A Letter To My Younger Self
I was recently asked to write a letter to my younger self. It was a powerful exercise that I believe everyone should experience. Props to Lore and Little Things for this brilliant series. Thank you for the opportunity. Here is my letter …
Dear Young Amy Jo:
I write this letter to you on a plane as I fly back to U.S. soil after spending time in Asia. As I boarded the plane in Hong Kong, yet another mass shooting in the U.S. topped global news. The more we’re exposed to in this world, the more we realize how little we know or understand. That said, please take what’s useful from this advice and leave behind what is not. You will create your own journey which makes you unique.
Btw, we’re quite stubborn and it’s possible you won’t listen to the advice below. Regardless, you will still live a fulfilling life (at least until you’re 36). And, we think in bullet points and absorb content best in the form of bullet points so here goes . . .
- You’re going to experience some amazing things. Humble yourself or the universe will do it for you. The world is much bigger than us and it doesn’t revolve around us. The people we respect the most, including our mentors, are the humblest people we’ll ever meet.
- We can’t bank sleep. Meaning, we can’t deposit and save up hours into a fictitious sleep account and withdraw rest when needed. This strategy simply doesn’t net out well regardless of what grades we earn in math. After averaging 4–5 hours a night for several years, our 36-year-old version has finally learned to respect sleep. She guards it fiercely. I encourage you to protect your sleep at a younger age. (PS — math is one of our sweet spots. It’s our jam. We like black and white answers and scenarios. This poses challenges for us. Read on.)
- Learn to push your own buttons. Inspire yourself. Everyone else is busy. It’s wonderful and convenient when others inspire us but there will be droughts between the supply and demand. Subsidizing with a self-sufficient supply of inspiration serves as our safety net. This is how we make inspiration sustainable and scalable. Personally, our strongest source of inspiration is nature — being outdoors.
- In third grade, you will be put in a ‘special’ reading and writing class because you’re not quite performing up to par with your classmates. Accept, listen and learn. We will apply these skills years down the road when we write our first New York Times bestselling book. We must always appreciate the opportunity we are given to slow down, listen and learn. Timing is everything. Trust the process.
- Where purpose, passion and skill collide, bliss resides. This sounds like fluffy BS but it’s your reason for not worrying about knowing what path or profession you want to choose when you enter college — just be open, try everything and listen to how you feel. Purpose. Passion. Skill. Collide them. (Heads-up, they change so don’t get too comfy)
- Don’t let other people rent space in your head for free. That’s valuable real estate. What other people think of you is none of your business. Be you and let go. Repeat. This is a tough one for us. It requires constant practice. We struggle and trip over this one at times.
- Learn when to make things happen vs. when to let things happen. When you’re feeling strongly about one or the other, move confidently in that one direction. Down the road, if you don’t like that path after you’ve given it a red hot go, then simply choose again. If you are torn on whether to let something happen or make it happen then sit down at the fork in the road and pause. Hint: We have a tendency to make things happen (force it) at times. Ease up, sister.
- Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is extremely powerful. It takes daily practice. Take risks. When in doubt, ask yourself: What’s the worst thing that could happen if I try ____? And then what? And then what? Also ask: Is ____ safe enough to try?
- Read. Read. Read. Make it a part of your day, your world. Surround yourself with people who also love to read. Give books as gifts. The benefits are unmatched.
- Travel. Even if it’s an hour from where you live. Exploring will open your mind. If you have an opportunity to travel due to your career, take the ticket and explore while working — especially while you’re young and have less geographic anchors. Don’t spend 36 hours in Australia for the first time because it’s a “quick work trip”. Add a few more days and explore, chances are that nobody will question the request. Hint: You just have to ask.
- Words matter. With all relationships, exchange “we” vs. “me” as much as possible.
- Try not to worry so much about: your career, your weight, your finances, your future, etc. It all works out. We are warriors, not worriers.
- Your career is going to take off, but please, please don’t get caught up. Make family a priority. I didn’t attend my grandmother’s funeral because I had a business trip that was “critical to my career.” We are one of 19 grandchildren and only two of us didn’t make it to the funeral. To this day, I don’t remember what that very important “career-altering” opportunity was. Show up for family. It matters.
