Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Letter to My Future Self

It was 7:30pm and I didn't feel like writing. Grandma had a book waiting for me by my beside table at the beach house,  so I wasn't about to start a new book when we were going to be there in less than half an hour, either. But I could always skim. Naturally, Grandma had several books in the car; in the back pocket of her seat alone, I had a selection of two or three. This is when I picked up "What I Know Now––Letters to My Younger Self," a compilation of letters written by an impressive group of grown, successful women to their younger selves. You've heard people say, "If only I knew then what I know now." Ellyn Spragins––a journalist with a work portfolio compiled of Newsweek; O, The Oprah Magazine; and The New York Times, among others––sat down with these women and asked them to reflect back and tell their younger selves in the form of a letter, a piece of advice they know now and wish they had known then. A popular interview question is always, "If you could have dinner with anyone in the world, who would it be?" I always find it impossible to choose. Reading "What I Know Now" is like being invited to a brunch with forty-one of these people, among whom includes Maya Angelou, Lee Ann Womack, and Naomi Wolf. The themes of wisdom vary from, "Live in the moment," Don't let your happiness depend on someone else," and "Don't be so quick to judge. " It is reassuring to read their letters. Here are forty-one women who appear to have it all figured out, but we learn through reading their letters that getting to where they are today wasn't a walk in the park. They had their self-doubts and fears, just like we all do.

As I flipped through this book, I was inspired to write my own letter. But, I took the reverse challenge. Instead, I wrote a letter to my future self because, as I wrote in my letter:
I am still too young to give my younger self advice. What I know at fifteen won’t do much for my former self of twelve or thirteen or fourteen. To those things that I found important at ages eleven and under––like missing my favorite TV show or someone wearing the same Halloween costume as me, or someone on the bus saying they didn’t want to be my friend anymore––the best advice I can offer is simply, it’s not the end of the world. You can watch your favorite TV show some other time; you both make a great Dorothy (and no one’s basket is better than the other’s); and that girl who didn’t want to be your friend anymore, you haven’t even seen her for four years. You’ll face a lot more in life.
I found it to be a fun writing exercise, and I strongly recommend giving it a try yourself. I know it's something I'm going to enjoy looking back on and being able to see where I was at fifteen years old. The things that worried me, the questions I had. "What about family?" I asked in my letter. "Am I married? Do I have kids? What about that golden retriever? Did I ever get that white house with the green shutters? Do I have my office overlooking the water?"

If you're older, then try answering the same question that Ellyn Spragins asked the forty-one women in "What I Know Now." What piece of advice would you give to your younger self? There's no right or wrong way to complete the exercise. It's entirely personal. Of course, I'm not asking anyone to post their letters (unless you want to share them or a portion of them in the comments), but if you try the exercise, I'd be curious to see what you thought of it. I, however, would like to share the very end of my letter, where I address my future self directly (it does seem a bit silly when you think about it):
“So I am seeking guidance from you, my future self. Although I know you won’t be able to prevent me from making the same mistakes as you (we are the same person, after all), maybe you can at least offer me reassurance. Reassurance that everything will be okay; that I’ll make it through whatever it is I’m going through now. And reassurance that I’ll make it in the world; that I’ll turn out alright.


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