A Letter To My 19-Year-Old Self On My 39th Birthday

Someday you will be 40. None of this matters.
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October 22, 2014
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Dear me,

You know how right now EVERY SINGLE THING seems like IT'S REALLY IMPORTANT? Like, how every small thing and every huge thing needs to be done perfectly all the time right now and there's no perspective and you can't waste one single second because right now is your big time and pretty soon you will be old and it'll all be over?

Yeah, throw all that kind of thinking out the window.

You're going to turn 20. And you're going to turn 40. And you're going to die. People are going to tell you that you need to have a plan, that you have just one chance, that you better not "blow it." Here's what they don't tell you. You only make it when you blow it. Meaning, don't be afraid to screw up. A lot. But if you can, try to make them screw-ups where you don't put yourself at risk. Being embarrassed is not a risk. That's totally recoverable. That will make you stronger. That's the good kind of risk! You'll know these situations when you're in them. Trust your gut. Your gut is golden.

See, you only have one asset in this life that doesn't ever change, and that's you.

I know, I know, it sounds dumb and obvious, but it's actually the best piece of advice you'll ever get. Let me try to explain: You see, the biggest trap people fall into is continuously chasing stuff rather than realizing that they have everything they need inside them the whole time. It's so tempting to look outside yourself all the time for salvation but that's just an illusion. Sure, get a degree. Have a boyfriend. Take that wild call to adventure. But the one constant you'll have through all these experiences is you.

Value you. Treasure you. Love you. Even when you screws up. You are the best advocate you will ever have.

"That's not enough. I need all this other stuff," you may be saying. Yeah that's just your mind screwing around with you. All of your imperfection and your curiosity and your desire to explore and try these different things -- that's what makes you you! So don't you see? You're perfect already. There's no need to "someday" your life. Someday is right now. You don't need to wait to enjoy your life. You don't need to wait to enjoy your journey. You don't need to wait to go after what others may make fun of you for. What is your dream? How do you imagine your perfect life? What makes you feel good about you? How can you bring more of that into your life?

You can enjoy yourself; you can enjoy this journey. That's one of the best secrets of all time. Think about all the knowledge and the experiences and the love and the excitement you have in your heart. That's what matters. Not the "A" grade or the big job or internship or the hot guy or boyfriend who shows the world all your status.

Because that's all that really is, you know: status.

It's so easy to get wrapped up in it. Sometimes it seems like the primary engine that drives society. Status is your grades. Status is who you're taking to the fall formal. Status is what your parents brag about when they talk about you. Status is that nagging feeling that leads you to compare yourself to others around you, even when you were feeling pretty good about yourself.

Status is dumb. Status is empty and dead. Status is a cold bed partner.

The only thing that matters at the end of the day is how much you love -- your self, your friends, your family, your life, your passions. There is no status in love. That's one of the things that makes it so pure and beautiful and real and powerful. It's wonderful to be ambitious, but it's also easy to get priorities all screwed up when ambition and status start out to blunt out your true self. Then you stop listening to your gut and love stops being a priority and pretty soon, nothing is good enough. You find fault in everything. Gratitude falls away, and why is this good thing happening to this other person? And pick, pick, pick, pick, nothing is right. Everything could be better. Misery.

You will find no greater power in life than finding the power in peace of mind. It can be hard to find, but here are a few ways I've been able to find it myself: meditating, actively wishing other people and myself well, thinking of all the things I'm grateful for, doing kind deeds for someone else, taking one thing at a time, focusing on what I like, not expecting perfection.

Oh, and having fun. God, having fun is important. When I was entering my 30s, at one point I wrote this message on a Post-It note that's how desperate I was to remember it, every moment, every day. I scrawled those words and put the Post-It on my desk. It had those two words on it: "HAVE FUN." But you know what? It helped. Because life is filled with stresses left and right and above and below. If you have that nagging, urgent thing in you where you want to do a good job, then it's easy to hear all these different demanding voices and let all of this culminate into one overpowering, deafening message: "Feel stress. Feel stress."

But here's a little secret. You actually do better work and are more efficient and productive and all those other good successful things WHEN you are happy. How does this translate? It means when something goes wrong, you don't need to pile on yourself and catastrophize. You can be in the moment and laugh at the crappiness of everything that is unfolding around you.

That's probably the biggest secret that I've discovered. You can get through almost anything with three things: friends, authenticity and again, love. It's this magical concoction that allows you to not be alone in the dark with the harder things in life. Bringing your demons and your nightmares and your fears and your anxieties and your hardships out into the light takes away the scariness. It dissipates the power. And you have friends and potential new friends all around you, every moment, every day. There are so many people looking for love in this world, and the more you give it to yourself, the more will come your way.

Also: this may be kind of superficial, but: Wear a hat. You'll thank me later.

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Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.