur a few more times in your life, each time causing you to collapse inwards. The fatigue will leave you unable to move, the brain fog will leave you unable to think. While this is bad, the worst part of this illness is the guilt. Guilt for not being productive, for not working, for not being a good mother, for letting people down, for being lazy. You will hear many stories in your head telling you that when you are resting and recovering you are not good enough. Ignore them. In fact, chase them away. This is capitalism talking. It benefits from relentless productivity. In nature, however, many animals hibernate. In autumn, deciduous trees go dormant and lose their leaves. It is ok to not move through life at the same pace all the time. Rest young one, there is a lot of life ahead.

At many points during your life you will look at others with jealousy. You will engage in some ‘if only…’ thinking. If only I had a more successful job, a boyfriend, was thinner, had more money, I would be happy or life would be easy. This thinking also stems from capitalism and it is dangerous. We literally cannot have everything, and that is kind of wonderful because it means the choices that we make shape our lives. Of course, the choices others make shape their lives in different directions. Rather than want to live another life, why not listen to another life? Stories have an amazing power that let us ‘live by proxy’. When we listen to someone’s stories we feel empathy, our brains mirror theirs, meaning as they relive their story we live it also. So don’t let jealousy sour you. Reach out to the person you are jealous of and ask for their story. I am sure they will tell you of their success but also their sacrifice. It is also worth remembering that there are no easy answers. A boyfriend or partner comes with compromises, body size does not equate confidence, and money doesn’t buy you the things in life that really mean something.

Lastly, you will spend much of your life wondering if you will ever amount to anything. Wondering where this journey of curiosity will land you. And at 40 I honestly have to say, I don’t know – yet – but wasn’t the ride exhilarating? You may start facilitating workshops and giving talks, having to google ”how to be a facilitator”. But you will grow, and in no time you will find yourself on the stage at the Palais in Cannes and the Sydney Opera House. You may start by studying economics to find out how the world works, and in no time you will find yourself lecturing a very different kind of economics to 500 students at a time. You may start by becoming a mother, desperately concerned for her children’s future, and in no time you will find yourself a futurist thinking about everyone’s childrens’ futures. From little things big things grow, but you have to be brave enough to fail. Capitalism doesn’t like failure, and it tells us stories about how we must be perfect and successful. But there is no perfect, and successful in what way? If you tried you are successful. If you learnt something, it was worth it.

I could write forever with the lessons I have learnt, but I know that you, my younger self, are eager to take action. So here are some more quick lessons that I learnt the hard way:

  • Respect your mother, because you will not understand all that she has done for you until you become one.
  • When everything seems overwhelming, the trees have the answer, or rather the question – does it all really matter if you are 100 years old?
  • Your body is amazing. Never let anyone tell you it isn’t. It will never be perfect but it will grow two babies, it will bend into amazing shapes, and run distances you never thought possible. It will also change, and bear marks of the adventures you have been through. Be kind to it. Even when it fails you.
  • Don’t collect stuff. Collect friendships. When you really need something, a friend will give it to you, along with what you really need, like compassion, kindness and care.
  • Learn to love cooking and the wonders of preparing fresh produce. It will remind you of how much nature loves you and gives to you every day.
  • Lastly, everything can either be seen as a game or an adventure. Games only have winners, because they also have losers. Adventures have heroes, because the only battle is with the unknown.

Go and live a wonderful life. Keep capitalism out of your head, and keep nature in your heart. Know that you belong to this earth because you are part of it. No matter what stories you hear, you don’t need to be more, have more, do more. You don’t need to prove yourself because you are as perfect as the trees that grow in the forest and the stars that sparkle in the sky.

Claire Marshall is an award-winning futurist whose work focuses on how stories shape how we imagine futures. She is an experienced keynote speaker and facilitator who helps individuals and organisations see the stories that govern their thinking. An ex-TV director, she incorporates art and storytelling into her work, and her major work Museum of Futures, has been exhibited nationally and internationally. She is currently undertaking a doctorate at the University of Technology Sydney and lectures there, when she is not at home tending to her syntropic garden and two children.