I attended a Women in Leadership conference today and one of the speakers was Ellyn Spragins, editor and contributor for the book Letters to My Younger Self. In the book, powerful and successful women write a letters to themselves at younger ages.
While I am in no way successful or powerful, I love this idea. I thought it would be a fun exercise for me to try, especially since I’m turning thirty tomorrow. So here’s my attempt at talking to twenty year old Jen. A million bucks says she wouldn’t have listened to me.
Dear Twenty Year Old Jen,
Hey. Decided to write you as life here in the future is so totally awesome that I can send pointless missives backwards through time via the internet. Wait until you see the flying cars! No, I’m just fucking with you. There are no flying cars.
I wanted to write this to you to share what wisdom I have with you in hopes that it might make the next ten years a little easier on you. I don’t have much wisdom to share, but maybe what I can share with you will help as you try to become your own person, which, let me tell you, is far more painful than you can imagine.
1) The day is going to come when you are going to realize that all your relationship-related pain has made you a better person. I must sound crazy to you. I know you believed that having a relationship was the most important thing in your life and you tied your self-esteem to your relationship status. Those two things should never have been entwined. It’s something you can’t change now. But once you realize that your value has nothing to do with your relationship status you will realize two things:
a) If you had been able to date all those guys you wanted to date you never would have worked to develop a personality, a sense of humor or one iota of intelligence. Don’t tell me it’s not true, I know you. It would have become more important to you to be what he wanted because you didn’t have the confidence to be yourself and to be proud of yourself. Because you didn’t get the adorations of nameless dudes, you read books instead. You discovered music you liked. You developed your own opinions. You’re better off for it.
b) If you had been able to date all those guys you wanted to date you would not be able to appreciate the relationship you have when you become me. You mature a lot during this time period. All the pain, all the times you sob into your pillow and learn how you don’t want to be treated, you learn how you DO want to be treated. During this time, watch those around you. Watch how they interact in their relationships and when your time comes, (and, just like your mother always said, it will) emulate what you liked and leave what you don’t like at the door.
2) You’re an introvert and that’s not going to change. But don’t be as shy around people you don’t know.
3) Spend as much time with your family as you can. You’ll need to store up as many good memories as you can for when you move 2000 miles away from them and find yourself living alone in a city you don’t know. Know that your family loves you and your parents raised you to be strong. You will be able to survive. Also, spend some time figuring out how to cook. You will need that knowledge in the future. (You’ll never cook as well as Mom, though. Did you expect anything different?) And kiss the cats. You’ll miss them more than you’ll know.
4) Don’t lose faith in your abilities. You do have talent and it will be hard for you to remember that and to find the motivation to actually use that talent. But it’s there. People will say things that shake your faith in yourself. You will feel talentless, worthless and stupid. Do not let these fears override your drive. Whenever you feel shitty, remember that you wrote this. You loved writing it and you’ll come to realize that is all that matters.
5) Sing. When you move into an apartment complex, it won’t be as easily to belt out those tunes and not annoy your neighbors. May I recommend playing Heart’s “Alone” as loud as you can in your car? That’s a great song to sing.
6) Embrace your nerdiness/fandom/etc. All that useless knowledge will come in handy.
7) Hating your body leads nowhere. Find acceptance in who you are and what you look like. It’ll make your life easier and more enjoyable.
Enjoy the next ten years. They’re going to be difficult, fun, turbulent, amazing and shitty all at the same time. You’ll make it through.
PS – VNV Nation still rocks.