Every year around November, I write my future self a letter.
I write about the lessons I learned that year, what I want to work towards and the hopes I have for the year ahead.
It’s a fun tradition that I’ve kept up for nearly a decade, but it wasn’t always the enjoyable experience it is today.
When I picked up past letters to read, I resented my younger self! She would set me the loftiest tasks and I never felt I lived up to her expectations.
One year I hoped that by the following Christmas I would be somewhere in Europe, studying history and sitting by a fireplace with the love of my life. Instead I was working long-shifts in retail; all dreams of a snowy, toasty and loved-up December completely forgotten.
I realised I still hadn’t learned anything when I sat down a year later with my past self telling me that by now, I should be an actor living in LA, crashing Hollywood parties and celebrity-watching. My reality? I was living at home, crashing on the couch, watching re-runs of Friends.
The truth is, my learning and growth didn’t happen for a while. I kept aspiring for TED Talks and grand houses and overnight success, while still feeling disappointed with all versions of myself, past, present and future.
The further I progressed into my twenties, I noticed that it wasn’t as if my hopes were becoming more achievable, they were just becoming much more, me.
To quote my 2021 self, “By this time next year I want to know myself even deeper than I do now. I want to be bold in what I stand for and brave in going after what I want. I just want to enjoy every step of the way in 2022!” And I did.
That might sound boring compared to the global escapades I once dreamed of, but when I look back at those yearly goals, I see the chaos. The outlook I have now and the person I have become brings me so much peace and calm, something I know my past self never had an ounce of.
So I took pause this year and thought since I’m writing my future self a letter, why not also take the time to write to my past self? The one with the fantastical mind who never ceased to wish for the moon, because she seems to be the one who needs the most perspective.
Maybe, if I go back to the start, I can fill my 18-year-old-self in on some insights I know would have made life so much easier, once upon a time, when I was her.
Dear 18-year-old me,
I want to talk to you about my twenties. Okay I know you’re probably thinking, what’s there to talk about? If everything went according to plan then I went to Sydney University, studied archaeology, spent a couple of years traveling around the world, excavating ancient sites and wearing a linen shirt and short combo with a broad-rimmed hat! Are we not a decade into a lucrative career in ancient history by now? First of all, lucrative career in ancient history? I forgot how funny you were.
Secondly, let’s not act like you’re not harbouring a strong desire to write and direct! Let’s not act like you aren’t already second-guessing your choice and wanting to drop out of your degree and jump into another. So I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I tell you that I did exactly that, and then later at twenty-nine, I became a graduate again in the entirely different field of psychotherapy.
I know what you’re thinking, I’m thirty, supposedly an old woman now, how am I still exploring different interests?
I know this might be hard to process so I’ve come up with three things I wish I knew back when I was you – an indie girl with thick Ray-Ban glasses and an iPod shuffle. Maybe this will help you come to terms with the future that awaits you, a future that might seem scary and uncertain to your young self, but from my viewpoint was a time full of potential, exploration and fun. If you can just get out of that head of yours, you’ll see it too.
It’s okay to take your time.
I remember being where you were, not long ago. It’s a new school year and it’s your last! Suddenly you’re in the career advisor’s office discussing what university you want to go to and what course you want to study. You’ve been excited to have this chat and yet you’re also feeling anxious. For so long you’ve had too many interests: you want to write, act, and design clothes. You want to learn about Ancient Rome and Egypt and you also love psychology. You even think you could do law if you really set your mind to it. You’ve known for all of your life within the education system that you’re meant to choose just one. I know you feel restricted, and worried that parts of you will be ignored and interests will be left unexplored.
Making such a decision feels like you’re ultimately choosing the career you’ll spend the rest of your life doing, but please know, that isn’t the case at all.
You have every right to feel that way at 18-years-old and you have every right to change your mind, so take your time and explore many options along the way.
You are such a curious and visceral person! I’ve come to love that about myself, the need to try new things and test my capabilities. But throughout my twenties I struggled to come to terms with it. Jumping from an ancient history degree into a creative arts bachelor and then eventually into psychotherapy, made me feel aimless at times, like I was lost and unable to commit to building something real for myself. In retrospect, I can now say I spent my twenties well. I dipped my toe into the many different pools of interests and I’ve come out a multifaceted person with an expansive knowledge and bravery for exploration. I’m so grateful we had the strength to do that.
Younger self, I need you to take your time! Don’t rush into making any decisions about what course to study or what career to pursue. Instead, decide not to decide and then get active and get curious! Research short courses, online and in-person classes and try out as many as you’re interested in. Take a writing class, learn a language, learn a trade, read academic papers, whatever! Try out as many things as you can and see how it feels. And if you really want to go to university, go talk to professors or tutors about the course to see if it’s a right fit for you. This is your time, money and life! You need to get more involved in making the most informed decision for yourself.
There’s more to life than career.
At your age I remember feeling that the whole purpose of getting through school and the subjects I wasn’t so interested in (*cough* maths *cough*), was to get a good ATAR score to get into university, so that I could then build a lucrative career, earn money, buy a house, get a promotion and on and on until the end of times. I would spend so much time thinking and worrying about my future and the pressure of a career I hadn’t even decided on, that I became blindsided to what else was and is more important in life.
This is a really simple point I want to make so I’m going to ask you a few questions, just to show you what I mean.
Are you eating enough vegetables, or are you even aware of how nutrients work within the body?
How many hours a night are you sleeping?
What do you need right now? Water? A hug? Some alone time?
Do you feel the relationships in your life are healthy and meaningful?
Can you go even one hour without checking your phone or social media?
It’s so important to check in with yourself, and to get curious about you.
You are a person who has needs outside of the education system, outside of work, and outside of the pressures we place upon ourselves.
Trust me when I say, the moment I started creating a balance between all the aspects of my life; my health, hobbies, education, exercise, spiritual and personal growth, social life, rest, etc., was the moment I discovered what happiness truly is.
Savour every moment.
Younger self, there’s a lesson in each and every moment. Savour the rejections, the dark days and the challenges just as much as the successes, good days and triumphs.
I think I want you to know this most of all, because when I was having a down day, or felt rejected, stuck, lost or hopeless, I would often feel so swallowed up by that experience. Even when I was feeling fine again, I was still waiting for the next rejection to happen, the next bad day, or the next upset, which made it hard for me to enjoy the good times.
The biggest gift I gave to myself was learning to appreciate those tough times and learning to love each step along the way. I did this by reminding myself that it’s a constant process, that life will always have ups and downs. When I looked for the lesson in every situation and every interaction, I started to see that each moment holds immense value. I soon discovered that I was learning more on a bad day than on a good one, and if I could just welcome the uncomfortable feelings, they didn’t seem so bad anymore.
You will discover that it’s who you become along the journey and how you develop during the process that is way more rewarding and interesting than any material results or any outcome. You will discover that the resilience you have on the down days only affirms how strong and capable you are. The good days are the cherry on top, but to have a tough day and be so at peace with it, that is true growth! Now that I’m thirty, those are the moments I’m most proud of.
Please remember younger self, that you won’t be where you are ever again, so savour time with your family, your friends and yourself. Savour the freedom that comes with youth, savour where you are instead of idolising being elsewhere. Savour the small moments even more than the big ones! Savour the pits just as much as the peaks, savour the rough and tumble and the polish and shine, because it’s all shaping you into exactly who you’re meant to be.