An Open Letter to Myself at 17
Awkward, I know, to be writing to myself.
But you might be surprised to find that the 27-year-old version of yourself is sipping coffee and cozied up in blankets in a one-bedroom apartment in . . . Mississippi. Six months ago you were still in Bali, debating if you should spend the day scuba diving or curled up in a hammock.
Crazy, but what’s amazing is that Mississippi is really where the 27-year-old you is supposed to be! You’ll see.
So, seeing as how your future self turns 27 this very week and the fact that the last ten years have been quite the journey, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned along the way.
But I know you -- and I doubt you'll sit back and consider this advice. Because you've always had a plan, you've always known who are you and what you want. What do you need advice for?
But your biggest stumbling blocks in the next 10 years will be when your perfectly laid plans go poof, when the path you thought you had set for yourself five years down the road suddenly twists and turns, when you've got that nagging doubt of "Is this really who you are? Is this really what you want?" It's in those moments of doubt that some of this advice might actually pay off.
So, if I could work a bit of birthday magic, and if I found myself sitting across from 17-year-old Alyssa about to blow out her birthday candles, then here are the 27 pieces of advice I’d give you.
1. Remember all the good in the world. You have found good in every corner of your travels, but you’ll have to remember to look for it at home, too. 2017 may bring out the worst in many Americans, but it will also bring out the best in us, from activists to feminists to philanthropists. (Oh, and if someone shrugs their shoulders and says they’re not voting in the 2016 election, it’s your civic duty to tell them to VOTE.)
2. Get serious about finances... Take that financial management class in college. Learn how to invest. Open a savings account. Keep that credit score up. And spend your money in accordance with your values.
3. But money isn’t everything. And neither is the car you drive, the purse you carry, or the shoes you wear.
4. Sign up for Dance Marathon... It's going to change your life, from your college experience to your career path.
5. But don't be afraid to say "no." You don’t have to commit to everything. This might save you that meltdown in your senior year when you finally decide that you cannot do it all and that something has to give.
6. Know that every closed door opens another door. To quote Steve Jobs: "You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." Trust me, those dots do connect.
7. Seek out mentors. These are the people – whether they’re the VP of an organization, a retired SMC alumna, or a stay-at-home mom – who will help you navigate sticky office politics, encourage you to get your Master’s degree, and tell you to ask for the salary you deserve. These individuals will help you carve out your own career path in development. Seek them out.
8. Surround yourself with positive people... Be intentional in filling your life with friends who celebrate you in your victories, support you in your failures, and challenge you to be the best person you can be.
9. And walk away from toxic people. It may not be easy, but it's got to be done.
10. Get off social media. Instagram has not even been invented yet, but just wait. Life is not perfectly curated, bodies are not perfectly filtered. Stop comparing yourself to people and lifestyles that are perfectly manufactured.
11. Embrace your curls! You are still straightening your hair every day. Stop it.
12. And quit going to tanning beds. Stop baking yourself in a box for 15 minutes every day! What are you doing? You are already tan! Trust me, you’d rather be slightly washed out in your homecoming pics than stressing out over sun spots ten years later.
13. Go on a lot of dates... You’re only going to figure out what qualities and characteristics you admire and look for in a partner if you go on a lot of dates, for better or for worse. So make ‘em happen. (Except for that one Tinder date at Scotty's. You can skip that date.)
14. And know that at 27 (or at any age), it's totally okay that you're not married with kids.
15. Take the heartbreak. Any heartbreak is a lesson worth learning, and a love worth knowing.
16. And learn to forgive. Let go of grudges, breathe, and move forward. Forgiving others frees you as much as it frees those you forgive.
17. Plot twist: You’re going to quit your job to travel. Don’t freak out, just cause I know the idea hasn’t hit you yet. But it will when you’re in Guatemala in a few years, sitting in a steamy hostel in the Tikal jungle, surrounded by a community of backpackers who set out to see the world, just like you dream of doing. Don’t let anyone convince you that it’s a bad idea. It’s not.
18. Learn how to cook. I know you’ve got no interest in cooking and could live off Mom’s buttered noodles, but for the love of God, please pick up a cook book and learn how to make a decent meal so I’m not eating cereal for dinner at age 24.
19. Everything happens for a reason. You are not going to land your dream job at Riley as a DM Coordinator -- not at first. But this disappointment happens for a reason, and the timing finally works out when you take the job a year later. Besides, the girl who got the original job becomes your best friend! Every closed door opens another.
20. Take care of your body. Don't laugh -- but in the next ten years, you will have run a marathon, hiked a volcano, and crushed three Tough Mudders. Your body will rush you up flights of stairs in Florence to catch a brilliant sunset and take you to the depths of the ocean with a whale shark in Thailand. Be kind to your body and with your inner dialogue.
21. Not everybody is going to like you. You will spend a lot of time trying to bend yourself to the wills of these people. Stop it. Move past the people who are intent on bringing you down. Keep doing your thing.
22. Take care of yourself first. You have always been the mediator, the peacekeeper, the conflict manager. You have to balance taking care of others and taking care of yourself; you cannot be there for others if you've got nothing left to give.
23. Remember that everyone is fighting a private battle. You cannot fight somebody's battle for them, but you can sit with them in the depths of depression and hold their hand. And know that sometimes the battle gets a lot worse before it gets better. Be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle.
24. But it does get better. And there is always hope.
25. Keep the faith. I know you don't want anything to do with religion or spirituality right now. But keep asking questions and keep seeking answers, because "Ask, and it will be given you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and it will be opened for you." (Matthew 7:7).
26. Move somewhere new... And embrace the exciting, sometimes challenging, newness of it all: finding your new favorite coffee shop, meeting new people, figuring out a new job.
27. And say yes to the choices that scare you. They are the most rewarding! Don't be afraid of the challenge or the fall-out or the uncertainty. Instead, take the leap when it comes to love, to friendship, and to new adventures.
Lots of love,