To My 19-year-old Self
I usually like to spend my birthday month doing a lot of reflection and reminiscing so I was flipping through my old journals and found an entry from 2016. To give you guys some context to the entry below, I was 19 and just finished my second-year in college. Due to events that unfolded earlier in the year, I started to question everything. My job, my major, my career path, and most importantly, myself.
I wanted to write a letter to my 19-year-old self to let her know that everything is going to be okay. That her feelings are valid. That the path she feels she cannot change, will change. And even though she feels like she is stuck at the end, this is only the beginning.
August 3, 2016 | Age 19
“I find I’m doing all of the things I told myself I wouldn’t. Office cubicle, anxiety driven, fearful, controlling—I find it more upsetting that if my 10-year-old self met me now, I’m not too sure if she’d like me. I imagine she’d call me a sellout. That I drank the KoolAid of adulthood, gave up my childish dreams to do what I can do, for what I have to do, to survive in society post-grad. I don’t believe anyone has ever asked me “What do you like to do?” The ‘like’ was always replaced by ‘can’. One of the bitter things that come with growing up is that you start to leave your childish dreams behind, casting them off as impractical and unrealistic. Replacing them with tangible ones and choosing to live a basic, safe life. I want to run away from whatever the hell I’m supposed to do here. Even after all this time, no matter how much I’ve grown and changed, running away is still all I want to do. I need to breathe in a place that has no expectations of me, and find myself in a place where I know no one. I want to disappear for awhile, and see who I’ll be when I come back.”
To my 19-year-old self:
I know that as you were writing this entry you felt incredibly lost.
You have had an idea of how your life was going to turn out and exactly how you were going to get there. You made a mental checklist of everything you needed to achieve in order to get there—good grades, solid connections, consistent internships—all of which would lead to a well-paying job post-graduate.
But at some point you started to question and reflect on your choices, wants, and desires.
You started to look for the ‘why.’
And this left you with more questions than answers.
You thought that it would be easy to explain why you wanted all of those things in your life but the reasons you found never had ‘I’ as the subject.
You discovered that you only wanted those things to be labeled as successful in societal terms. You wanted to be liked and looked upon favorably by others.
Hoping that in turn, you could convince yourself that you were worthy. That you were somebody. And that you could not be disregarded.
You want to be liked, loved, and valued. It’s heartbreaking to know that you cannot see that there are people all around you that feel that way towards you.
But at this point, you are incapable of seeing anything of that.
Because you don’t love yourself.
Something that will take you a couple years to learn is that self-love is a constant practice. You thought that since you practiced and achieved that feeling in high school, you were done for life. That you would never not love yourself again. But you haven’t been taking care of yourself.
You are ignoring your emotions in favor of external rewards. You push down your feelings so you can be as productive as possible. You bury yourself in your work to logic your way out of dealing with your feelings.
You’re not allowing yourself to feel. And this is one of the most dangerous things you will ever do.
“You have sh*t to do.”
“You don’t have time to feel this way.”
“Get it together.”
These are your current mantras. I don’t know when you started saying them to yourself but it’s definitely not helping you. You are bullying yourself by not allowing yourself to feel anything. You’re afraid that if you let your feelings come out, you’ll have no way to control it and you feel weak for not being able to control your emotions.
But we were never meant to be able to control our emotions. Our emotions are not controllable. You’re going to find this concept really difficult because you have an extreme need for control but you must let yourself feel everything.
And I really need you to understand the following three things:
#1 Emotions are not weakness. And ignoring your emotions is not strength.
#2 Denying yourself rest does not make you a hero; it only makes you tired.
#3 Being vulnerable does not make you less than.
Vulnerability will become your greatest strength and will allow you to connect with others.
And those connections will fill the emptiness that you have tried to fill with external rewards your entire life.
You’ve been running at a 120 miles/hour since high school, trying to catch up with the world that was not going anywhere.
At some point the goals you made for yourself turned into demands.
Those demands became the benchmark of success and self-worth.
The measure of success kept rising to the point where if you were not over-achieving, you were failing.
It became your sole purpose to constantly outperform and over-achieve so you ran faster and harder. Pushing yourself without questioning your actions. And never resting.
Treating everything like a “have to” instead of choice.
You equated all your external rewards with happiness—grades, promotions, achievements—believing that since you were achieving success you were also achieving happiness.
But you are starting to realize that it doesn’t work like that.
And you are actually really unhappy.
You cannot admit this to yourself of course because if you admit that you’re unhappy then you have to admit that something is wrong.
And what could be wrong with a life full of external rewards?
I know you think that if you travel to a place where no one knows you, you’ll have a chance to find out who you are without the influence of the way others perceive you. Because even though you do not acknowledge it, the opinions of others affect you deeply.
One day you’re going to travel the world. And you’re going to find out that you won’t be able to discover who you are until you stop running away from the problems you’re not ready to face.
You’ll discover that feeling lost had nothing to do with where you were at and everything to do with what you were not acknowledging within yourself: That you don’t want the future that everyone thought you would achieve one day.
Because if you did that, then you would not have that societal benchmark of success to tell you whether or not you were succeeding.
And if you were not succeeding, then you were failing. Right?
Having no marker to judge your actions and tossing out the plan you had for years wasn’t something you were ready for.
Because if you did all those things, you would be lost.
And you hated the instability that warranted.
This year has been difficult for you.
You have started to question things that you never thought you needed to.
And it has left you feeling incredibly insecure.
The years ahead are going to be some of the hardest but most rewarding periods of your life.
Everything you feel right now will act as the catalyst to your awakening.
Instead of accepting life the way it is and just going through the motions, you will start to question and think about everything around you.
And this will lead to you knowing yourself more than you have in a long time.
You will grow to understand the importance of being present.
And being present will lead to deeper connections.
And those connections will fill you up more than any materialistic item you have ever owned.
I want to let you know what an amazing person you are.
You are so self-aware and introspective at such a young age and while sometimes it may seem like a really awful quality, it’s actually pretty great.
You’re doing a great job.
No one can do exactly what you do in the way you do it.
And I love you for it.
Everything is going to be alright.