As we get older, it’s not uncommon to look back at our younger selves and want to pass on the knowledge we’ve gained to our mini me’s. One tradition I’ve picked up, however, is the exact opposite. Instead of reflecting back on my younger self and wanting to write that version of me a letter, every year I write a letter to future me.
About eight years ago, I wrote my first letter to my future self near the end of the year. I had just turned 20, and I felt like my whole world was about to change. After a semester abroad in London, I was making the leap to move to New York, finish my last year and a half of college at NYU, and take on life in the big city, as well as a hefty school loan. I had no idea where I would work, if I would have friends, how I would be able to support myself. My parents were proud but also nervous about me ditching a scholarship and close proximity to move up north. It really felt like I was going out on a limb, and I think I wanted someone to reach out to reassure me that everything would be okay.
In every letter to myself, I try to reflect on the last year and note what it’s meant to me. I want Future Me to remember what she’s accomplished or what she’s overcome, from getting my first play produced to fighting for a job promotion/raise. I acknowledge heartbreak and exhaustion, the years where I worked 7 days a week with no respite for months, the bad dates, the mourning of dreams deferred with the unexpected shifting expectations. Sometimes I say these things directly, sometimes they are implied. But often, when I revisit these letters a year later, all these things come rushing back to me, a year unfolding before me like the patterns of a kaleidoscope.
I try to give Future Me comfort. I reassure her that she is in the hands of a smart, self-assured lady who is willing to fight for her until she takes the reigns. I tell her the goals I hope to meet for her– I never try to have expectations, but rather include one hope for her, one big idea that will push her a little bit: one time it was to find love, no matter what that meant, last year it was to narrow my life-focus. I tell Future Me that wherever she is, I am proud of her, and often I end up opening the letters to myself a little in advance of my birthday, just because I know that message is there and I need to hear it.
But for all the support and love Present Me provides my future self, writing these letters means a lot to me as I write them. If there’s one running theme, it’s that the future is uncertain– so these letters give me one constant assurance: that the things around me will be ever-changing, but I will always be there, a person to whom I am accountable for, someone I owe my best effort. They assure me that the things I want most will not go unnoticed and will not be ignored. They will be seen and heard by someone—even if that someone is, well, me.
Dear me on my 21st birthday,
I wish I could say that I know where you’re going to be when you read this. Maybe you’ll be in your new home in New York or with California family in Fremont. Maybe you’ll even have to be back in Georgia. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the past year, it’s that you can’t predict the future. No matter how much I can try to plan, or scheme, or preempt, life will always throw something unexpected into the mix.
Life in the past year has not been easy, but you should be incredibly proud of everything you’ve accomplished. You’ve traveled, gotten into the nation’s #1 dream school, escaped your teens, found new perspective, and made new friends. Tonight you watched the celebration in Times Square and next year that will be your back yard. There is so much coming up in the future, it’s staggering: 21st birthday, move to New York, graduation on the horizon. I can’t wait to see where you are in life by the time you read this.
So what do I have to say to you? What do I wish for future me at 21? I suppose I just wish that you will continue doing what you’re doing, that you will keep moving forward. To be honest, you’ve already accomplished so much for yourself that I have no doubt in my mind that you will succeed in anything you put your efforts behind. Just remember everything you know right now: the clarity of just being alive, the importance of being kind, the people who love you, the world outside of school, the beauty of every day. Drink everything in, and keep pushing forward. Know everything will be ok.
Now that you’re in your 20’s, it’s time to grow up. Find some permanence in your life. Go after the life you’ve always wanted–it’s yours if you work for it. I hope you’ve taken advantage of New York City, that you’ve gotten rid of some of your commitment phobias, that you’ve gotten tougher and stronger and less scared of failure. Be happy. Be hopeful. Let’s see where the new year takes us.
Love, 20 y.o. you
[Image via Searchlight Pictures]