Dear Me, at 20 Years Old:
Whatever thing you’re thinking about doing, go do it. This one piece of advice is so important that I don’t mind if you set this letter aside and come back to it when you’re done.
Go do the thing.
Did you do it? Good! Don’t you feel better now? That’s what I thought.
I’ll be honest with you: I’ve thought a lot about what kind of advice I would give you, if I could. I’ve started several other letters just like this one, spelling out each idea that comes to mind, visualizing each of the paths that I’d follow just a little bit differently, given the opportunity. There are many things I might say; so much advice I could pass along. But seriously, I know you and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t listen to me anyway. So, I’ve narrowed it down to just this one item, by far the most important: don’t wait.
Do you believe that you’ll turn 30 one day? What about 40? Or 60? They feel really far away, don’t they?
I never imagined that I would eventually turn 30 – or 31 for that matter, at least not this soon. A part of me still doesn’t believe that it really happened. The illusion of time makes it easy to wait, to choose fear or a misguided belief that you’re too young or inexperienced for the thing you’re thinking about doing. It’s easy to have a reason, an excuse, a story, for everything – and I know that you do.
This is stupid. Stop it. Just do the thing.
Don’t wait to spend time with the friends you have or to make new ones. Soon, all of those people will graduate and move away. Find out how cool and smart they are while they are still within arm’s reach. The connections that you make now are more important – and more valuable – than you think.
Don’t wait to take care of yourself. I know you’re pretty good at this right now, but there will be times when it will be a challenge. Other things will feel like bigger priorities and you’ll no longer understand how to fit exercise into your day. You’ll be too tired when you get home from work to make lunch for tomorrow. Do it anyway. Then go for a run. And wear sunscreen! Also, floss, go to the dentist, and put on some moisturizer. It will be totally worth it.
Don’t wait to listen to the voice. You know the one. It’s telling you what you’re really meant to do; it’s leading you to a path that will leave you feeling timid and uncertain, rejected at times, and perhaps even a little broken, but ultimately fulfilled. It’s terrifying and you should relish it.
Don’t wait for there to be time. Everyone has the same 24 hours in each day. You get to decide how you use them. It might feel like you have no choice; your work ethic and perfectionist mentality will stare you down and tell you that a little self-sacrifice is the only way. Failure is not an option.
But it is. Failure is okay. It will give you the opportunity to try something else and find the thing you’re meant to do. You don’t need to sacrifice yourself to get there. And you shouldn’t.
The reality is, you’re not too young, even if it feels that way. You’re not too old. Your hardships are no harder than anyone else’s. Get married. Go to France. If the new job sucks as much as the old job, then leave that one too. You can do lots of things. You can do all the things. You can fix mistakes. You can reclaim things that are lost. You can repair things that are broken. The only thing you can’t get back is time.
I just turned 31, but I still believe I’m 20. I’m not convinced that I’ll ever feel any different, but time will keep passing anyway.
Your Future Self
Mallarie is a writer from Carpinteria, California, where she lives with her husband, dog, and three cats. She has a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara and currently works in higher education. Her work has also been featured in Inside the Bell Jar. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.