Dear younger me
Where do I start
If I could tell you everything that I have learned so far
Then you could be
One step ahead
Of all the painful memories still running through my head
I wonder how much different things would be
Dear younger me
I cannot decide
Do I give some speech about how to get the most out of your life
Or do I go deep
And try to change
The choices that you’ll make cause they’re choices that made me
Even though I love this crazy life
Sometimes I wish it was a smoother ride
The final year of my 20s began this month. I don’t know if that is more or less intimidating than saying I turned 29. I have friends who are eagerly looking forward to their 30s. They have a satisfying decade behind them and can’t wait for what the next one will bring. For some of them it is having their babies and getting through the “little” years and beginning the adventures of going back to school, developing their passions, or moving into careers. For others, they worked through years and years of schooling, have forged hard won careers, found their someone to spend their lives with, traveled, and are looking to take on the fresh new beginning of babies. Some tackled both of those at the same time, fighting hard for all of it, while others focused single-mindedly on their kids or their careers, giving the best that was in them all at once.
When I look back over my twenties, the list of accomplishments feels blank. College took freaking forever. I should have a master’s for how much time I spent in undergrad. My GPA was perfect, but I have a stack of unusable credits and loaded myself up on debt (that I am thankfully rid of). I’ve worked a couple of jobs, all of them part time, usually more than one at a time, some in school, some after, all of them very enjoyable in their different ways, none of them career builders. I did get married young, but there was no traveling the world with my husband out to sea more than 75% of the year and finishing and paying off school. We just had our first child almost two years ago. At this rate, I’ll be shaking hands with 35 before my kids are even school aged. My first instinct looking back at this decade is to see a degree too long in the making going unused, no career, no world travel, and the circus of early motherhood barely begun and to ask myself what on earth I actually did in my twenties.
This is sounding like a whine-fest although it isn’t meant to be, nor is it meant to be a list of disappointments. I think this comes from the process of reconciling the life I thought I’d have to the one I actually ended up with. I’m a planner. I’ve always been a planner. I always have a picture in my mind of the way things are supposed to go. I have contingency plans for my contingency plans. Changes just mean you need to modify the plan. With each new development – illness, financial woes, meeting the man I wanted to marry, etc. – I had to make decisions and reformulate how things were “supposed” to look. Each time, the new person I was from all that came before made choices I never thought she’d make. In the end, it felt a lot like reacting rather than planning because none of the plans panned out. I look around and wonder if I could have have gotten here, or farther, a better and faster way.
I wish I’d been able to have my babies in my early 20s and be done by 30. Energy, resilience, and so many other reasons. But my body took a good long time to recover from the wreck thyroid disease made of it, and I honestly was not emotionally ready to have children until much later. At 22 I wouldn’t have been the mother I became 5 years later, and I prefer this version of myself even with all she has left to learn. We had our daughter as soon as I was ready. She’s perfect and considering how everything went, I am so grateful that we waited until then. I couldn’t and wouldn’t trade her just to have started sooner.
If we’re being frank, I don’t have a career. In a vague sort of way, I always thought that I would. Marrying young never ever came into it. I would be supporting myself and traveling. Family life seemed a distant and uninteresting concept. Until I met someone who made a family seem like the most important thing ever. And with each passing year, I have wrestled with the fact that, although I can be an ambitious person, a regular career path held no appeal to me in the life I was actually living. I spent a lot of time believing I needed to have a certain type of job while steadfastly ignoring what I truly wanted to do. Writing is in my blood. I’m running with that now. There will undoubtedly be other part time jobs because I like them and I like doing different things and moving on. But writing is my heart.
Looking back, I know I could have done my education differently. These days I have different beliefs about the value of college and it’s cost. What I have no wish to trade though are the lifelong friends that I found, the confidence I gained, and the writing skills and their accompanying callouses. Now I know just how hard I can work. I have a clearer picture of my strengths and my weaknesses. I know that criticism won’t kill you, and that I can, in the words of a fellow student, write “a damn good essay.” College was the first time I learned to believe that I was good at something. That is a startling and lovely revelation. It came at a hefty cost, yet that also became a lesson that changed my beliefs about debt.
Ever since hearing Mercyme’s song, I’ve thought about what I’d say if I wrote a letter to myself. What are the things I’d truly want to change? What are the biggest hurts, the most painful regrets? What would truly be worth fixing? Seeing through the lens of perfectionism creates a laundry list that grows with remembering. Yet, what precious memories and lessons would I lose in changing the past? What else would I sacrifice that I got to keep instead? There are some painful moments I want to undo in spite of what I could lose. And yet all of them boil down to the same thing – pray and listen, really listen for the answer. Then walk your path regardless of what other people think, do, or say. Spend more time with God than you do anyone else. This is the stuff that would have made the difference in the end.
I would do it differently now; I would do so much differently now. But that’s who I am now and not who I was then. I suffer embarrassments for my mistakes because I have a difficult time owning each girl as a version of myself. I want to shed them moving forward, pretending they never existed, but the choices they made are the choices that made me. This is, in a way, about regrets. Wondering if this decade could have been better spent. The truth: it could have. I could have done better and been better. But each decision I made was out of who I was at the time. Most of the time, we are doing the best we can with what we have. To look back and say I could have made this better is to know that I have learned. Which means it hasn’t been a stagnant decade. I could have done better, but maybe it matters more that, because of this decade, I am better. I am better than who I was at the start of it.
There is still a year left before I turn thirty. On the one hand, I have big plans for this coming year. On the other hand, I know how much of it is out of my control. If my twenties have brought me anything, it has been learning to be comfortable with a radical change in life plans…frequently. So, the “plan” this time is to make use of my own advice and to take hold of all the things that are within my ability to grasp and let the rest go. My twenties have been a decade of tough lessons and big change physically, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually – all of it. Opinions, beliefs, purpose, faith – they’ve all been put through the fire. They aren’t fully refined yet, but I can say that the old is burning away and I’m beginning to see a shimmer of what will be left. It’s bright and strong and immovable, and I think that it was worth it.