I turned twenty-five years old on a hot August day, somewhere downtown in a room I sublet last summer. The season, although perfectly warm, was turning out to be bittersweet: I had just lost a job I worked hard to achieve, and it took a huge toll on my psyche. I cried often in bed because due to shame, embarrassment, and feeling lost about what to do next. I wanted my mother (who could only be there in spirit) and the comfort of having no responsibility. Twenty-five years of living also seemed like a long time to me— life had barely been a breeze. But I was living with a friend and they took me out on adventures in the neighborhood: super long walks, a curious visit to a phony psychic, hunting down a beautiful neighborhood my friend once came across, and birthday brunch! Most of all, I looked forward to opening a special present from my past self, four years ago, addressed to twenty-five-year-old me. The present was a letter sealed in an envelope that read my name and the date I was to open it. It was stashed somewhere I could easily find. When that day came, which was my birthday, four years of waiting felt like it could have been a decade.
I opened the envelope and was pleasantly surprised. The font, Courier New, has always been my favorite and pink paper, which I still wish I could print all my documents on. After unfolding the three-page letter, I read about my life as it was four years ago:
“Dear 25-year-old Josephine,
How are you on this splendid day that is your birthday? This is your past self, twenty-year-old JoJo. Figured I’d write to you now, although it’s 2014 and I’m going on my 21st year sometime this summer, and not 2013 when I’m on my 20th year. It is a very cold winter, and today (January 26) it’s snowing outside. I am in my room, on my pink bed sheets, with my heater forever on, writing this while I procrastinate on starting my wax figure. I’m in school studying Publications, and I’m in my second year. I sure hope you’ve finished school by now, three years ago.”
That last sentence broke my heart. I have not finished school. Stress, depression, and anxiety had me bedridden for a few months before I could finish the third year. There had been many bad experiences at school that made me question my life path and the quality of my education. I felt lost and believed that finding myself meant switching programs three times. I could no longer afford to be there anyway because my bank account dipped into the negatives so often. I’m sorry, twenty-one-year-old me, that your expectations weren’t fulfilled. But I tried my best to look for work and to start saving money, and it worked. I did all the inner-work required to get us out of bed, to let go of unnecessary fears, and get back outside. This break was not in vain, but indeed necessary. And, by the way, I’m no longer bound by familial pressure to hurry up and get a degree, nor the idea that a degree will guarantee me a job. I take my time to accomplish all my goals now. While it can be hard to go at my own pace sometimes in a metropolitan city where the world around me seems to be moving so fast, I still try my best to remember that it’s not important to catch up to others. I dream of returning to school someday, and that day may be coming soon.
“…do you still have days when you hate the way you look? Have you grown to love your body? Because right now, especially since December, I’ve been feeling very low about myself. You know the feeling: when you think you don’t look good enough or when you feel stupid and incompetent. Well, I’m not sure if those things can ever go away, but I hope you’ve been doing your best to fight, harder than I am right now, to push those ideas to the back of your mind.”
The weight of people’s judgments about me over the years was a heavy burden. Early on in life, it became important for me to gain the acceptance of others because I had been rejected several times over the way I looked, my spirituality, and even the way I talk. Seeking validation was a habit that took a long time to get rid of, but I finally live for myself now. Feeling stupid and incompetent is no longer something I accept to feel and I don’t tolerate anyone who thinks this way about me anymore. The fact of the matter is that those people hurt me because something about myself made them insecure. Loving my body is difficult and the issue may come up at different points in life as I age and the body changes. But at least I’ve chosen to grow into womanhood with grace and care. That involves defining my own standards of beauty based on what makes me feel good— not from what men, society, or even family, want. Speaking of men:
“Sure hope that by now, you’ve stopped searching for a special partner, and that the Universe, as great as it is, and as grateful as I am to be blessed by the many things it has taught me, has stopped long ago to give you life lessons on what not to look for in a man, or how not to be foolish with them. Enough is enough. And if bad men are still coming to you then I say… live life with yourself. It’s so scary to think about it. It’s so scary to think about any of these things and where I’ll end up at twenty-five.”
I’m not sure why it was so scary to think about my love life at twenty-five back then. Maybe it had to do with the fear of dying alone or meeting someone at an age past my 20s. I’m actually tired of dating and casual flings at the moment, but between four years ago and now, I loved someone with whom there was a deep connection. Unfortunately, they didn’t want the same level of commitment. I met a couple other jerks along the way, too. And although loneliness has had moments where it tormented me to tears, especially as someone who is a complete introvert, I’ve come to acknowledge that it’s okay to want someone to spend your life with. However, giving yourself the love and affection you sometimes crave is more important than seeking a partner.
That’s only half of the letter. Truth is, expectations of myself have not lined up to reality for the most part. This is because my younger self was naively influenced by the demands of the world around her. She read 30 Under 30 lists and articles about how one should spend their 20’s grinding for their dream job. She subscribed to the idea that one must always be productive, have goals, and absolutely follow their bliss— notions constantly drilled in today’s youth. But, in my early 20’s, I didn’t even know what my “bliss” was. That’s the reality for many folks in that age range. Besides, if your day job isn’t part of your “bliss”, so what?
The dog days aren’t over yet. I’m trying to start a small business, which is proving itself to be one of the biggest challenges of my life. Money remains an object and the blues can still grip me sometimes (not on most days, thankfully). Despite all of this, I keep going. At least my spiritual life and inner world are rich. They allow me to see a lot of beauty in the world, and to heal. It’s clear what my values are and the types of people I should align myself with. As life goes on, I only hope that my future self is simply happy and confident in who she truly is.