One rainy day, early in my junior year of high school, my English teacher asked us to pull out a piece of paper and a pen. Vaguely, she instructed us to write a letter to our future self ten years from now. We were to write about our current dreams, aspirations, and accolades. But, we were also to describe what we hoped our older version had become by the time they read this letter again. For an hour, the class silently scribbled visions of becoming doctors, lawyers, and engineers while noting their present triumphs of being nominated to the Winter Formal Court, being president of the National Honor Society, or breaking records in track + field. When we had finished, she gave us envelopes to self-address and then collected them all into a box.
The abridged version of my letter went something like this:
I’m not sure what the point of this is, but this is me writing to you from AP English in 2001. I’ve done fairly well in school, but I’m terrified of college. Everything I’ve done here in the past three years has set me up to attend a decent university, but a part of me fears that it wasn’t enough. When I get into college though, I’m thinking of doing international business because it’s always been my dream since I was a child. So I hope you’re reading this on a plane somewhere en route to Paris or Tokyo in first class. You should be successful with a wife by this time and our parents will no longer hang over our heads because we’ve finally accomplished everything they raised us to. Your wife is a lawyer and you met her during college and fell in love at first sight. Kids are on the way. And you have an entire room just for your sneakers.
See ya in 10.
The following summer, this letter showed up at my parents’ mailbox right before my senior year was to begin. Confused, I opened it and re-read the entire thing and laughed. And then I realized what the lesson was.
We spend our entire lives trying to quantify our purpose. At age 16, you start driving. At age 18, you can smoke a cigarette. At 21, you can start becoming an alcoholic. At 25, you can rent cars without excessive fees. At 30, you hope you’re married. At 40, you hope you’ve had kids already. At 60, you retire, and at 80, you check into a senior home. It’s a viciously perpetuated image that has been stuck into our heads from day one and now, by amusing BuzzFeed articles.
We’re always trying to catch up to the rest of our age pool, when in reality, who are we really racing? I get it. All your friends are getting married and you go on sporadic dates with no one in particular. But if you ask them if they had planned things exactly like this ten years ago, would they say yes in dramatic fashion? Highly unlikely. We all will pass away years or decades apart, so why should getting married be different?
And when it comes to jobs, we’ve all sacrificed our passion for money or vice versa. Not everyone finds that perfect career on their first try, but those that do seem like they’re on the fast track whizzing by you on the highway in their Tesla. Set your own pace but don’t be complacent.
I don’t know about you, but I’m happy. When I hear about another wedding proposal, I don’t get bitter, I get excited. It means that love still exists. When a friend gets a new job that pays well, I don’t get envious, I get inspired. It means that they’re on the right path. My happiness grows from seeing the positivity in others’ lives and feeding off of that energy until it hides my age.
Things change in an instant within a world that relies on up to the second updates. I only had to wait six months for that note to know that my views on my future had changed. Furthermore, it’s been more than ten years, and I can tell you that I don’t have a house in Tokyo, a wife that says “lawyered” after correcting me, or a room chock full of original Jordan 1’s. But, I’m heading in that direction. The details and timing just don’t matter.