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While sitting in the house waiting out the Wuhan virus that has shut down so much of our nation by infecting thousands and wounding our economy, I decided to write a letter to the person I was 50 years ago.

Then in my early 20s and a journalism student at UCA, I was brimming with self-serving ambition along with naïve yet well-intentioned emotional liberal passions as well as the certainty that life could be defined in terms of black or white, good or bad.

If I could post a letter to myself in 2020 after living in reality for 50 years, the message would go like this:

"Dear me, the sooner you can discern the real world, basic human nature, and the undeniable reality of grays in the continuum of life, the better prepared you'll be to interpret the differences between your emotional reactions and critical thought rooted in reality.

"You'll need to become aware of others' agendas when they contact you with a story. First, ask yourself: What is their motive? Do they hold an unseen grudge against others and want you to champion their perspective?

"Recognize the world teems with injustices and you are limited on how many are truly worthy of your time and energy to pursue. As one privileged to hold a flashlight revealing them, your capacities realistically are limited.

"Understand that once anything good happens to you, or you are recognized for your efforts, some in your profession and life will share your happiness. Yet as many, or more, will not share your good fortune for reasons of their own.

"Put yourself in others' shoes for a spell before forming opinions as to their motives.

"Maintain focus in all you do. Stay on message. Distractions are everywhere and only serve to reduce or water down your effectiveness.

"Readily acknowledge and correct your errors. Making excuses and blaming others for your mistakes sounds (and is) petty and will damage your credibility and weaken your standing among others. Mistakes are inevitable. So own them.

"Life for each of us is brief and uncertain, so ignore the rude, arrogant, dismissive, grossly insecure and self-absorbed people that invariably will surround you in your life and work. Cherish those with compassion, humor and selflessness.

"Make and keep close friends. If you can count a handful of genuine friends (as opposed to fair-weather acquaintances and/or ' friends' who try growing close for what you can do for them), you'll have succeeded.

"Being honest is always the best way to go. Yet there will be awkward times when you will have to choose between needlessly hurting another's feelings or being brutally honest. Those times will call for empathy and reasonable discernment.

"You will experience the highest of highs and lowest of lows as the years tick away. Roll with the punches. When knocked down, pick yourself up, dust off your tattered big-boy pants, and move forward. Place justifiable faith in God and openly ask his will to be done during your temporary existence in this strange and troubled world.

"Realize that relationships likely will be the most challenging aspect of your day-to-day life. Attempting to mesh two diverse universes into one that enhances both lives equally over years is as difficult as difficult gets. Yet when achieved mutually with genuine caring at the center, an authentic relationship can prove to be the wisest investment you can make for a fulfilling and happy future. Others, find yourself a loyal dog who loves you unconditionally.

"Don't beat yourself up when you make decisions that at the time seem to be well-intentioned but turn out to have been a mistake, usually because they were made out of emotion rather than reason. This sort of thing happens more times than not in the lives of most human beings.

"Listen to others when they are sharing their thoughts. Stop talking and interrupting; just listen. That's when you will learn. Resist the urge to try and impress others with your fountain of knowledge and words. If making an impression is your intent, just shut up and listen to them. Remember, to anyone else, you are not the most important person. They are.

"Follow your instincts. Never give them short shrift. They exist to serve you for a valid reason, having been birthed in your subconsciousness to emerge when necessary.

"When others around you are criticizing your actions and insisting you are wrong yet you believe otherwise, pursue your beliefs nonetheless, walk relentlessly toward the light of your goal and let the dogs bark. More time than not, you will be proven right.

"Closely follow those things that instill passion, joy and fulfillment."

"Realize that everything you experience that seems so terrible at the moment often will turn out, as time passes, to have actually been for the best. Canceling that anticipated trip might have saved your life.

"Offer a helping hand to others, whether it be at work or in your personal life. Not only is that the most rewarding way to live, but that approach will, like a boomerang, come back over time to show you just what a wise selection you made to choose kindness.

"When hiring another person--thereby investing in their lives--you also will be securing your legacy. Realize how all you do for yourself dies along with you, while everything you did for others lives on in the world.

"Keep your eyes and ears open for the inevitable 'tipping points' in your life, those events we all experience that trigger significant changes.

"Forgive others when they hurt or damage you, as they will. That, too, is human nature. As difficult as that choice can be, it's not only the wisest approach, but also helps keep your health from suffering.

"Don't be reluctant to ask a question, even if you expect a negative response. Very often, the reaction you anticipated will be far different than what actually transpires. After all, if you don't ask, nothing happens, right?

"Give back at least as much as you take on every level. This is especially true in matters of nature and conservation where ignoring this principle can have dramatic and enduring effects on you and those who follow.

"Remain loyal in coming years to the principles and documents that founded this nation with the public's interest in mind. These guidelines were divinely inspired and written out of deliberation and wisdom long before we became a nation beset by electronic diversions and self-absorption.

"Speaking of loyalty, remain loyal to those who have proven theirs to you. Like compassion and empathy, loyalty is a rare yet vital spiritual quality that will become lost in the years ahead.

"In the same manner, recognize that what you promise others will define how you are perceived. Make certain that once you make a promise, you strive to keep it.

"Make certain others have earned your trust before handing yours to them simply because it feels good. Ignoring this admonition is recipe for potential disaster.

"Slowly accumulate a six-week supply of toilet paper and hand sanitizer in the closet as the years tick away. I know, I know, it sounds crazy. But trust me (because, after all, this is me talking), there will come a frenzied day when others are losing their minds (and sense of human decency) when you will wish you had."

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at

Web only on 03/21/2020

Print Headline: MASTERSON ONLINE: Letter to a younger self


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