Last week was my 29th birthday. A few days before it, I wrote this letter to myself. I’d like to get into this habit each year around my birthday. A letter to my 18 year old self.
Dear 18 year old me,
Things aren’t going to work out for you.
Life is going to be harder than you thought. And by harder, I mean you’ll have to work harder every year to get the things in life you once believed you deserved and would be handed to you.
If you never learn to work hard, things aren’t going to work out for you.
Going after your dreams is a privilege. That you have time to consider what your “dreams” are means you are very, very fortunate.
If you don’t realize this, things aren’t going to work out for you.
You will experience the anxiety of too many choices. You can be anything. Believing this is true is so wonderful that it will paralyze you for several years. For the rest of your life, if you let it.
In your twenties, you’ll travel. You’ll learn so much and feel so alive. You’ll come home alone, empty-handed and very broke and with a very sad-looking LinkedIn account. You’ll wonder if it was worth it.
It was worth it.
Repeat this to yourself. I am one of the lucky ones.
And yes sometimes things are difficult. Even for you, lucky one. Let that be okay too.
If you try and guilt-trip yourself for not being grateful enough, or not doing yoga (honestly, you find it annoying), or not volunteering at every charity event, you’ll lose your everfrackin’ mind.
Try not to lose your everfrackin’ mind. And when you get close, call a friend. Eventually, before it’s too late, go to therapy. This will change your life more than you could ever have guessed.
And yes, little snowflake butterfly, you’ll be unlucky sometimes too.
Like how, on your very last day of living abroad, a man on the metro presses himself up behind you and sticks his hand between your legs and doesn’t let go. You won’t know how to talk about this, and very few people will know how to listen. Your first instinct will be to blame yourself.
Pay attention to this instinct. It will come back to haunt you again and again.
It’s not your fault. It’s actually frightening how ordinary it is, this thing that happened to you. Learning how ordinary it is makes you less innocent. There’s nothing redeeming in this loss of innocence. It just is.
Some things just are.
Some shit just happens. You don’t have to let it make you kinder or more compassionate, though that might happen anyway. You don’t have to “work through it” on anyone else’s timeline.
You’ll watch your friends and family go through some serious stuff: cancer, death, divorce, the loss of a parent, the loss of a child. This will either distance you or bring you closer. There’s no right answer here. Remember that you’re all just trying.
Oh, right, and you’ll be totally, desperately, hopelessly lost in your career. And so will most of your friends. This feeling will get worse every year as you approach your 30’s and you can only hope it will eventually subside. You’ll wonder if some of this is the fault of having spent so many years traveling and wandering.
Try not to blame yourself. Remember?
Traveling and wandering is so a part of who you are that it would have been absurd to have denied it. Who you are is not someone who was ever meant to be a lawyer or a dentist. You aren’t the person who buys a house at 24 and lives in it forever.
There’s nothing you could have done to fit yourself into that mold. You wouldn’t have wanted to.
You may never make a lot of money. But you might. And if you don’t, that’s fine. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
You may never write the book you wanted to write. But you’ll keep writing. Even when you think it’s over, even when you think that you’ll never write again, trust me – you’ll keep finding your way back to it.
This is who you are.
You may never have children. But by 29, let’s be honest, it’s starting to seem likely.
But first you’ll have whirlwind romances. They will be both beautiful and sad. You’ll be dumped in a cafe and cry in front of strangers. You’ll dump a man in a park and he’ll cry in front of different strangers.
You’ll be dumped the day you find out your father has cancer.
Remember when you were a kid and your parents gave away your dog the same day that a boy broke up with you?
It will be kind of like that.
But not really.
You’ll fall for someone who may or may not love you. You’ll make yourself vulnerable to him and be unbelievably embarrassed about it later on. Still, you won’t be able to tell how he felt. Seriously. You’ll maybe go your entire life never knowing how he felt. Is that okay with you? Can you learn to be okay with that?
You will learn to be okay with so many things.
But not yet.
For now you’ll still foolishly believe you’ll be married by 25. You’ll even think you want to be married by 25, a notion that will be laughable in just a few years when you’re actually getting married closer to 30.
So you see, it won’t work out for you, getting married at 25.
Because at 25, you’ll be living in another country. You’d never be able to guess where. Don’t even try.
Dear girl, the man who is going to truly love you isn’t anywhere in this country. You may think he is, you may want him to be, but he’s not. Your future husband will be living in the very state in which you’ll someday make a life together. Can you guess where that is?
You live there now.
On your first date with him, you’ll sit in a restaurant, sip iced tea, and talk about travel. It will be a love for travel and a feeling of always searching for home that first bonds you.
Isn’t that funny?
You’ll tell him you’re sick of travel. That you’re tired of making friends and then leaving them behind.
The truth is your biggest fear is being left behind. But you don’t say this. You’re smart enough, or afraid enough, to know not to say this anymore.
Two years later, the doctor will tell you there’s a very small chance you have cancer. He’ll want you to get an MRI just in case.
The night before your MRI, your future husband will call you over to his computer to look at pictures of engagement rings. He’ll say “I want you to know that whatever happens tomorrow doesn’t matter.” He’s been secretly saving these pictures for months.
Life isn’t what you expected. And it’s all going to be okay.
Sure, your career still feels hopeless, but whatever. You’ll figure it out. You always do.
You try your best to stay in touch with the people you care about. It gets hard over the years. Every year, you realize more and more how important this is. Sometimes you fail. But you hope they know.
Oh, and guess what?
You’re still writing.