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Birthday Reflections: An Open Letter to my 18-Year-Old Self

Birthday Reflections: An Open Letter to my 18-Year-Old Self

June 19, 2013
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An open letter to my 18-year-old self
18 year old letterI turn 28 years old tomorrow (June 20). As I sit here, reflecting on my life in the past decade, remembering how it felt to finally turn 18, I’m consumed with a deluge of nostalgia and emotional reminders. Dear 18-year-old self, I miss you greatly, but I wouldn’t want to be you again. I know I always yearned to be 28 when I was with you, but the tremendous level of personal, emotional, professional, and intellectual growth that has taken place in the past decade, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.
I remember how proudly you stood at our high school graduation–you were ready to tackle the world–get your BA in political science, go straight to law school, get married, have children, and have a killer career as an international human rights lawyer. Your path was linear and conventional, and you knew exactly what you had to do to get there, crossing off one step at a time. If I were to tell you then about the journey I’ve had in the past 10 years, you never would have believed me and would have written it off as ludicrous and out of the question. Oh boy, how things have changed in a decade, and it gives me immense pleasure and happiness to share with you my incredible “detour” and how rewarding the departure from your vision has been.
I did earn my BA in political science/international relations, but that’s as far as I got on your checklist (or should I say society’s checklist?). During college, I made one of my life’s greatest decisions: to study abroad, and from there, let me tell you, everything spiraled into a completely new direction. Your initial aspirations no longer held the same intensity for me and I embraced a new checklist, otherwise known as my life list, one that was created by me for me. I wanted to learn another language. I did that. I wanted to travel the world and convert it from a hobby to a lifestyle. I did that. I wanted to learn about bilateral and multilateral diplomacy and work at U.S. Embassies abroad. I did that. I wanted to earn a Fulbright Journalism Fellowship. I did that. I wanted to pursue a Master’s degree from the London School of Economics. I did that. I wanted to start my own company. I did that. Through it all, my path became less about the end goal and more about the incremental journey, meeting incredibly inspiring people along the way and picking up nuggets of wisdom about myself and life in general. Even with that, I’ve come full circle (kind of) but on my own terms–in a few short years, I’ll proudly wear the letters JD and MSc next to my name.
Through all the ups and downs of this rollercoaster journey, it’s been a tremendous learning experience. Though you never stop learning, I’ve certainly made a great number of discoveries about myself, about the art of relationships–both personal and professional, and about our beautiful world. I’ll never be able to fully articulate the transformative power that travel has had on me, but let me try, so without further ado…
  1. Success is not linear, so remove yourself from that frame of mind. Do what you want, what makes you the happiest, even if it’s not a popular decision. At least this way, later on if you decide it was a mistake, the only person you have to blame is yourself. Set your own goals, and don’t pay attention to the “timeline” imposed by society.
  2. TRAVEL. TRAVEL. TRAVEL. Study abroad in college, teach English, volunteer at an NGO for a cause of your choice, do a RTW trip, or anything. Get out there and explore. Learn about the world, different cultures, other ways of living, and more importantly, yourself.
  3. You don’t have to have everything figured out before you hit your 20s. Embrace the constant that is change and your life may never be the same (it’ll be better!).
  4. Life’s all about the details, so take time to notice the beauty around you. There will always be time for everything. Enjoy the journey instead of trying to “get it done.”
  5. Know your worth and act like it. Never walk around thinking your friends, boyfriend, employer, etc. are doing you a favor by keeping you in their lives. Head up high! Never let yourself or anyone else make you think you’re worthy of anything but the best.
  6. The dirty emotion of jealousy will reveal some of the grossest parts of human kind, but you continue doing your thing and keep it classy. As a wise man once told me, if people aren’t jealous of you or talking about you, you’re not doing something right.
  7. As grand as your vision was to change the world in high school, you can’t change everything and everyone. Strive to make an impact in individuals, one person at a time, starting with those around you. If you’ve made at least one person’s life better, you’ve created change.
  8. Invest in your education, but only you can decide when the time is right. If you need to take time off between college and graduate school, do it. You may regret it later if you don’t.
  9. Explore your interests and passions as much as possible. You may not have time later. And if you can convert those into a job, it’ll never feel like work again!
  10. You’ll get a lot farther with collaboration instead of competition. As a very competitive person, it’s all about how you channel that competitive spirit.
  11. You will not like and get along with everyone you meet in life and that’s A-OK, but instead of wasting your time and energy with them, keep your distance.
  12. Never ever apologize for who you are and what you’ve accomplished. If a man is intimidated by a strong woman, don’t waste another minute there. It’s not your problem and there’s no need to apologize for his insecurities.
  13. Take risks and push your limits. If you do what you have always done then you will only have what you have always had. Take that step on the old dilapidated rope bridge; you don’t know what you might find at the other end. Travel to a new place, risk not planning your next few weeks, and/or say hello to a complete stranger at least once a month.
  14. As Mark Twain said, “Twenty years from now, you’ll regret the things you didn’t do rather than ones you did…” AMEN.
  15. If you don’t like something, have the courage to change it instead of waiting around until it changes you. You’re the main actor/actress of your life; don’t act like a supporting cast member.
  16. Go on lots of dates. Finding what you don’t like/want in a partner is equally important (if not more) as finding those desirable traits. It’s one of the best ways to learn about yourself. And some incredible stories to tell your grandkids can come from them. 🙂 And don’t forget that you can connect with/meet people in the most unexpected of ways.
  17. When people spew a stream of venom upon you, take a step back and know that it’s a reflection of what’s happening inside of them and very rarely will it be about you. Sure, it can still be hurtful, but time to grow that thick skin.
  18. Don’t underestimate the power of ME-time.
  19. Work hard, play hard. Don’t forget to unleash your inner wild child every now and then.
  20. It’s easy to forget that as we grow older, our parents age as well. Do something nice for them and be thankful for what they’ve done for you.
  21. At the end of the day, the only validation you need is from yourself. The more you love your decisions, the less you need others to like them.
  22. People that love and care about you may not always know what’s right for you. Follow your instincts and trust your judgements. That inner voice is a lot wiser than you may think.
  23. Never change your fundamental core and values for another person. The only person you ever have to impress is yourself. Learn to set your boundaries. That two-letter word–NO–is incredibly empowering and one that will often lead to a higher degree of respect.
  24. Conflict of all forms is inevitable, but the only thing you can control is how you react to it. Stand your ground, be upfront, make your point, and keep it classy.
  25. People will always have something to say about you. If it’s not this, it’ll be that. You keep doing your thing.
  26. You will meet all kinds of people at every step of the way. Assess and reassess at every point. Drown out those nay-sayers at all costs. The golden question to ask yourself regularly is: what value does this person bring into my life?
  27. Be fiercely bold and throw people curveballs; they’ll have a much harder time placing you into neat little categories.
  28. Given the direction our world is going, contrary to the specialization spiel we’ve heard our entire lives, being well-rounded is one of the best things you can do for yourself.

me at berlin fashion week

Dear 18-year-old self, if you saw me today, you wouldn’t recognize me, but you’d sure as hell be proud of me. I can’t wait to write you another update for our 20-year reunion. See you in 2023!

P.S. I must mention that had I gone with your 18 year-old vision, I would have never started this website! Yet another reason I’m thankful for not sticking to your plans.

 

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