- Be kind and smile. It’s good for the soul, it’s a mood-changer, it’s contagious and … it attracts. Kindness and a smile are the ultimate positive boomerangs.
I love you and hope you learn to love yourself at an earlier stage than I did.
If you are reading this letter, I have successfully manipulated the speed of light and have traveled back in time to deliver you a message. I write this letter to you as your 27 year old self. I am essentially still you, only I am a little older and wiser. I’m sure you have many questions. So before you drop this letter and begin to slowly walk backwards to the nearest exit with your mouth ajar; have a seat and please hear me out. Of all the times I could have gone back to, I chose this particular time, because this was the time that you needed me the most.
I am not writing you in the hopes of swaying your decision. Altering the past can have grave consequences on the future. Perhaps the 27 year old self you come to be doesn’t exist today if you choose otherwise. That is a risk that I am not willing to take.
This year has been particularly tough on you. 6 months ago, you buried your mother. But you didn’t allow yourself to properly mourn. I know because at 27, you are still processing this. And that’s not because this wasn’t the greatest loss you have ever faced. We both know it was. You didn’t allow yourself to properly mourn because you have an unhealthy romance with your strength.
More specifically, the arbitrary values you assign to strength. You hate vulnerability and moments of inadequacy. But you won’t find the remedy in the bottom of a liquor bottle. You can only sedate yourself for so long from the inevitable.
Every morning when you get out of bed you feel a little more defeated than the previous day. I’m not sure if you are depressed or wallowing in denial. But I know today you will make a decision that will alter the trajectory of your life. You have grappled with this decision for the past few months. But even you know that this idealistic view of strength is compressing your essence. Today is the day that you will drop out of college.
As you walk out of the registrars office, regret and uncertainty will loom over you. You will feel helpless. You will be angry. And you will feel like a failure. Your mother will be the first person you think of because you made her a promise. The shame you feel as you have to call your father to tell him that you have dropped out will consume you like an asphyxiant.
If you think this sounds terrible, and trust me, it is— experiencing this wide array of emotions in real time will be even greater. Earlier in this letter I told you that I chose this particular time because this was the time that you needed me the most. Perhaps after you accept this decision, you will need me even more. This journey that you’re about to set out on will be one that pushes you to breaking points that you didn’t know existed; only to forge new ones that will also be tested and broken. You may not be able to see it now, Terrance, but you are built for this.
I think you have always known that. But some where along the way you forgot what it felt like to be vulnerable. You forgot about the lessons that are acquired. You didn't allow yourself to see the majestic beauty one finds when they search the most intimate regions of their soul. And you made the unfortunate mistake of thinking that vulnerability is a badge of helplessness.
You may not be able to feel it now, but the moment that you drew your battle line, a fire was lit inside of you. Others will feel it long before you ever do. But trust me when I tell you that it is there. It burns. Though this journey will be bumpy and riddled with false victories, some amazing things will happen to you. You will find a purpose that gets you out of bed every morning.
You will become a writer. Which doesn’t sound exciting at 20, but you’re just going to have to trust me. It will be tough in the beginning. You will struggle to find your voice. You will doubt yourself. You will see your writer peers excel and wonder if you have what it takes. Repetition will be your hallmark. But at some point, everything will click.
You will discover that you have an unique ability to selflessly give yourself in everything you write. You will find that your art is also a form of therapy for you. It will feel celestial. People will cling to your words and apply them to their own lives. And spoiler alert: You go back to school, keep your promise, and graduate college May of 2017. A little later than originally planned, but life is funny like that.
I know there will be times when you don’t believe. Faith has never been our strong suit, has it? These words may seem foreign now. After all, I am your 27 year old self who has traveled back in time to deliver you a message. But there will come a day when you read this letter and think back to the first time you allowed yourself to be vulnerable and this will all make sense.
You see, Terrance, you won’t always be brave and you won’t always be strong. Sometimes your voice will shake and your hands will quiver. And there will be times when your heart and your head cannot come to an agreement. But you will find your true strength in an uncommon place. Those moments of fear, inadequacy, and vulnerability that you have been running from, are the moments that will shape you.
Your 27 Year-Old Self.
For more stories like these, follow Terrance’s personal blog on Medium.com