Today is my 38th birthday. While not yet “old” according to my middle schooler, 38 is an age that holds substance, an age that denotes an expected accumulation of wisdom, grace, and experience. By now the missteps should’ve been examined, deemed to be worth something in the big picture.
I’m under no impression of having it all figured out because I know I have so much more life to live, so much room to grow. I don’t even know all the things I don’t know or how things will piece together as days and weeks turn into months and years. Who knows where I’ll be in my journey in another ten or twenty years? The abundance of possibility is thrilling.
I continue to swell with gratitude and hope. There is a satisfying relief and contentment that stems from knowing it all works out, that everything that’s happened to me was meant to be that way. Despite this, if I could dive through a time portal to twenty years ago to offer my 18-year-old self some guidance, I would say:
1. You are not as lost and alone as you feel as your high schools years come to a close and your college plans are upended. You will find your feet one step at a time.
2. The bleached blonde hair is not a good look, won’t look better later in pictures, and will be extremely hard to dye over.
3. Stay active. Don’t give up on the dancing and golfing; you will miss them dearly and find losing excess weight challenging.
4. Savor the late nights of parties, midnight movies, and Perkins runs. Early morning demands make late nights painful as an adult.
5. Thank your AP Physics partners that carried your tired ass to an A.
6. Appreciate your final semester of senior year for all its “glory day” fun and friendship. Sadly, adulthood isn’t teeming with gut-busting, knee-slapping laughter.
7. Don’t ride home in cars with drunk drivers. Period.
8. Tell your sister her late-night brownies were the perfect welcome home wind down.
9. Enjoy all the free movies while working at the theater. That cinema experience will be costly later.
10. The rejection of uninterested romantic pursuits will fade, and one day you will be happily married to your true love.
11. On that note, don’t settle for men who don’t prioritize you and aren’t a match for all your love and value.
12. Read more books. It’ll be hard to squeeze in time once you have kids.
13. Put that graduation money in an IRA and let it be.
14. Don’t take out so much in student loans. Interest rates and graduating in 2008 will make paying them off an insurmountable task.
15. Consider all your financial steps carefully; the debt will weigh on you in a big way.
16. Do not leave college out of fear of what you’re leaving behind. You’ll never know what could’ve been.
17. The boy who seemed all-consuming meant something real but doesn’t deserve all those thoughts and tears.
18. Keep smiling. It will be the secret to your charm.
19. Keep writing. It will take you years to find your way back to the page, but it’s part of your authentic self.
20. Continue sketching and painting. Those artistic hobbies are first to go when strapped for time but hold open the door to your creative soul.
21. Spend more time with your siblings. It will be rare to all be in the same house, and you will somehow miss the chaos.
22. Stroll through Rotary Gardens more before they start charging an entry fee. Time in nature is good for your spirit.
23. Start taking Vitamin D in fall and winter to keep SAD at bay.
24. Hold your close friends close. Once time and distance grows, it’s hard to restrengthen those ties, but they are anchors to your growing, dreaming self.
25. Revel in concerts with swaying lighter flames instead of cell phone flashlights.
26. Fall in love with yourself first. You can’t properly love another or allow yourself to be truly loved until you love yourself.
27. Cut the insecure comments. You look just fine in a bikini.
28. Say yes more often than you turn to the automatic no. Stay open to possibility.
29. Spend more time in bookstores and coffee shops. You’ll long for more time there when you’re older.
30. Be braver in trying new things and find ways to expand your horizons sooner, so you’re not learning to ski and ice skate at 38.
31. Travel more. Travel is the best education you’ll ever receive.
32. Believe in your beauty. Confidence looks good on you.
33. When you’re socially taxed, leave the party early or sneak some solo time. Your introverted self and all the people you would’ve been short with will appreciate it.
34. Take time to slow down and breathe. Very few things are worth the stress of rushing.
35. Hold onto your rickety, red 60s Schwinn bicycle. you won’t find another bike as comfortable or joyful to ride.
36. Stop worrying so much about what others think of you. Everyone is too busy on their own path to spend time focusing on you.
37. On a similar note, stop judging others. Give them more patience and grace. If you start now, maybe you won’t still be learning this twenty years from now.
38. Be fully present in your own moment. The future will be here before you know it.
With that, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my birthday. When I blow out my candles tonight, I’ll be wishing to renew my 18-year-old self’s magical youthfulness and lightness but also to grow my wisdom and understanding that only comes in the living.