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My Backwards Open Letter: Advice from My 20-Year-Old Self

adviceLast week, I was exchanging emails with a few girlfriends — an optimistic, state-of-the-union sort of check-in with ourselves. How are we doing? What are we working on — professionally, physically, emotionally? What do we hope will change in the future? And how can we support each other in our quest for self-improvement without perfectionist-driven obsession?

As our conversation volleyed back and forth, I realized how much we’ve all grown. It had been a decade since we’d met in the late days of a frenzied college career — a time where the world was our oyster but we weren’t yet aware of our own pearls. And I realized this: as much as I want to grow and shift to become someone my future self would be proud of, I rather like the gal I was at 20. She had a lot to offer, and I’ve got a lot to learn. So in lieu of offering my future self advice, I’m settling in for a brief conversation with my past:

Dear Older Erin,

I’m kind of amazed that you want me to write this, because I always thought you’d have it totally together by the time you reached your 30-something life. I mean, no offense. You’re probably an awesome person, and I’m secretly hoping these guitar lessons are paying off and you can play your way through a Tom Petty song on a rainy Tuesday morning — if you want. I don’t know, maybe you hate Tom Petty now. If that’s the case, do me a favor and turn on #7 on your greatest hits album, preferably in the summertime with the window down. I hope you think of state fairs and lifeguard tan lines and Laffy Taffys (the strawberry kind) and I hope you remember that you do, indeed, love Tom Petty for all the reasons that matter.

It’s hard for me to give blanket advice, because I know you know that I don’t often believe in generalizing. I want to know everything about everything — the specific details of each question swirling in your mind, how they feel when they settle on your gut and — most importantly — if you’re going to let that feeling dictate what comes next. I think you should, because I think guts are directly linked to souls, and I think you have a good one.

Remember when you dated that beautiful boy in college and you wanted him to forever look at you the way he did at that Chinese restaurant, studying the lines of your face over teriyaki chicken and fried rice? He didn’t. It’s not anything you did; it’s just life and time and the allure of long cheerleader legs, but I know you already know that. You’re strong at 20, and you’ll get over it quickly. I don’t mean that you’ll move on or rebound, because you’re not the type. You’re selective and cautious and smart, and you’ll get over it in the way you’re used to: you’ll rely on heart and your soul and your mind to mend themselves, regenerating any broken cells lost in the aftermath of a heartbreak. Just don’t forget to rely on your friends, too, OK?

I hope you meet someone who is even more beautiful, someone who isn’t hypnotized by short skirts and megaphones and someone who perhaps doesn’t order eight egg rolls and call it dinner. And I hope you’ll treasure him (and if you write back, can you tell me where I might find this gem of a person? I’ll keep an eye out!). But even if you don’t, I don’t think it matters. You’ve got everything you need.

You have everything at 20, and I think you’ll have everything at 30: friendship and love and curiosity and hope. So when you do decide to read this — whether you’re stuck in a rut or are simply longing to hear from an old friend, take advantage of what you have. They’re simple pleasures — the kind I indulge in nearly every day as a poor, social college kid. And they are everything.

Don’t forget to sit on the rooftop at midnight — passing pints of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream back and forth with your friends, lamenting about test scores and summer love. Don’t forget to go to the library — even when you don’t have to — and run your pages along the spines of the many books that surround you. Read them. Let their words steep. Turn off the TV and do something productive, and when the productivity makes you tired and your bones ache, turn it back on and fall asleep to the blinks and blips of comfort. Write letters to the people who shaped you as a child. Turn the volume up. Run while you can, while your legs are young and strong and capable. Make good decisions. Eat fiber, follow your dreams.

I hope that by now you’ve grown out of those tiny pings of jealousy that sometimes arise, the ones that signal better grades or clearer skin — or for you, perhaps a better career or cleaner home. I hope you’ve learned what I’m learning now: that gratitude is the only way to stifle those pings. I hope you stay grateful, and I hope that when it’s hard to see the good, you’ll see everything else: the rooftops and the ice cream and the libraries.

Because even if the ten years aren’t happy ones for you — for us — we’ll still have everything we need.*

Love,
Your 20-year-old self

p.s. *If you find yourself without everything you need, there’s always the couch cushions. I just found some Skittles yesterday.

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