Wednesday, May 22, 2013

A Letter to my 41-Year Old Self

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve read one of those ‘advice to my 21-year old self’ letters I’d take all my readers to Vue de Monde for kicks. People constantly say, “if only I could go back and do it differently”, but given the chance, would you leap forward to check where you ended up? I’m in bed with tonsillitis today, and my sick brain has my emotional and creative reins. Accordingly, I (my sick brain) decided to do something a bit different: write a letter from my 23-year old self to my 41-year old self. 

Dear 41-year old self, 

Remember the iPhone 5? Didn’t think so. 

Eighteen years ago you were still stuck on an iPhone 4S and loyal to your laptop. I can’t begin to imagine what gadgets are available now, but I hope at least some of them aren’t commodities and actually change the world for the better. 

Congratulations on living for over four decades. 

As you look back you will remember your youth, perhaps as the best time of your life. You will have conquered challenges you never would have expected to face when you were a 23-year old with newly found independence, embracing her passion with a supportive family and someone she loved by her side. I, your past self, want to remind you of what’s really important so that when your head is spinning off your shoulders and you find yourself having to explaining to a daughter what a tampon is, you will remember your amazing life and the people who put you there. 

Just in case you want some advice from someone with practically no life experience—but without the shackles of responsibility and nothing to contaminate her views of what’s expected or important—make time for fun. The kind of 'reckless abandon' fun you could afford to risk in your youth. Life is nothing without uncertainty, and risks build character. They’ve made you who you are today and irrespective of any commitments, the person you are most accountable to is yourself. 

Do you remember how it felt to be 23, to be able to take risks because you had your whole life ahead of you? Why should it be any different now? Why shouldn’t you have that second piece of cake or go on that holiday? Yes, be responsible, but do what makes you smile. You managed to skip a lot of crap as a high-achieving generation Y-er. Never forget how important the crap can be in teaching you something. There’s no such thing as a mistake if you can learn from it and fulfilment, in all parts of your life, has always been the ultimate goal. 

You never wanted to be like everyone else, so don’t be. Never stop learning. Do a course, attend a lecture, take a dance class, find a mentor. If there are toxic people around you, get rid of them. You should have done it years ago. If you don’t want to do something, don’t do it. If you don’t have it all figured out, don’t worry. As long as you’re happy, there’s nothing to be ‘figured out’; just life to be lived. 

Laugh at yourself. Laugh often. Make time to read (paper, not electronic) and if you’re in a relationship, make a date night and stick to it. Stick to natural food, too. Don’t buy anything fat free (lord knows what they put in that kind of thing now) and support local produce stores, if they still exist. Make time to volunteer and help someone who needs you. Oh, and thank your mum for always making you wear sunscreen. 

By the way, I give you permission to get work done. Only a little bit though, and only if it will make you feel better in the long run. Just make sure you do it for you, never for him. Remember that with imperfection comes perspective. On that note, how is your relationship? In my mind it’s been nearly 20 years since you met and you still get butterflies. Maybe that’s all a little naive. 

Does he make you feel special, smart, beautiful, appreciated? If not, fix it, or get out. You deserve better. And so do your children. Maybe you’re a single mum? Anything can happen. Just remember, it’s never too late too be as happy as you were when you were 23. 

Surround yourself with the same people you did 20 years ago; the friends who made you laugh, told you their secrets and always made time to see you. Not all of them will be happy. Try and change that or at the very least, support them as best you can. 

Did you ever write that book? There are no more excuses now, seeing as you’re haunting yourself from the past. If my plans for you have come to fruition, there’s no reason why you can’t take a year off tomorrow and do it. Are you still fit? A healthy heart is a healthy mind, and if you’ve maintained my eating habits you better bloody well be taking care of my body. If you look even half as good as your mother did when she was your age, I approve. 

Are you successful? Did you give the finger to the glass ceiling and set an example for those around you? Forget fear. Fear of finances, fear of sickness, fear of failure. It poisons people on the inside—especially when they feel responsibility for others—until it starts to eat away at the outside, too. And trust me, the people you are responsible for will notice. 

Write a letter to your family, but don’t wait to give it to them. Remember when you read that letter your dad wrote ‘just in case something happened’? The one you ended up reading ‘early’, when the family was emotional after the cat died? Never make anyone wait to find out how you truly feel. It can change their lives. 

Do you remember when 40 seemed old? It's been a while since your parents were 40, and when 50 claimed them you wished 60 would never come. You thanked something greater that they were healthy every day when you were in your early 20s. Hopefully you still do. You never took them for granted then. Don’t let your life get in the way of that now. Your family is your greatest blessing. Call regularly, visit frequently and tell them you love them until you drive them crazy. Make sure you experienced a life full of overseas adventures and Sunday morning breakfasts with your family, the same way your parents did with you. 

Stop for a moment and think about your grandparents, all four of them. Go back to when you were in your teens, before life’s inevitable path tainted any memories of them. Remember their old world beauty and nimble fingers that crafted dolls from scraps of cloth; their love for watches and quirky horror masks and allegiance to the Collingwood Football Club; their agility and singing voice and three course breakfasts; their cheeky sense of humour and that time you swear you saw a flying white horse. 

Call your youngest brother and apologise for the distance you used to share, attributed to the 11-year age gap that left you with little in common, not even your gender to bring you closer together. Make sure he knows you loved him back then, but that you hadn’t fully learned patience. With children of your own, you will understand tolerance better than you did then. Take him out for dinner, along with your other younger brother. 

Congratulate the other brother on his success, even though you knew 20 years ago that he’d do something remarkable in one field or another. Make the ‘sibling dinner’ a monthly event. It’s no secret that keeping a bond alive takes effort, and as the eldest, you should accept that responsibility. Remember your parents’ legacy: nothing is more important than family. 

Finally, restart that notebook you had in 2013, the one where you wrote down everything for which you were grateful (I know you've since stopped!). That way, you can thank yourself for being an insightful, witty 23-year old who gave you an excuse to go to Italy for a few months like you’ve always wanted to, and do nothing but shop at local markets, cook and drink wine. 

And when you’re there, looking down from a shuttered window at a cobblestone laneway lined with dresses hung out to dry, reply to my letter. Think back over the years at how blessed you have been, how blessed you are now and all the treasured memories that makes you smile. Perhaps 41 is too young to find a higher peace, but I hope you are well on your way. 

You still have half a lifetime to fulfil your dreams. 

Yours respectfully, 

You, 18 years ago.


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