Hey Younger Me,
It’s me, your older self. I’ve been asked to write you a letter that foretells the myriad accomplishments and setbacks you’ll experience in life.
A compendium, really, of the knowledge and wisdom I’ve gained since I was your age, and whatever other sage advice I may have to ease your journey. I guess sort of like a psychic friend crossed with a fairy godmother, with a dash of Yoda, Dear Abby, Polonius, and the Ghost of Things to Come… tossed into 750 to 1,000 words.
But, if I were to lay it all out for you here — your life — then I would not only rob you of what you love most, but also condemn you to what you like least.
For you see, young, supple, wrinkle-free me, what makes us us is our absolute, unalloyed, and unrelenting love of living plan-free. We’ve never had any idea what we want, or what comes next, and frankly, we like it that way. Whatever path we’re on is the one we’re on… if you know what we mean. Our goal isn’t to get anywhere, it’s to go everywhere. It’s to see everything, do everything, learn everything, and try everything. It’s to eat life for breakfast. And then have it again for lunch, dinner, and dessert.
Me telling you what’s to come would be the equivalent of consigning you to a predetermined plan, and that would take all the fun out of things. Sure, it may sound good on paper, knowing what’s in store. It’s tempting to have all the answers to the questions we seek. But advice from others and grand plans just aren’t our thing. We learn by doing, by trying, by getting our hands dirty, by getting knocked down and standing back up again. And besides, we’re terrible at following directions (and if I’m being completely honest with you, we’re not great with authority either).
Since we were very young (about the time we were blessed with cognition), we understood well our place on Earth, the ephemeral, fragile nature of life, and how very little time we have to spend living it. “Fuck it. I’m going to die one day anyway,” is our superpower. It’s our last thought before making of our decisions, large and small. This knowledge has always informed all (or most) of our life, and been our ticket to march to our own drummer. To make unusual and unconventional choices. To take chances. To choose fun. To give generously of ourselves and our belongings. To take the high road even when the low road holds more appeal. To embrace fear, anxiety, and embarrassment, even when it’s scary or stressful. To live without knowing what comes next.
Pema Chödrön, an American woman who became an important Tibetan Budhhist, wrote this as she neared her 80th birthday, and I think it applies to you, young me, “The mind is very wild. The human experience is full of unpredictability and paradox, joys and sorrows, successes and failures. We can’t escape any of these experiences in the vast terrain of our existence. It is part of what makes life grand — and it is also why our minds take us on such a crazy ride.”
We are explorers. We’re observers. We’re children disguised as adults. We never stop asking, “Why?” “But, why?!” “No, really, why?!” And also, “Why not?” We want to see what’s around the next bend, and the next bend, and then the bend after that. We always want to walk just a little bit further to see what’s ahead. We make choices that reflect our hopes and wildest dreams, not our fears. We expand to make room for more to come, not contract to account for what we’ve lost. We find reasons why we can, not for why we cannot. We always start with “yes” or at least, “sure, why not?” And if we fail, so what? Then we fail and we move on to the next thing. Life is too short to dwell. We fail fast, and we fail often, with laughter and with grace; we learn as best as we can from it, and move on. And when we succeed, we do the same.
We love having fun, laughing, and bringing joy, smiles, and laughter to others. We love learning and discovery. We love surprises and serendipity. Put simply, we love the wonder of life. If that is the plan you seek from me, that is the plan I offer you.
Otherwise, a blueprint for how to live a perfect life is as unappealing to us as the opportunity to go back in time for a do-over. We’re just not built that way. We live with no regrets. There’s nothing, young me, that I would do differently. We take the good with the bad, the ups with the downs, the joy with the heartbreak, the laughter with the tears, the miracles with the tragedies, the setbacks with the victories. We’re roller-coaster people, not merry-go-rounders.
And hey, young me, it’s A-ok that you’re not a “joiner” — that you don’t fit nicely into an assigned archetype or clique or have your own table in the lunch room at school — you’re the kid who can sit at any table. It may not be your clique but they don’t mind you visiting. You do not now, nor will you ever belong in one category, or in one place, doing one thing or living one way. You will always roam, searching for more. You will always ask questions, and wonder, and ponder, and seek meaning and answers, and experiences and knowledge, and you will always put laughter and fun first. And you will find it all, and so much more.
In the words of Hunter S. Thompson, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
So, young me, as you know, you don’t have much time left. So keep on keeping on, and all that.