Ten years ago, I was eighteen years old. I was a freshman in university just starting my second semester of that very first whirlwind year of student life. I was living on campus in a tiny little dorm room shared with one of my best friends, and in many ways it felt like the world was my oyster. In the decade that’s passed between then and now, a lot has changed. I’ve seen great joy and I’ve felt intense pain. I’ve also learned a heck of a lot along the way. I recently asked myself what I would say if I could speak to that former version of myself. The truth is, I probably wouldn’t have listened (I’ve never been a fan of unsolicited advice), but I thought I’d give it a go anyway. With that said, here it is … In the form of a letter to myself at age eighteen.
To The Younger Version Of Myself,
First of all, take a deep breath. Everything is going to be okay. Let me tell you from someone who knows this for certain … You are going to make it. I promise.
Now, that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s move onto the good stuff. Let’s talk about all the fun you’re having in university, because I know that you are loving every single minute of it. Hold onto that, my friend. These days may feel long now but in ten years you will look back and realize how very short they really were. Practice gratitude each and every day for these special moments you are sharing with your friends. Take a billion photos (I know, you already are!), but be selective about the ones you share online. Know that these days are of an era you will always cherish. Even in the midst of what might sometimes seem like insanity, you are so lucky. Believe this. But Heather … Seriously … Take your classes seriously. Study hard. Set goals. Make a plan. Keep your focus. Then, you get to have all the fun.
In the midst of that fun though, let’s talk about some of the choices you are making. Young Heather, my friend … I’d encourage you to take some time to think about who you truly are. It shouldn’t take long to have that conversation with yourself, after all – I know, that you already know it. But could it be that sometimes it’s easy to forget? Cement your identity within your soul, and don’t let go. Your value is unchangeable, so don’t let it ever be questioned. Not even by yourself.
Take note of where you are seeking validation. Is it based on what other people think of you? Is it based on your grades or your achievements? Or ugh … and I hate to say this, but is it based on boys? Listen, I know you love validation in any form you can get it. It’s the way your (or should I say… our) insecurity manifests itself. But please, start working on this now so that it’s not a problem later. You know your worth just as you are. Hold onto that, and stop seeking out reassurance of this in the places you don’t belong.
And Heather, I want to take a moment and remind you to be grateful for your friends. Already, you have met some of the most important people who will still be by your side in ten years time. These girls are remarkable, and kind, and so very sweet. You know who they are. Hold them tight, and never forget that old friends are gold. Be good to them always. But don’t close your heart off from new friendships either. There are new people on the horizon who’ve yet to cross your path who will change your heart in irrevocable ways. One day they too will be old friends. Love is limitless, and there is plenty to go around.
Another thing that I think is worthy of mentioning is your health, which I know for certain is something you do not want to hear about. But Heather, now is the time. You are young and there are literally so many unscheduled hours on your calendar each week. Start building smart habits now. I promise, the future version of yourself will thank you. Because as the old adage goes, you’ll always wish you’d started yesterday.
Finally, I’ll address the question I’m sure you’re begging to know. Will you ever find true love? I promise, we do. And it’s so much better, more fruitful, and wonderful than any of the silliness you’re probably wasting your time on now. Protect your heart, Heather. You’ve got a soft one, even though you don’t like to admit it. The man who will eventually become your husband is on the road ahead, and I promise you he will treat your heart with the gentleness you don’t want to admit you’ve been craving. Be patient. It’ll be worth it.
Now there’s one more thing, my friend. Please brace yourself because this one is tough. Up until now, every piece of advice that I’ve offered I would probably give to any friend. While applicable directly to your life (er… mine?), it’s also general enough that I think most girls can relate. But this next part, Heather .. It’s especially for you. Hold on tight.
It won’t be long now before it feels like everything you’ve ever known has come crumbling down. You will watch your family fall apart in the aftermath of a messy divorce. You will carry a burden of pain that’s probably not even yours, and find strength in unity with your loved ones. It’s going to suck. It’s going to suck so bad. Until that point, it will be the single hardest thing you’ll have ever had to go through. But you’ll make it. Eventually, you’ll conclude that this was all for the best. Then, when you finally reach the light of the tunnel, there’s going to be more.
It pains me to write this, but I wish so badly that I could have known.
Heather, you will suffer an unspeakable loss … You are going to lose your mom. I’m not going to detail the circumstances here, but I’ll just say this: You will not see it coming. When she dies, it will be the very last thing you’ll have ever expected, and for that reason I urge you to please, love her hard every single day. You two will bicker (endlessly, at times), and that’s okay. You two will not always see eye to eye, and that’s okay. Because you’ll also be the best of friends. Between now and then, you two will become each others closest confidante. Hold onto those times, and show your gratitude. Never let your mama forget how much you love her. Never let her forget that she is the sunshine in your darkness. Please tell her how much she means to me. Please hug her, and love her, and never hold back from every chance to make a memory with her.
When she asks if you want to go to the market, say yes. When she asks if you want to go for a walk, say yes. Go to movies, hang out on the couch, go to the river, have beach days, drink coffee, share wine, and dance in the kitchen. Take every single chance to make a memory together. Because one day, these memories will be all that you have left.
But like I said in the very first line of this letter, everything is going to be okay.
While that may seem impossible to believe right now upon hearing this news … I can assure you it’s true. I have no explanation other than that in her death, she will leave you her strength. You will pull through. Day after day, you will pull through. And I promise you, you will become better for it.
You’ll have to work hard, Heather, but I know that doesn’t scare you. Just always believe, you are worth it.
With love, your friend:
PS: Never stop doing cartwheels on the beach. Or anywhere, for that matter.