I recently turned thirty. It’s sometimes bewildering to think of how much has changed in my life in the last decade, but suffice to say my experience now would be unrecognisable (in a good way!) to myself at ages 16-24. Here’s an attempt at trying, though.
Hello young one.
I know you don’t like to be reminded of the ways in which you are weak, but you are younger than me, so that’s what I’ll call you. I mean it with respect; there are unique challenges to being young that people often don’t appreciate. I wanted to tell you about the future, and about me, your older self.
Firstly, you are right about your powerlessness, and you are right to want the right to determine your own world. It does just feel better to be able to decide things for yourself, and to look at others and see that they respect you. The adults around you aren’t doing a good job of allowing you your own domain to learn to control, and they shouldn’t blame you for your own inexperience and powerlessness. That just sucks. I’m sorry.
There are some adults and people a bit older than you who will show you that respect, and treat you like a capable person, and you will inhale that and love them for it. Y especially, but also S, and C, and the Rachels. You will let some of them take advantage of your attention and adoration as an excuse not to love you well, and it will take a while to shake off that tendency and go and seek people who will love you back, deeply. But you will find that, and you will put some earnest fucking effort into asking people to treat you better, and it works, and you will get better at the art of loving them too.
You like sex. You will really, really love sex. What, right now, is an exciting new hobby and something to explore with friends and strangers alike will become one of the deepest, most sacred vehicles for connection you know. You will learn to believe in God, although your childhood churches wouldn’t recognise yours. Your body will hurt way less than it did, and have way fewer confusing medical symptoms (that are often psychological symptoms), and you will become someone who recovers easily and rarely gets sick. You will lose your voice and find it again, literally, and you’ll discover that almost every literal experience has a metaphorical component and vice versa.
You are, and you will continue to be, doing the work. You, for some reason I still can’t quite understand, have the strongest drive for self-knowledge and self-transformation of anyone you know. You will meet others with a similarly high drive, and you will lose the sense that you are alone, separated from anyone who thinks and feels like you. You won’t have to feel like being ‘the smart one’ dooms you to a life of isolation.
Things will happen—internal things, relational things, intellectual things, practical things—that will slowly and rapidly transform you into such a loved and loving person that you won’t believe. It is hard to describe the extent to which your experience, your world, your life and everything around you will become deeply okay in a way that you currently can’t understand. Terrible things will happen, and wonderful things, and you will slowly (and rapidly, sometimes!) transform into a person who can go through it all, and bravely face up to any challenge that happens in her life. I’m in awe of her—and I am her—but you helped make her, so I have a lot of gratitude to you.
If I were to ask you to do things differently?
Mostly I wouldn’t, but there are a handful of small things.
Let people be kind to you, even if you think they aren’t worthwhile. That sense that they aren’t worthwhile is a defense mechanism preventing you from allowing yourself to feel loved by them. Take seriously the resistances you encounter in yourself, because they often bring you important information. Learn to meditate and to process trauma as early as you can. Know that there are other ways to play with people than to insult them; innocent teasing is often a vehicle for covert cruelty, and it’s part of an unnecessary culture that you deep down know you are participating in. Take seriously the things your body yearns for, and allow them onto the same playing field as your intellectualised dreams. What your body wants is a powerful motivator. Recognise that the seeming contradictions in your personality are the raw materials from which your unique self is created, and do not diminish them. The Venn diagram overlap between wanting to know everything about economics and caring about therapy and art creates a unique perspective that you get to give to the world.
You will love people and lose them, horrifically. All of them, eventually, although blessedly you still have many of them with you yet. There isn’t an answer to your purpose in life, but your incessant asking of the question gets you to pretty good places. Beating yourself up for failing both hurts you and hinders your success, but it’s awfully hard to unlearn it and I think you’re doing your best at trying already.
There is a level of joy, and richness, and depth and vividness to life that right now you can barely imagine, but you are en route to finding it. I’m excited for you.
Oh, and you are allergic to soy.