Hi there, 21-year-old me. How are things? Stressful and awkward? You’re just about to graduate from college! I know, I know, it’s not even spring break yet, and you are SO STRESSED OUT, but it’s all going to be okay. Sorry that you will spend your graduation ceremony sitting next to a frat boy who is sweating gin out of his pores. But you’re going to graduate — you will make it through the frenzied next few months of paper-writing and fun times at the Pleiad (you don’t think they’re fun now, I know, but you will remember them fondly) and sleep-deprivation. And then you’re going to… be unemployed for several months because you thought having an English degree was going to make you employable. And you are employable — you’re smart and quick and capable — but you’re just going to be asked over and over in interviews if you really want to be a teacher and it’s because of this that you’re going to learn that sarcasm is highly inappropriate for job interviews. But it’s okay. You’re going to get a job eventually, and you’re not going to make any money and you’re going to hate every second of it, and then you’re going to meet a guy who’s a total psycho and — I’m not selling this very well, am I?
Let’s start over.
I’m not going to give you advice, 21-year-old me. I know you, after all. I am you. Just older, and with better hair. (Aren’t you relieved about your hair? I know!) So I know how you feel about advice. I know you never listen. I know you think nobody can tell you anything because you’re just going to figure it out on your own, anyway. And your persistence in carving your own path is admirable, but my god, you are a pain in the ass. You’re going to mellow out someday, but it’s going to take awhile.
So, now that advice is off the table, I’m going to resist the urge to tell you to calm down and to stop expecting yourself to be something other than what you are, like you think you’re supposed to be further along than you are. It’s not a race, and there’s just the one finish line, which you won’t reach until you die, so stop hurrying and enjoy the trip. I’m not going to tell you, because you’ll figure it out on your own. That’s how you want to do it.
Here’s what I’m going to tell you: I’m going to tell you what I’ve learned over the decade that’s my past and your future. (Maybe I’ll also throw in a few highlights for good measure.) I’m not going to tell you how I learned these things, but I will tell you that each lesson was hard-earned, and that’s what has made them all worthwhile. You’re rolling your eyes at me because I’m like a cliche fountain right now, right? But it’s okay. It’s not all bad. You’re going to see and do things you can’t even imagine yet. You’re a late-bloomer, in pretty much every sense of the phrase, but nothing will elude you forever. It’s all okay. Better than you think it could be. You’re going to be less cynical as you age. I’m not sure how that works, but it’s a lovely quality.
You will love and be loved in return. You will learn not to be so careful with your heart. Yes, it will break. More than once. And it hurts every single time. But you will learn that you can’t play it cool with love, and you will know that even if you get annihilated (you will), you at least had the courage to go for it with everything you have. Also, you’re going to learn a thing or two about charming rogues. Those lessons are so much fun.
You’re going to spend a lot of time being drunk and stupid, especially over the next couple of years. There’s not a whole lot I can say about this, but hey! Eventually you’ll get past that phase when you pass out on the floor every night! You idiot.
You will learn that it’s okay to be bored sometimes. You don’t need to create drama, because life will throw enough of it your way all on its own. OH MY GOD, WILL IT EVER. You will go to your friends with stories of what just happened and you will get used to the way they shake their heads and say “Only you, Jamelah. Only you.”
Sometimes it’s okay if you just eat Pringles for dinner. You’re an adult now, and who’s stopping you? NOBODY.
You will learn your own strength, because you’ll have to learn it by walking through things nobody should ever have to walk through, but you are going to make it because it turns out that you are one hell of a tough broad after all.
You’re going to figure out how to fold a fitted sheet! No, really! You are! You will also master the art of the pie crust. You will learn to crochet. You’re going to be published. You can make fabulous earrings. You will have photographs you took hung up in a gallery. (What? I know. Life is weird.)
You will meet all kinds of people from all over the world. You will kiss several of them.
And the real reason that I’m not going to give you advice, aside from the fact that I know you wouldn’t listen anyway, is because I like you. You are hard on yourself and you’re often so worried about making the wrong decision that you wind up paralyzed, but you’re going to learn that it’s okay to screw up, because hey, you’re going to screw up anyway, whether it’s okay or not. Someday you’ll give yourself the latitude to try things and make mistakes. In the meantime, you’re kind of uptight and over-serious and you think too hard about things instead of just doing them, but you’re going to relax. You’re going to forgive yourself for not being perfect. You won’t stop picking on yourself until you’re about 30, but you will stop. It’s going to be a great moment.
The truth is, 21-year-old me, I think I’ve turned out okay. I’m okay. I’m okay, and I couldn’t have done it without you being exactly the way you are. So please, don’t change a thing, kid.