Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Dear 23-year-old me.

People normally write to their 16-year-old selves. The thing is, when I was 16, I still had some semblance of structure in my life. I was going to finish up high school and head to the same college that most of my older siblings went to, and then my life would probably magically unfold for me after that.

But 23, that’s a different story. At 23 I was done riding the graduation high, and I was past hope that I’d find a decent job right out of the gate. The structure I had gotten so comfortable in for about 17 years suddenly fell away, and I was expected to immediately be an adult. Enter: the first of about 80 identity crises. Not to mention that my most useful class in my entire school career from a practicality standpoint was “quantitative reasoning”, which taught us what math could look like in the real world. That insane college tuition was totally worth it, right? RIGHT?!...*eye twitches*.

Let me set the stage: I was working at World Market in suburbia and living at my parents’ house, still trying to swallow the hard pill of not getting out of college with a salaried job and money in the bank. My low point was considering being a family counselor at a cremation company in the strip mall 10 minutes away; even more defeating was the fact that I probably wasn't even qualified with my B.A. in Psychology. Far from college friends, I tried to find a "new" set of friends in close proximity. I also tried going to church consistently for some semblance of comfort. But I was ultimately was still focused on guys and what people thought about me.

In reading my old journal entries, I just wanted to give my 23-year-old self a hug. This one entry particularly disturbed me:

"Here I am; manipulative, selfish, inconsiderate, lost, striving, overwhelmed, bitchy, hypocritical, UNWORTHY. I am disgusting, vile, nothing of my own doing is good. Or at least that's what I feel like. Every good thing I have is You [God]. Every good thing I am is You. I don't deserve friends, happiness, generosity, or anything...and yet You bless me with it every day."

I've seen a handful of posts with that dialogue and it doesn't feel like me. I was just a scared, lost post-grad who wanted a boyfriend more than anything and sought value in other people constantly. I wasn't a horrible human; I still focused on being kind and loving, even if it wasn't to myself. The fact that I wrote "vile" and "disgusting" among other descriptors is sad and almost humorous because it sounds like something out of a radical sermon. But that's really what I felt like...I was so overwhelmed with my life that I "surrendered" it. Turns out that still meant feeling everything, wondering why it wasn't changing, and feeling helpless and out of control.

Looking back, what would I say to that girl?

I would tell her she's more powerful than she could ever imagine, and she deserves to be heard. Her contribution is valuable. I would tell her that she deserves a guy who's interested and friends who feel like sunshine. She doesn't need to mute herself to let others shine; it's not a zero-sum game. Everyone matters, including her. 

I would tell her that no one gives a true crap about pivot table skills in advertising for entry-level positions. I would tell her not to waste too much of her time chasing that stupid flaky wedding photographer, that apathetic guy from church or that close-minded and judgmental dude from high school. Although each of them have helped shape her in the rock tumbler of life, I would tell her that eventually those people would fade away and new, more amazing people would come in their place.

I would tell her that it's ok to question her faith, and she should dig in and question it more even if the answers weren't the ones she grew up knowing. That she would still be ok.

I would tell her to talk back to the critical voice in her head and say the opposite to startle it into silence. I would tell her that it eventually starts to speak less and less, and knows it is not welcome.

I would tell her that the satisfaction of her days would be measured less by how many guys talked to her or checked her out, and more in lattes, books, laughter, words, hugs and tiny details.

I would tell her to stop hiding. And to not define herself by paths already taken by people in her life. She has everything to contribute, and is her own person but also a beautiful combination of interactions with everyone else.

I would tell her I love her, and that it will only get better.

And I am so thankful for that. At the end of my 23rd year, I found an internship at an advertising agency that would jumpstart the next 6.5 years of my life. I moved out of my parents' house down to Wash Park to have a whole new set of adventures. I learned more about what it means to be me.

At 29, things are better still. I have so many amazing supports in my life, I've created 3 roles and elevated my career, and I am living in Denver. It's definitely not all roses; I often ride an emotional roller coaster and am scared for some big changes that I want to make, but I know that my 35-year-old self would say: "I love you, and it will only get better".

Thanks for reading, friends.

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