In the wake of my 35th birthday, I felt compelled to finish this letter to my younger self. I started it back in January while hiking to the backside of Peak 9, a habitual act in my everyday winter life.
Yet another powder day is crunching underneath my Vans boots – laces fraying from my snow obsession – as flakes softly land on my camo jacket. I throw my head to the sky. I twirl around. My board tightly nestled in between my biceps and back. Not as a declaration to my femininity. As a reminder of my humanness. An expression of my carnal joy.
I do this often. Not the twirling part. The random writing. Words will buzz around in my head while participating in an activity that is generally mindless because of my constant execution of said task – usually physical – and I’ll race to fill up a new note in my iPhone before those aforementioned words fly out as quickly as they flew in.
Right now, inside the white room, I am having a moment. And, yes, I am also losing feeling in my fingers as they tap away on my wet screen that I am forced to wipe clean every eleventh letter.
These moments have become increasingly more available to me as of late. Because my exploration of self that started off so innocently over a year ago in my 23’ Airstream didn’t just ask me to answer who I am now. It forced me to question who I’ve ever been. And what being even means. I didn’t get to simply look at my mid-30-something self with a microscopic lens. I had to stand in front of the mirror and answer for every year that came before her.
Unpopular opinion. We’d change a lot more about ourselves if given the chance.
And I’m not talking about our boob size or the amount of weight we can bench press. I’m talking about the shitty stuff. The real shitty stuff. The stuff that haunts us when we make a choice to sit inside of our solidarity. When we seek to wrestle with our internal selves that scream at us from within the silence. That stuff.
Yeah, I’ve had a lot of foreboding thoughts that wish for a different set of aesthetics. I most certainly used to be obsessed with skinny. In fact, I recently wrote an entire blog about my 20-year relationship with disordered eating. But skinniness wasn’t the thing hollering at me from the deepest recesses of my heart. No. It was – and is – my fear of not having control (the crux of an Enneagram 8 if you’re into that sort of thing). And my deep-seated issues of unworthiness. My story that I will always be a paradox of too much and never enough.
I’m not going to sit here and lie to you that I wouldn’t erase these insecurities immediately if Shaquille O’Neal showed up to Whole Foods tomorrow claiming to be the real-life Kazaam. These insecurities have caused me hardship. They’ve inhibited my growth. They’ve prevented me from showing up authentically in relationships.
So, I repeat, I’d gladly wish them away. Because we – as a collective whole – would rather trade in those things than come to terms with their existence. We’d rather nonchalantly avoid their nags. We’d rather tattoo “no regrets” across our forearms and call ourselves eternally happy.
Sidebar. I recently read an article called “Humans Aren’t Designed to be Happy – So Stop Trying” and it was pretty damn life-changing (because, newsflash, contentment actually breeds complacency, which inhibits our desire to grow).
Look, I’m not here to tell you that there’s no value in a mantra that encourages us to not regret anything. I’m just here to tell you that it’s bullshit.
Here’s why. We are trained to believe that we can’t be satisfied with ourselves if we are embarrassed about our actions. We are constantly being bombarded with the notion that our dignity and our discomforts cannot co-exist. Society beckons us to choose. I disagree.
We can be both aware of our shortcomings and proud of our abilities to overcome them. At the same damn time.
And that’s what’s happening here. In this moment on Breckenridge Mountain. I’m standing in simultaneous alarm and awe. Hyperaware of those shitty choices I’ve made – or haven’t – in over three decades of life. And also completely enamored by the woman who is currently sitting – or twirling around – on the other side.
So, I’m writing to myself all the things that I wish I could change while also acknowledging the strength that I’ve gleaned to get here – my presence at the top of this mountain a metaphorical embodiment of my ability to rise and a literal expression of my immediate unencumbered euphoria.
Here it is, fam. My letter to my younger self.
First of all, wow, I hardly know a soul that calls you by your full name these days. But it doesn’t feel appropriate to start this letter any other way. Your name has become such an intimate part of you. Not just because it is how people refer to you, but also because of the possibilities you’ve been able to breathe into it.
You run your own business – yes, you – which you wittily named after yourself. And in doing so, you were able to move full-time into an Airstream. I repeat, yes, you. Without so much as a second thought, you actually moved into a travel trailer. Alone. Despite never having towed anything but a U-Haul in your entire life.
I don’t know who you surprised more when you made that choice. Your parents. Your friends. Strangers. Yourself. It seemed like a far cry from the regimented girl you had always been, the life of routine that had become your safety net when it felt like everything on the exterior was crumbling around you.
Stop at nothing to make this choice again. It will change you. In the way that allows you to wake up every morning and flatten your feet to the earth beside you and not wish to be anywhere else in the world.
