Dear Me at 17,
We’re 30 now.
At your age, I assumed 30 would feel like having arrived or achieved. Frankly, I have no idea what being 30 means other than grad school, being married to a really rad guy, doing freelance writing and editing in my spare time, and finally having the guts to charge what I’m worth. It also means having a puppy who follows me around like she’s caught in my orbit, having more money and fewer worries than I’ve ever had, and being more myself than I ever was. In other words, not what I expected to be or have at 30.
So, I should probably impart some hard-won wisdom to you. Though I’m accustomed to handing out unsolicited advice to siblings, friends, and even strangers, I wonder what does one say to the past from the future?
First of all, do not feel ashamed for being an opinionated woman. Your future husband loves that about you, and I love that about you.
Forgive yourself more often.
Never let a boy or man guilt you into sex. Don’t ever date someone out of pity or boredom or for the ego-inflating feeling of being adored.
Always, always say yes to cake.
Learn to love exercise. Discover kale before 2009. Give up milk. You will watch the humans around you get larger and the nutritious food choices fewer.
Sleep more. It’s not cool or special to be sleep-deprived. That quote you like to tout (“I’ll sleep when I’m dead”) does not serve the life you are meant to live, and I blame it for the flock of crow’s feet around my eyes.
Make trust a habit. Start with yourself.
Don’t ever have the grilled portobello sandwich from Shiloh’s. That was the gnarliest case of food poisoning imaginable.
Be kind to Mom and Dad. When you’re 25, you’ll come to the sudden realization that you are older than they were when they became your parents. You’ll recognize how ill-equipped you feel at that age to raise a child. You’ll acknowledge you expected perfection out of two people who only knew what they knew and were doing their very best.
A friend of ours always says, “If you’re not growing, you’re decaying.” Grow and reach and stretch so that you never fit into the same mold as the day before.
Humans’ choices from two places: love or fear. Choose love, sweet girl; it never lets you down.
You will encounter challenges. I won’t spare you one moment of gut-wrenching pain or confusion or fear by telling you how to avoid them. I urge you to leave the one-dimensional existence to paper people, and immerse yourself in the depth and breadth of feelings that only humans get to experience. All of the feelings, not just the glittery, Facebook-status ones.
Drink more water. A lot more.
You’re going to run a marathon one day. (I know—the girl who hates running!) Don’t miss the final training run, because what you missed it for was not even kind of worth it.
By 30, we still haven’t lost that fleeing feeling, the desire to keep a suitcase packed in the back of the closet so if we ever want to, we can pick it up and be gone.
You will go. You leave for Ireland on a one-way ticket, and you’ll learn more in five months than you did in four years of college. You fall in love with that green island and with a particular beach town in Italy that you vow to return to when you write your novel. You fall in love with life without a cell phone. You fall in love with solitude and silence and the anonymity of being a foreigner. You fall in love with yourself.
Learn something from every relationship. This masterpiece of a marriage you’re building? It takes materials. A lot of materials. Materials you weren’t born with, ones you uncover from the rubble of past relationships, shards you dig out of your skin and hold up to the light to see that they are glistening lessons for you, gifts to make you the wife you will need to be.
You’re going to have a wanderlust-and-wine-laden life. It’s messy; it’s fast-paced. It’s small and insignificant in the grand scheme of humanity, but you make a difference in people’s lives every day by who you are.
This barely skimmed the surface of the last 13 years. You must have a million questions for me. But, dear 17-year-old self, if you really were able to read this letter,
I wouldn’t tell you a damn thing.
That in itself would tell you how valuable this life is to me…how I wouldn’t risk the ripple effect of one tiny revelation that might shatter my present day world. Nor would I give you the specifics that would cause you to rush through seeking the good times (and you know you would, impatient girl).
Just know it’s all worth it and that even at 30, it feels like it has just begun.
Author: Jenna Lee Dillon
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Hillary Boles/Flickr