Dear 20-Something Me,
This week we are celebrating our 43rd birthday.
(Wait, WHAT?! Wasn’t it JUST yesterday that I was a career-focused, naïve 20-something who still believed in the modern day fairytale – the one where a woman can have a fulfilling, picture-perfect life complete with a career, marriage, kids, cul-de-sac home in the suburbs, and a comfortable 401K? A life with no contention – the perfect life that one's Facebook status and selfies would have us believe truly exists?)
The truth about 43 is that it IS real life – and real life is very far from perfect, and very far from the image crafting we do on social media. But that doesn’t mean our sometimes messy, usually crazy, always imperfect lives are not wonderful and fun and worth living out loud. Yes, there is stress (A LOT of stress...) unfulfilling careers, broken hearts, family demands, health concerns, schedules to coordinate, childhood friends dying of cancer, the crushing debt of those f*cking student loans (Yeah, I’m looking a YOU Sallie Mae), marriage highs and lows, in-law issues, bills and more bills, responsibility and more responsibility, divorce...and don't ever expect "me time" once the kids are born. Enjoy the luxury of sleeping-in now, 20-something.
But know that there are also dandelion bouquets from your 4-year-old, sunsets, full moons, laughter, coffee, a group of strong, supportive friends who form a safety net when you fall, swims in the ocean, slow dances, that moment when you realize that you're in love...REALLY in love with someone, smiles and
hugs from your kids and knowing you’re the reason they feel safe, Springsteen, wine, chocolate, sleeping babies, the unconditional love from your dog, hearing “I love you” from someone and knowing they mean it, holding your children for the first time…yeah, there’s all that, too. Real life is actually pretty great if you take the time to appreciate it. So my best piece of advice to you is to start taking the time.
Hindsight is both a beautiful and painful gift, and it’s my gift to you, 20-something. So Happy Birthday to us! I refer to us as two separate people, because in many ways, we are. I’m not you anymore, and you have a lot of living and learning to do to be me. I’ve changed; I’ve grown. I wouldn’t go back to my I-think-I-know-it-all-yet-really-know-nothing 20’s for anything. (Don’t get pissed…you know it’s true.) Here is what I want YOU to know sooner rather than later. Some of this might sound cliché, but that doesn’t negate its truth. Pay attention, 20-something – I know you have a tough time doing that.
I’ve learned there are joys in life too great to be described in words, and I’ve learned there is grief too great to let yourself think about – but you need to. It’s during those experiences of joy and grief that we change and grow the most.
Try Nutella. You’ll love it.
Don’t buy cheap lipstick.
Stop trying to prove whatever it is you think you need to prove. You’re good enough – you have ALWAYS been good enough. Somewhere along the line, you were taught to believe otherwise. That’s bullsh*t. I’m telling you this now hoping you’ll realize this before you turn 43.
It’s o.k. to admit that you prefer watching Star Wars to Dirty Dancing; it’s o.k. to be a science geek; and it’s o.k. to admit that you’re a bookworm. Don’t dumb yourself down for anyone. Don’t pretend to like what others do just to fit in. It’s not worth it. You’ll end up lonely and surrounded by crowds of people who don’t really know you.
I promise you that marriage won’t be easy, but don’t lose faith that when it’s with the right person, it’s worth it. When you actually live the vows you take, it forms a bond and friendship like no other. Know the difference between being unhappy with circumstances and being unhappy with the one you love. When times are tough, THAT’S when you need to remember your vows the most. But never forget...it takes two to make a marriage work. I’m still figuring this one out...I’m sorry, 20-something...I wish I had more to offer you on this. Your heart is going to break, but you’re strong and you will survive. You WILL be happy, and you’ll learn that so much of your happiness depends on YOU; not a man. So stop thinking you need to be in a relationship. The right man will come along when you’re ready...REALLY ready.
You won’t hate stretch marks as much as you’re imagining. They remind you of how amazing it is to be a woman and what your body is capable of.
You are going to be able to have children. You will have two beautiful babies who will change your life in ways you can’t possibly prepare for. Don’t believe the doctors when you hear the word “infertility.” Two miracles are on their way when you’ll least expect them.
Being a mother is everything and nothing you can imagine. Buckle up! You’re in for one hell of a ride…and by being a mother you’re going to experience a love so unconditional and profound it will forever change who you are and how you see the world. Nothing you do in life will be more defining; nothing you do in life will be more important.
Pay attention to those around you. Notice who is happy when you’re happy, and who is upset when you feel defeated. Notice who is always there for you, who wants to be with you, and who makes the time. Notice who keeps your secrets. Those are the people to give your time and attention to. Our time here is finite, 20-something. Appreciate those who appreciate you.
Stop worrying about things that will prove completely unimportant. Enjoy the moments. Those moments become memories, so make them count.
Never ask a question you’re not prepared to hear the honest answer to. Don’t lead a disingenuous life, but make sure you’re ready for some hard, unwanted, and unwelcomed truths before you ask.
When you do something wrong (and you will…) own it and apologize. The sooner, the better.
Friends are the family you get to choose for yourself. Choose wisely. Over time, you’ll learn who is truly meant to be a member of your tribe. Some will arrive in your life at unexpected times in unexpected ways; others have always been there.
Read Shel Silverstein’s “Masks”and take it to heart. Let the world see who you are. And if *they* don’t like it, who gives a f*ck? (Well, I know you do but that will change.) You’ll be ok, I promise. Know that you have nothing to be ashamed of. Your experiences gave you a determination and strength uncommon in most others. But there ARE others out there. You don’t know this yet, but you’ll be able to spot your own…even from a distance. Some will end up being your closest friends; and some you’ll need to stay away from.
You teach people how to treat you. Don’t be used or disrespected.
Never stop fighting for what you know in your heart is right and just. Make no mistake – this will cost you, but it will be worth it. The wounds inflicted when you look the other way will damage you far more than the short term consequences of doing the right thing.
Words will hurt you far more than punches ever will.
Please do NOT dye your hair red. It’s not our color. You’ll do it anyway but it’s a huge mistake. (Ugh. I’m glad you won’t take pictures.)
Make peace with God and stop being angry. You’ll slowly realize it all makes sense and there is a purpose. Deep down, you know this already.
When you lose that promotion because you won’t sleep with your boss, hold your head high. You’ll learn that not selling out, not compromising your integrity, and not prostituting yourself out as the means to an end is the exception in this world and not the rule. You’ll be proud of your decisions.
You will learn things about the lives of others and have opportunities to be hurtful to those who have wronged you. Don’t do it. That’s not the stuff you’re made of.
That mean girl you envy? You’ll realize when you’re 42 that she’s still a mean girl and still hanging with her mean girl tribe – but you’ll learn that you have plenty of reasons to pity her.
Look up at the moon. Sit by the ocean. Both nourish your soul in ways I can’t explain.
All those things about you that you’re thinking are weaknesses- they’re your greatest strengths. Stop hiding them. Stop trying to conform to someone else’s standard of who you should be. Stop giving a f*ck about the opinion others have about you and your choices. You’ll be amazed how empowering this is.
Travel every chance you get. It reminds you of your place in this world.
Stop buying into conventional standards of beauty. Who cares if your hair is a mess? You will STILL be able to rock a baseball cap at 43, so put it on and quit wasting time in front of a mirror.
You. Are. Not. Fat. Stop being fooled into thinking you are. So enjoy every bite of every single one of our birthday cakes. In fact, have two pieces. And be sure to have the ice cream, too.
P.S. That boy you’ll meet in 1999 on New Year’s Eve? He’s a little shy, so make the first move. Trust me. He’s going to be in your life for a very long time...