You will see Zion and Yosemite and Sedona. And you will question if anything is beautiful without it being shared, but just remember that you need that question. Know that your quest to find partnership will be made richer because you were able to stand alone. So alone. Inside of those moments.
Life on the road will be your final move to put back together all the broken pieces from a toxic marriage that shattered your spirit. You will watch a thousand YouTube videos and cry on the floor and fall asleep at 3am with your MacBook open on its side. And you will also work with amazing people in Texas and spend time with your dad and snowboard for 117 days of the season.
I repeat. It will change you. In a way that you need to be changed.
So, please, even if they call you crazy, do it. Don’t look back. I’m confident that this choice will continue to carry you even when the tin can is long gone. Because now you’ll know. That home lives inside a person, not a place. And you will refuse to settle for anyone who isn’t lit on fire by your existence.
Your parents will get divorced when you’re five. You’ll be fine. You’ll be more than fine. But don’t make it your life’s work to avoid their reality. You’ll fail. The logistical pain points of your divorce will pale in comparison to the self-inflicted hardship of working through your unkept childhood promises.
No one judges you for leaving. Not anyone that matters, anyway. And if you just understood this, like really got it, you could leave him so much sooner. You could escape the abuse and start your life without having to sloth your way through years of mere survival.
He’ll be the worst. But he won’t be the first. And he won’t be the last. You’ll spend way too much time trying to force yourself into a mold for too many men who don’t deserve your dedication. You’ll waste years in relationships that you know are not right, but you’ll lie to yourself that you don’t have the strength to stand alone. You’ll convince yourself that the harder you love, the more he will want to change. You’ll settle for too many guys who aren’t ready or willing to celebrate your successes.
Stop. Fucking. Settling.
Just know that you won’t be ready to pick the right partner until you are confident enough to pick yourself. And picking yourself is the hardest work you will ever do.
When you’re about ten, you’ll construct all these chapbooks filled with handwritten poems and rudimentary pictures of lollipops and butterflies. People will call them cute. What they’re saying is that you’re talented. Really talented. Store these compliments away for college when you’re sitting in the advisors’ office for the fourth time in four years trying to figure out what to do with your life.
Because somewhere along the way, you will convince yourself you’re not creative. You’ll obsess over being a basketball coach (naturally) and you’ll believe that the only plausible career to couple with such a job is to become a school teacher. You won’t even entertain any alternatives.
And, yes, teaching will also change you. In a way that you need to be changed.
The relationships you foster with your students and players will be the catalyst for some of the most profound moments of your life. You will love them like they are your own. They will open your eyes to a world beyond your egotistical existence, and you will need them.
But, ironically, teaching will deteriorate your mental and physical bodies. You will grow increasingly bitter at the education system, and you will leave and you will cry and it will still be one of the best decisions you will ever make in your life.
Because you will spend eight years in the classroom trying to inspire your students to write – feeling like a failure nearly every single day. Then, you will become a writer – in whatever capacity that blogging makes one a writer – and you will realize that this action was the real-life inspiration that they actually needed (because their 20-something selves will be brave enough to ink their stories to the Internet alongside you).
That thought. The one that whispers in your ear that you are not creative. It’s a lie. And you will eventually shut it up. But, damn, how beautiful – not to be confused with more beautiful – life would be if you never listened to such a scam.
In your teens, you will thrive. You’ll make lifelong friends and have memories that will last you forever. You’ll bake cookies and be obsessed with scary movies and eat your weight in Hot Cheetos daily. You won’t care about your pant size because you’ll be more concerned about your free-throw percentage.
And dear gawd, I wish I knew how to protect you from the world that will make you feel chubby and want to change you. I wish I could hold your hand and remind you from where your beauty comes. I wish I could convince you now to take up as much space as you will ever need. With your body. Your brains. Your words. I wish you understood that men – good men – will see you for so much more than your compilation of skin and bones.
Your high school years will be filled with more sports successes than you can count on your fingers. You will be surrounded by females who grow up and become some of the fiercest boss babes you’ve ever seen. Hold tightly to them. Take every opportunity to stay involved in their lives. And I don’t just mean through Facebook. Literally, go home. And be okay with going home. And love these people fiercely by physically hugging the air out of their lungs. Take yoga classes at their studios and grab lunch with them at your favorite food spot in Aspen and pour White Claws into empty water bottles to attend Mountain Fair in the name of anti-adulting.
If I’m being honest – you become so obnoxiously direct in your older age – you could party more in high school. Your obsessive personality doesn’t allow you much room to focus on anything other than school and sports. Your GPA will get you a scholarship (and yet you’ll still manage to acquire a frightening amount of school debt by getting two master’s degrees), but you’ll realize that no one ever really gives any shits about your grades (and those degrees). Seriously, no one. Ever.
