I found a letter from my fifteen year old self the other day when reading through my old notebooks. Letters you write to your future self are cute and funny when from a young child; you can smile and shake your head at how silly your younger self was, even the spelling mistakes can evoke nostalgia.
But when it’s from fifteen year old you, the cute factor is replaced by an uncomfortable conflict of emotions. You’re confronted with the most neurotic, lost and uncertain part of your life, the teenage years. No teenager is adorable, no matter who they are, and no teenager likes to be thought of as adorable either.
The first thing I noticed about ‘Past Me’, as I’ll call her, was that she kept forgetting to put the second ‘em’ in ‘remember’. I can’t help it, spell checking is a reflex beaten into me over a four year university experience in English Literature and Creative Writing, all with very deliberate capitals. The second thing was being confronted by a sad, little lost soul who was desperately dreaming of a future where she’d be more confident and worthwhile by her standards. The fear is that I don’t meet those standards, that if Past Me looked through a window to the future she’d see me and be utterly disappointed.
Then I remember how skewed her perspective is. At that age, at least for me, being interesting was more important than anything else. Yeah, be a maverick living on the edge of society! Travel everywhere! Write electrifying novels or be famous! Then you get older and realise that contentment with the occasional exciting moment is much more preferable. Forget being interesting, I just want money and a stable life. If Past Me has a problem with that then she can scuttle back into the void where she belongs!
I do still want to travel everywhere, and I’m working on that. But I want to come home every once in a while too, travelling is such hard work. I’ll also write some novels. Hell, just one will do, and it doesn’t have to be electrifying. It just has to be finished. I certainly don’t want to be famous, I could barely handle the extra attention my birthday brought me, let alone constant public scrutiny.
The last sentence of the letter was what caused the conflicting emotions, it states: “Whatever, whoever you are, just be happy that you’re not me anymore.” First, there was a squeeze of pity for that sad statement and the memory of how unhappy I was back then. Then, it put my present life into perspective; I’m not that unhappy or self-conscious anymore so in that way I’ve fulfilled Past Me’s wish.
Finally, there was relief; one of my main, nagging fears is that I haven’t met my past hopes and dreams for who I am. That sentence released me because all Past Me asked was that I’d moved on from those fifteen year old neuroses, hang-ups and adolescent self-loathing. I may still be a bit of a disaster, but I’ve come a long way since then and every day is another step forward.