Birthdays always leave me a little nostalgic. Sometimes in a happy-melancholy way, which can be cathartic and leave me feeling more whole after some time of introspection. This year, being far from family and best friends, the melancholy was a bit heavier than usual. I spent some time reflecting on where I’ve been in the last ten years and where I’d like to be in another ten- which is nothing unique.
By the end of the day, all I could think was how much I would love to tell 21-year-old me. All the melancholy introspection lead to a massive realization that one, I’ve wasted a lot of time worrying about crap that doesn’t matter even one percent, and two, I’ve dumped a lot of time and emotional energy into things that, when given time, worked themselves out.
So I wrote a letter in hopes I won’t spend the next ten years doing more of the same shit. Here’s hoping.
You are 21. That’s pretty great. What’s even greater is that you’re in India, on a rooftop, sitting on a bamboo mat, eating something that resembles a cake. I see you laughing loudly, happily taking a second slice of chocolate cake with condensation on the frosting from the Calcutta heat- all teeth and long hair and hitting while laughing.
You’re prettiest when you’re laughing. Some guy will try to tell you that you laugh too loud and you’ll believe him for a little while, but you’ll come back. When you laugh, other people laugh. Sometimes it’s at you, but that’s okay because most of the time you started it.
I have some things I’d like to share with you. I know you won’t heed A WORD of this because you know everything right now but tuck it away for when you start to come down from that brand-new-adult high. Enjoy being so smart and having all the answers while it lasts. When you’re ready, here are a couple things I, Future Katie, would like you to keep in mind as you move about your world:
- Bangs are never, ever a good idea for you. FOR YOU. Yes, I know how cute they look on other people. I know they may be in at various times. Here is the thing, though: they do not work on your face. Your face is not a bang face. Your hair is also not bang hair. Your hair is thick and wavy, your forehead is short and your eyebrows are thick and dark- all of that combined means don’t get bangs. You’ll have urges. You’ll see Holly on a thing called Instagram and decide you can do what she does and want to chop half your hair off into a hot forehead sweater. This is the wrong choice. Don’t get them. Stay strong, remember your convictions and never, ever get bangs. In about ten years you are going to hit your hair stride- you’ll stop fighting genetics and embrace what works for you. In this vein, bobs, pixie cuts and traditional “foils” also are not for you. These are for other people. If you get a bob, which you will, you will hate your hair and you will loathe the morning that much more. Just because it works on someone else, does not mean it works for you. This is America, but these things are for other people.
- Despite the messages you’ll receive and the things you’ll see your peers doing, you do not need to be given permission for a thing and there is plenty of room at the table. Sweet girl, if you understood these two things and let them sink down deep, not only would it end the need for any hustle in your life, but it would also be the cure to the defensiveness that springs out when you’re triggered. If you could understand that there is so much more going on and so much more to life than the tiny little circles you’re in right now, you’d be free. People are going to hustle to make things happen. So will you. They’re going to hustle for love and approval. So will you. They’ll hustle for a place at the table because we live with a sacristy mindset and because men in power want us to compete. The lie is that there is only a certain amount of space, only a certain number of chairs, so if we want to be guaranteed a spot, we have got to hustle. That’s not true. At all. Your desire and natural inclination will be to hustle for that permission and that spot. One day, though, you’ll start to wake up and see this lie and meet people who live in direct opposition to this mindset and your world will get cracked open. Your defensiveness is born of fear, and rightly so. Fear there isn’t space, fear there won’t be space, fear your space will get taken while you’re in the bathroom- or while you’re having a baby and trying to be a mom or while you’re not going to grad school or while you’re trying to figure out sexuality or while you’re just simply not hustling for that moment. It’s a crappy, tiring way to live. You also don’t need to wait for anyone to start working. To start speaking. To start writing. You do not need permission to be who you are, so stop waiting around for someone to approve of all you think and want and dream, just start. Just begin. Permission, being seen, having recognition, feeling supported and/or led- all of that is nice, but it is not necessary. You will miss your life, Katie, if you wait for permission. You have the authority and power to give yourself permission.
- Love from another person is not the end goal. I have news for you: you are going to meet a man who loves you more than you ever could hope to deserve, he will do whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality, he will work very hard to earn your trust and respect, he will make you laugh harder than anyone and yet, it won’t be enough. There will never be someone who will be enough for you. There is no one person’s love that can heal your heart and give you hope for a future. No matter who you find, no matter how much love they give you, it will never be enough. Love is an inside job, Katie. The healing you’re after can only come from inside and all the ways your hustling for love and ultimately healing, are only going to leave you and the other person more broken. People are gifts, not there for you to use to feel better. You’ll understand that more when you’re used by someone else for their own healing and it feels dirty and sad and like being lied to. You will heal, and it will be a beautiful unfurling and slow defrosting. But it will start only when you decide you’re enough for yourself. That man I talked about before won’t hurt, but he doesn’t make it happen- you do the hard work yourself. Trust me, this man, let’s call him Stephen, is amazing, but even he can’t make you love yourself. My advice? Stop looking for love and start being love. Save yourself some heartache by not trying to bind up as many hearts into yours as possible. The freest, most radical thing you can do for yourself is be enough. Also, not only can this Stephen not make you love yourself, he will also fail at keeping you from bangs, so he’s not all great.
- It’s never the end. Listen, you’re going to get yourself into some pretty big messes. I mean, crap your pants big. And while it’s happening, when you’re scrambling and trying to calm down, it’s going to feel like nothing will be okay again everything is over. I assure you, it’s not. It’s never the end the way you think it’s the end. So far, you haven’t died, which is nice, and things just keep on going, which can be both deeply relieving and wildly infuriating. Just remind yourself over and over again that this is not the end. You can do the hard work of either fixing what you can or learning to let go of what you cannot. Whatever the case, whatever happens: you’re going to get through it.
- Go easy on the white strips. Your teeth have a set, limited amount of enamel. I know you think you’re clever to sleep in your white strips to get the most bang for your grandparent’s buck, but you’re never going to be able to drink cold water again. In fact, a cool breeze will hurt. You can use all this random, obsessive energy for any of the following: learning math (any math at all would be great), understanding the branches of government, memorizing the States, learning how to do a cartwheel, watching hair tutorials on YouTube, reading the Bible, young adult coloring, any single kind of physical activity, origami. See? Lots of things to dump money and time and physical health into that aren’t teeth whitening.
I, Future Katie, have so much I would like to tell you, but like I said, you’re not going to listen to any of this, and Future Katie likes to sleep so maybe I should go do that instead. But there is one thing I need you to hear if nothing else: never stop believing that God is in the process of making the whole thing new. You have this crazy, often mocked, sometimes used against you, belief that God isn’t up there condemning or even casting judgment, but offering everyone and every bit of creation a chance to step into a Very Beautiful Dance with him. It’s not juvenile and it’s not silly. Your fearlessness as you meet people and force yourself on them (you call it making friends but it’s aggressive) and your inhibition to freely love because you believe God is love, that’s anything but juvenile and silly. Your heart is going to be broken a lot. Rejection will be something you’re very familiar with. But so will connection. So will joy. So will the gift of being seen. Those things cost a lot, and you’ll feel it, yes, but never stop chasing it. It is, I think, what makes us us.
That is the most important thing.
Well, enjoy your white teeth and pain-free lower back and belly button piercing and zero hemorrhoids,