Please note, however, that your disinterest in partying will serve you well in your later years. Despite having no prior experience with alcoholism, you’ll dramatically be confronted by it – twice – with men in your life who say they love you. Men who will promise to protect you. And you will begin to question the inherent existence of integrity in all humans. Your sobriety will be at the epicenter of what saves you. Your determination will save you. Your level-thinking in the face of adversity will save you.
In your twenties, you will try to overcompensate for the life that you subconsciously yearned to experience as a child. Your ignorance will not allow you to access your intuition, and you’ll establish arbitrary boundaries around sex that simply don’t serve you.
Please, Stephanie, just have more sex. You will stay in too many broken relationships for the sole reason that you’ve seen each other naked. You’ll talk yourself out of leaving toxicity for the sake of your personal morality. And it will be one of the more ridiculous notions that you hold on to so tightly for the sake of nothing.
Do not confuse my requests here as knocks on your loyalty. Because, my Leo, you are loyal as a damn lion. Never change that. Never let anyone tell you that you’re too much because you are too bold and too fierce and too unapologetically unafraid in the face of commitment. Just simply understand how this strength can – and will – be a weakness. Because you will shy away from dating for the simple fact that it scares you that men can’t often meet you with the same intensity.
Facts. Your extremist personality struggles to sit inside of lukewarm. And the reality is that dating is a cesspool of dirty bath water. Sit in it. In all of your discomfort, relax into the ripples. Do not be satisfied with what it is, but rather be conscious of your role inside of it. Then, with all the positive energy you can muster, attempt to raise the bar. However high it will go. Just try.
And I beg of you, embrace your singleness. Use it to find every configuration of a man possible on this planet. Say yes to the guys confident enough to ask you out. Understand what it means to actually have organic chemistry. Kiss at dirty bar tops and inside movie theaters and underneath the stars. Put your hand behind his neck when he drives you to the grocery store and accidentally graze his backside sans clothing when he’s stepping into the shower. Make jokes. And say the wrong things. And be brave enough to start shitty conversations with the ones worthy enough of your words.
Above all, learn to read the nuances of his actions:
Does he return his shopping carts?
Does he ask your waiter’s name?
Does he tip well?
Does he open the door for you?
Does he look you in the eye?
Does he have experiences outside of the city?
Does he allow you to speak? No, really speak?
Does he act surprised when you talk about business? Or sports? Or math?
Does he hold your hand when he walks you to your car?
Does he text you in the morning just to say hi?
Does he kiss you slowly like the world is standing still? But deeply like it might be ending?
Because you are in choice, sweet girl. You don’t have to settle for the first guy that checks all the boxes. Trust me, those boxes will mutate. In fact, you’ll learn that the boxes are altogether imprudent. Your priority should be to pick a man with an open mind. You need someone who sees the world in a similar way, but remember that you will change. He will change. The goal of relationship is to find a person with whom you can grow. Together. Safely. But not without some occasional discomfort.
Make sure that he flirts with you like a sixth grader, cracking small sarcastic jokes that are followed by adorations of your cuteness. Please. I beg you. Let him be funny. Find the person who will lay in bed with you every night and laugh until you both can’t breathe. The guy who wakes you up with his tongue on your lips, an open invitation to explore each other at sunrise. The man who crisps the bacon while you scramble the eggs before you share breakfast off the same plate while your head rests softly on his shoulder. Find him. The one who kisses your forehead. The one who praises you, who touches you, who beckons you to braid yourself into his being. The one who would go to the ends of the earth to see one second of your smile.
In your thirties, you’ll continue to overcompensate. This time, for the freedom that you feel you lost. And maybe it’s not overcompensating at all because you will also know that you wouldn’t be able to experience your current life without the bullshit. You will firmly believe that the good wouldn’t be as good without the absolute bad as a shocking frame of reference.
You’ll no longer fight. Meaning, you will no longer raise your voice to access being right. You’ll have opinions. Lots of them. But now you will know that the world is a whole lot grayer than it was ever black and white.
Your love language is words, and you will stand by the fact that the core of any healthy relationship is communication. Lots and lots and lots of communication. Do not settle for someone who isn’t willing to show up. Do not make excuses for people who aren’t willing to do the work. You have too many friends who sharpen you to oblige those who are still blinded by their own ignorance.
Above all things, remember that the grass is always greener. Most people are simply jaded by what they do have, which serves as a catalyst for them to yearn for what they don’t. You will inevitably fall into the madness. And I tell you this only to arouse your consciousness. It would be naïve of me to ask you to ignore the inclinations.
Because self-awareness is the most difficult quest you will ever face, but to fall into yourself without hesitation is the most beautiful gift. Stop at nothing.