I wrote a letter to myself on the morning of my college graduation. I woke up early, slipped my cap and gown over my pajamas, and wrote, marveling at how lonely the room seemed with all of my things in boxes in the corner, and bathing in the last remnants of silence afforded to me before real life began.
It was my last day in this limbo—this wonderful purgatory between adolescence and adulthood—and I knew that my mindset that day would be very different than it would be just a mere 24 hours later. I had passed the days of scabbed knees and spelling tests, but I had yet to deal with mortgages or engagements or children. I had one day before I had to fall into the 9-5 black hole. One day before I needed to think about packing lunches and returning emails and pleasing clients. And one day until I had to face the reality that I had not yet made it as a writer (I’d imagined I’d have written the Next Great American Novel by this point—or at least a mediocre one that would sustain me until I wrote the big one).
The letter was addressed to “32-year-old Amanda” and was meant to serve as a reminder of the things I considered important when I was feeling inspired that morning. When you’re 22 and the beginning of the rest of your life is only one nervous strut across a stage away, you have the most acute understanding of where you want your life to go. I know that circumstances change and priorities change, and by the time 32-year-old Amanda would be reading the letter, she would be a much different person than the girl writing it. But on the morning of college graduation, with the overwhelming sense of seemingly endless possibilities looming over me, I found myself in the best position to take a step back and see the big picture. The picture I tirelessly painted with literature classes and late night student newspaper editing sessions; with internships and world travels and all-nighters sitting in my bed with only a nightlight, scribbling stories on a piece of loose computer paper while my roommate snored.
In that moment, I was the most passionate, the most eager, the most determined I would ever be about where I wanted my life to go, and I needed to ensure that when my life veered off track, I could remind myself of where my passions and priorities lay in the moment when I had the world at my fingertips, so I could guide it back in the right direction.
We are taught throughout our entire lives that we can be anything, do everything. From our first days in grade school when we learn what it means to have a dream, to our first days as undergraduates when we start to collect the tools we need to make that dream a reality, we are told the possibilities are endless. We fill our lives with inspiration—a quote from Alice in Wonderland on a poster in your bedroom, a line from Walt Disney on a notecard in your wallet—and when we finally stand in a position where being anything and doing everything is only four years and one expensive piece of paper away, we realize the absurdity of it all.
You can’t do anything. You can’t be everything.
So we major and specialize and concentrate and ultimately come upon one reasonable and attainable goal. To become an accountant, to have a family, to make a difference. We are then told to manifest that goal by turning it into a process: to become an accountant, I need to pass the CPA exam; to have a family, I need to marry my boyfriend; to make a difference, I need to join Teach for America.
Yet, on graduation morning, all of that logic briefly disappears. For one short moment, as I sat at my desk, careful not to wrinkle the unflattering yet equally beautiful gown my mom tirelessly ironed the night before, everything was new again. I was momentarily not held down by the expectations of my friends or my family or the rest of my graduating class, and I could do anything, and be everything. The logic and process that had been branded into my brain for four years were gone, and all I had left was the keen knowledge of my impractical goals, and the inspired determination to achieve each and every one of them.
I knew that moment wouldn’t last long and that by the next day I would begin preparing for my logical, processed-based life, so I wrote my 32-year-old self one piece of important advice. Something I wanted to be able to remind myself again and again when I wasn’t quite getting where I wanted to go.
Never succumb to the practicality of it all.
It’s easy to get caught up in the practical—you need money for rent so you stay at the job you don’t love, you don’t like going to sleep alone so you keep the relationship that’s going nowhere. Then you wake up in ten years and realize that what was once just a practical solution to a present problem, became a comfortable routine that you unknowingly settled into. Why disturb something that you’re comfortable with? I don’t want myself to succumb to the practical and then settle for anything less than what I want.
I needed to send a message to my future self about what my passions were in a moment I was the most passionate about them: I needed my 22-year-old self to give my 32-year-old self a good slap in the face. If you’re settling because it’s easy, because it’s comfortable, because it’s practical—don’t. Remember the moment you sat at your desk listening to nothing, seeing nothing, but imagining the possibilities in everything. And realize that it’s never too late to change, as long as you realize that there is a change to be made.
You’re better than the practical. You’re better than the comfort and reliability in settling. If you wake up in 10 years in a stagnant place, remember this one piece of advice. Remind yourself and your 22-year-old passions, your 22-year-old priorities, your 22-year-old moments of inspiration.
Because it is achieving the impractical that makes you great. In achieving the impractical, you can do anything and be everything.
Amanda Pellegrino is a writer and half-marathon runner in NYC. She can be found going on bad dates, listening to country music, or drinking absurd amounts of coffee. Her writing has appeared on BuzzFeed, Thought Catalog, Elite Daily, and her grandmother’s refrigerator. Sometimes she says funny things in 140 characters or less @amandapellss.