Letter to my 20-year old self

Let’s cut to the climax. I am not here to tell you to do anything differently from what you plan to do. Go ahead, make those mistakes, do everything wrong before you learn to do it right. I am here to give you a glimpse of what the next decade will look like.

You will pursue experiences more than meaning.

You want to do everything, right away. The inclination is understandable; instant gratification is the name of the game these days. You want to squeeze every ounce of living out of life. Do that. Bounce around, try new things, don’t commit if you don’t feel it is interesting or inspiring enough to sustain your interest. Here is why that’s ok; it’s empowering, it’s liberating. You are not bound by anyone’s expectations of how you need to lead your life; of feeling like you owe anybody any answers for yourself and the choices you make. But here is what you might want to know about how this ends. That list you made of the 30 things you wanted to do before you turned 30, you will be lucky to get through a third of it. Actually, you’ll be lucky if you get to 5 things on that list. You will realize that in the pursuit of trying to go EVERYTHING, you lost your sense of direction. You are not quite sure what really matters to you anymore.

There is good news ahead. When you reach 30, you will realize that you have your whole life ahead to continue to explore these questions, that 30 is not the end of your life as you know it. Even better, that list of 30 will slowly but surely whittle down to the things that really matter to you. You will find the things that you feel you have the energy and passion for and want to devote the rest of your life to. So it’s ok, make that list but don’t beat yourself up for not checking off everything on that list. You are still going to see a lot, experience a lot, do a lot. You are in for a heck of a ride over the next decade.

You will have your share of disastrous romantic entanglements.

You will think you are in love half a dozen times, and feel incapable of giving or receiving love a few more times than that. You will wonder, what in the heck am I looking for?! You will feel the euphoria of whirlwind romances, the kind where the dopamine rush of pure attraction and desire takes down all rational instincts honed over years of our evolutionary history. You will also find yourself in those sensible attachments, the ones that feel safe, secure and difficult to argue with. These partners will be kind, predictable and comforting but there will be an itch inside your skin you can’t scratch and you will wonder if you are the kind of person who just wasn’t meant to be happy no matter what. Unfortunately, over the next decade, you have to go through the crests and the troughs of love. You have to get your heart shattered into pieces and then meet people who, at best, can only be the temporary Band-Aid over those splinters.

Want to know how this turns out? there are no magical answers for unlocking love even in your 30s. But you will settle into yourself. You will realize you are who you are and you can’t try to be anyone different. You can be a better version of yourself but you have to get comfortable with yourself on your worst day. And then you will find someone who you spark with and over time, you both will decide that you at your worst is not a deal breaker. That you are open to figuring it out together, to being companions on the journey ahead. You both will commit to sticking it out when the going gets tough and breaking down your own and each other’s barriers little by little. This person will by no means be everything you wanted them to be. To state the obvious, you aren’t everything you wanted to be either. You will realize over the next decade that perfection is a mirage and an unworthy goal.

You won’t care for real intimacy.

Sure, you have friends, and people like you and you have a good time with them but you will stay short of real meaningful connections. You won’t try too hard to stay in touch with people once they are out of sight. You don’t want to be weighed down, I know. You don’t want to feel like you are carrying the burden of your relationships with friends and family wherever you go. You’d rather keep your emotional baggage light. Truth is, you know that if you get attached you will have expectations, and people usually let you down. So why go down that route? You will travel, bounce around, have adventures, pick up acquaintances along the way and drop them by the wayside when you are ready to move on.

It all sounds practical enough in this fast-paced world. But, you will wake up one day somewhere around 30 and realize you are alone. Not just physically alone, but bordering on lonely. You are disconnected; you haven’t felt a meaningful connection with someone in a long time. You kept it so light to avoid being burdened but you are now left with a void. A void that only real intimacy can fill. The kind of intimacy where you surprise and disappoint each other, where you show up even if you are inconvenienced.

You will realize that true intimacy builds trust and belonging. You will want to belong, not to get comfortable, but to know that you have a home somewhere in this big, vast universe.

You will think, many, many, many times along the way, “What am I even doing?”

You will do some great things. You will kick butt at your job, you will travel the world, you will go to cool parties, wear gorgeous clothes and the highlights of your life will be on social media for all to know that you are living the adventure of a lifetime. But when you are back in your apartment after a long day at work, you will be too tired to do anything. You will have the some Netflix show running but barely registering what’s on it — you just need want some background noise, drama and laughter. You find yourself reaching for your phone, contemplating between the unhealthy Thai or Mexican takeout, and you will know that you are surrounded by a blind fog. It will cling to you as you walk around. It will lift with the euphoria of an adventure, with the dopamine rush of a new experience, but then it will come back down to blanket you. You will mistake aimlessness for spontaneity. You will think being impulsive gives you your edge. If you lose that, you lose everything you are about. But you know, deep down, you have no anchor, you have no sense of purpose. You don’t stand for anything. You are always doing something because you don’t want to slow down to face that reality.

Hey, it’s you. You are 32 now. And it’s a good news, bad news thing. I haven’t quite figured it all out yet, but I have made a lot of progress. I have realized life hangs in the balance of it all. That one day you are up, one day you are down. I have realized that life’s purpose isn’t always groundbreaking — I might not be the one to cure cancer or abolish homelessness.

Maybe my purpose is to be the best version of myself every day. To make choices every day that allow that to happen, to maximize the good, forgive myself for the bad and accept all the parts that make up my whole.

Making these healthy choices will give you some clarity, and then some more. It will lead to inconvenient but comforting intimacy and a forgiving and compassionate relationship with yourself and those around you.

Note to my 20-year-old self; you do what you have to do.

Make all of those mistakes; do everything wrong before you do it right.

Make all of those mistakes, do everything wrong before you do it right. Take the leaps that spin you out of control. I don’t wish the next decade to be any different for you. Life doesn’t end at 30. We are in this for the long haul. Thanks for being the wild, aimless, unbalanced one. Because you were like that, I don’t have to be that anymore.


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