Recently, while shuffling through the bowels of my mother’s attic, I came across my diary from when I was 22 years old. I hate to admit it, but that was nearly (not quite) 22 years ago.
Back then, the idea of being as old as I am now was inconceivable. I remember meeting a 32-year-old at the time and thinking she was old. Back then, I considered people my current age to be “mom age” -- when you’d give up on being attractive, fun, or interesting, and get a bad haircut. Obviously that never happened.
I love twenty-somethings. I love their vitality, their idealism, their poetic sensibilities, their knowledge of contemporary culture, their creativity and fearlessness. Yet I would never want to relive my twenties (unless of course I could have all the knowledge that I have now, and a million dollars, and three more wishes). For the most part, twenty-somethings are gifted with so much and cursed with the lack of wisdom and experience to enjoy it.
That’s why it seems so difficult at the time, even though it's supposed to be the best time of your life. Maybe you’re just graduating from college or moving out of your parents’ house, or getting a “real” job, or starting a family. Whatever it is, you’re probably just starting something.
At this point in my life, I’m no longer stressing over the basics like relationships, home, career, parents, friends, money, etc. I pretty much have it together. With all that in mind, I decided to write a letter to my 22-year-old self.
Dear 22-year-old self,
I have traveled in my time machine to give you this letter. I will not tell you anything about your future because that will destroy the time/space continuum and besides, you have to discover it all for yourself or else it’s no fun (and we love fun, if nothing else). But I can give you a few pieces of advice:
1. You’re only lost for a short time, so enjoy it.
You just graduated college. After four years of working your butt off for that marginal GPA, you still don’t feel like you earned it. You’re pretty sure that majoring in writing was the most impractical choice you’ve ever made. No worries, one day it will pay off. You have no idea what you want to do next. You listen to Jimmy Cliff’s “The Harder They Come” non-stop on your cassette player and find yourself relating to all the songs. You desperately want to move away from New York, where you’ve spent your entire life. You want to go somewhere where you are from somewhere else and still feel like you belong, but you have no idea where to go or how to get there.
You will find that place one day, but it’s not because you found the perfect location on Earth. It’s because you realized that belonging is something you have control over. You choose your own tribe. You’ll recognize them when you’re ready.
As for having no idea where you want to go and what you want to do, do your best to embrace the unknown. The unknown will take you to far out places and encourage you to try things you never (never ever never) thought you would. Yeah, it’s scary, wandering the streets/hallways/offices/webiverse not knowing where you’re going, but it’s also exciting and fun. Enjoy. You’ll be fine.
2. Love won’t always make you feel crazy.
Right now, you're wrapped up in a relationship with two men, and you are in love with both of them. They kind of know about each other. They’re kind of OK with it. You are wrecked because you don’t know which one to choose. They are so different from each other. And yet, at the same time, you can feel the thin thread that connects your heart to theirs slowly fraying.
I will tell you because you’re going to find out soon: You don’t end up with either of them. And that’s OK, because there are lots of guys out there and you will fall in love with quite a few before you find the perfect one. The thing is, right now, relationships for you are reeling with unfettered emotion. You love so hard, and you believe all love should be cosmic. You want to give all of yourself to the relationship, but you are barely just getting to know yourself. Love is filled with contradictions for you and you have no idea how to find the balance.
That’s A-OK. Do what you need to do. Just know that it won’t always be this way. One day, love will be your rock when everything else around you is crazy.
3. Don’t be afraid of being alone.
One day you will long for moments alone. Alone is not equivalent to lonely. Alone is where you get to nurture your rich inner life. If you can figure out how to be happy alone, you will always be happy. Hey, you may even have to ask for it sometimes, such as in one of those aforementioned crazy love relationships. You know you want it, but you are afraid to ask for it. You are afraid that if you ask to be alone, you will always be alone. Nope. That’s not the case.
4. People are not judging you as much as you think they are.
This one will take you a LONG time to figure out. Your greatest critic is yourself. Most people your age are pretty self-involved and are more concerned with what people think of them than what they think of you. Every time you start the lengthy inner dialogue concerning what others think, stop yourself. Practice this often.
That’s all I’ve got. I think if you can apply these four things to your life right now, you’ll be a bit happier. There are many struggles to come and you can use all the help you can get.
Your older (but not old) self
Now I just need my 60-year-old self to send me a letter. What advice would you give your 22-year-old self?