Dear 23-Year-Old Me
A buddy of mine and I recently teamed up to keep each other accountable for writing. A few weeks ago, he posted a letter to his 23-year-old self ("Are You Truly Alone?"). The idea of accessing my younger self has been marinating in my brain ever since I read it. Here's what I would like to say to her. Not that she would listen.
Dear 23-year-old Me,
First of all, for the love of god, please moisturize your skin on a regular basis. Seriously. It will take you all of ten seconds. Just do it.
Also, a few more things while I'm at it:
You will live many different lives in one. Know that the more difficult times will pass and fade into something new. Grab on to the wonderful times, because they are not permanent either.
Stop worrying about catching up with everybody else and banish these notions of "lagging" and "too late." Your life is just going in a different direction than most of the people you know. And that is a something you will be more and more profoundly grateful for as each year passes by.
I know, I know. People make fun of you for your ability to fall unabashedly in love. Shut out the noise. You're not doing anything wrong; in fact, this capacity to really feel and allow love is one of your greatest gifts. Know that as life goes on, this may not always be so easy. Take that seed of love, tuck it away, and keep it safe at all costs.
In the grand scheme of things, those little things about you that may seem quirky, random, or inconsequential will ultimately turn out to be the big things that pave your path in all of the best ways. Keep doing you. Don’t second-guess who you are or what moves and inspires you.
There are certain periods of life that will live on as a touchstone long after their chapters have closed. Memories of them will become almost like an emotional haven that you return to time and time again. Trust me, you don’t know what those periods are as they are happening, and they will often turn out to be the ones you wouldn’t expect. Pay attention and soak them in while they are still there in the moment. In other words, always be present. You have no idea how certain phases of life will retrospectively fit into your tapestry until they are already finished.
Being empathetic is great, but that has to be accompanied by boundaries. The more quickly you learn this, the better off your relationships will be, and the more you will have to give. To both yourself and others. (And, by the way, giving to yourself is far more important than giving to others--in fact, it facilitates giving to others in a healthy way.) With this, remember that you don't have to earn anyone. But you should think a little bit more about letting others earn your trust and respect.
As you look back, you will find that every period in your life that seems particularly difficult, challenging, or sad will directly pave the road to new growth and a better situation. It’s okay to struggle and not know what's next sometimes, but always remember that nothing is without reason, nor is it permanent. Take away whatever lessons these more trying periods grace you with so that can absorb them and go on to new learn new lessons in new situations, rather than repeating the old ones ad nauseum.
This is a heart-wrenching lesson that I wish you didn’t have to learn, but you do because you're human. People you love will die. And they won't necessarily go "in order." We’re not all built to live long lives and make old bones. Happily, while you may know this on a theoretical level, you still don’t really understand it on a practical or emotional level. This is a beautiful thing. But, someday you will. So, cherish everyone around you all of the time.We’re not guaranteed anything– –especially time.
Following this point, understand that if you are going to love people, you are also going to have to grieve some of them. Grief is painful and murky and unpredictable, but it is also love. Don’t block yourself from feeling and working through the grief that comes from losing those you love. The more you fight against the tide of grief, the more difficult it becomes to process. Also, trust that while people die, love never does.
Trust your gut. Quite literally, it will never lead you astray. It’s just that sometimes you don’t want to listen to what it has to say. You will regret this every time. You can stop experimenting with this one. (You won't, but you should.)
The world around you will never be stable. That's just not the nature of things. Everything is always changing, even when you can’t see it. Life will never be perfect, although certain moments will be. Accept change, and learn to be flexible. It sounds trite, but the only thing you can control is your reaction to change in the world and people around you.
You are not obligated to be kind or polite to any assholes who may trickle into your life. Yes, both of these things are important, but applied to the wrong situations, they can get you in trouble. You do not owe people who don’t treat you well anything.
Love, your friend (yes, that's right--we're friends and I love you now),