Dear 15-year-old me,
It’s me. That is to say, it’s you, but from the FUTURE!
I’m writing to give you some perspective on the years ahead of you, i.e. the years behind me. It’s 2020 now, and so much is different today than it is for you in 1991.
In the coming years, a lot is going to happen. Some of it is so insane, you probably won’t believe me. Then again, I’m assuming you’re going to believe that this is a letter from the future, so I should probably maintain this presumption of your gullibility for consistency’s sake. You were (are) pretty naïve, as I recall.
Here’s a fun tidbit: Donald Trump will become the President of the United States. Yep. That guy. He’ll have his own television show for a few years, it will be cancelled, and he’ll come back, run for, and win the presidency in 2016. Trust me, it’s even more shocking to Future Yours Truly than it is to you, because the orange turd will have had many more years of being a public-facing douche canoe.
Wait, he wasn’t orange back then, so that doesn’t make sense to you. Sorry. Let me clarify: he turns orange in the future. It’s odd and unsettling. He’s like a giant Oompa Loompa, except from Queens instead of Loompaland. And he never does choreographed dances with catchy songs to sum up the moral of what just happened. So yeah, nothing like an Oompa Loompa. Except the orangeness, which is just ridiculous.
But rather than write at length about fictional chocolate factory workers, orange game show host presidents, and the happenings of the future world, I want to give you some personal words of wisdom. These are from the vantage point of having survived and flourished (kinda) through the coming years.
Get comfy, you still haven’t learned brevity in 2020:
1. It gets better.
And then it gets worse, and then better again.
I know your existence is kind of crappy right now, at least in your frame of reference. It’s not always going to feel that way.
Your quality of life does a back-and-forth dance—good, not so good, crappy, amazing, good, terrible, etc.—ad nauseam for the next 25 years. And probably beyond that, but that’s just an educated guess.
It’s not 50/50, mind you. It’s mostly good, with some ugly periods peppered throughout.
I’m not going to bullshit you. The bad parts suck.
You know that cliché about the tough times providing contrast to make the good times even better? Yeah, that’s a lie that people tell themselves to give perceived meaning to arbitrary negative happenings. Do you need to occasionally eat a dog turd to really understand how delicious cheesecake is in comparison? Of course not. Maybe having a slightly less delicious pastry would still do the flavor-awareness-enhancing trick without giving you parasites.
Or you could just enjoy cheesecake without analyzing its relative deliciousness.
But the bad stuff is still going to happen to you, no matter the meaning you assign it.
You’re going to get dumped a few times. You will get cheated on, made a fool of, and lied to. You’re going to lose jobs, at least one because you screw up in fantastic, embarrassing fashion. You’ll have car wrecks, painful injuries, and spectacular failures. A few of the massive errors will be 100% your own fault. In some, you’ll be merely contributorily negligent; that is, even the failures that aren’t totally your doing will still be partially your fault.
You will survive every one of these occurrences, and come out better after most of them.
That doesn’t mean they’re worthwhile, it just means you’ll survive and learn. What’s really cool about you is your indefatigable instinct to self-reflect and learn when bad things happen. No one had to teach you “lose the game, not the lesson,” you just do that naturally. That’s more valuable than you understand.
And your mom is right: every bad thing that happens, if nothing else, makes it easier to empathize with more people in the future. Let’s just say, after the next 25 or so years, you’re going to be one empathetic mofo. #ominous
Oh right, you’re existing in 1991, so you don’t know what hashtags are. That’s the pound sign thing I just used. In the future, we use it mostly for snarky afterthoughts. It’s easier than framing grammatically correct, fully communicative sentences. #lazywriter
2. You aren’t that smart.
Being the (self-perceived) smartest person in a two-stop-light Texas town does not equate to being the smartest person overall.
You’re going to consistently be taken aback at how limited your formal education has been. Even after you earn a bachelor of science and a juris doctorate, you’ll still be shocked at the gaps in your knowledge.
The sum total of your intellect and education gives you a 0.1% grasp of the goings-on of the universe, if that.
I don’t say this to shoot you down or make you feel inadequate. I share it with you in the vein of “depressive realism” borne of a lot more years on the planet. Seeing the world through these gray lenses can give you a more realistic sense of how the world actually is. And with a more accurate understanding of your shortcomings and the world’s nature, you can show up with a better chance of success.
When you factor out religion, optimism, ego, feel-good stories, spin, and lack of access to truth beyond what’s available to you, you get down to the hard center of it all:
You’re a hairless ape who’s slightly less stupid than your hairless ape peers, and your self-selected peers are slightly less stupid than the rest of them.
Okay, that’s harsh. You’re mostly hairless at worst. Oh, by the way, your body gets hairier while your head gets less hairy. Sorry dude…good news is you can totally rock a shaved head. Thank Mom’s obstetrician that he kept the forceps away. And thank Mom for not dropping you too many times.
Watch out for getting comfortable with being a jack-of-all-trades; instead, dive deep to master a few.
Stop getting off on being the smartest guy in the room, and pick better rooms.
Grand point here: check your ego, learn as much as you possibly can, and approach the next 25 years with more humility than you think you need.
3. It’s called mental illness.
It’s not a bad word (or pair of words, in this case).
There’s a reason you feel negatively about so much right now. Actually, there are at least two reasons: depression and anxiety.
In the years ahead, various doctors will unanimously diagnose your clinical depression, major depressive disorder, and/or situational depression. Eventually, a doctor will also realize that your anxiety is making the presenting symptoms much worse. That realization helps a bunch.
The shrinks will prescribe drugs, talk therapy, exercise, couples counseling, and the like. You’ll try each, feel a little better, inexplicably suspend treatment, and return to “normal” (read: mentally ill) life. Shitty feelings and coping mechanisms will return shortly thereafter. You’ll become a master at seeming okay while you’re anything but. Mindlessly employed coping strategies will create their own new and exciting problems. After the next major life upheaval, you’ll reach out to another new doctor, restart treatment, feel better, and then stop treatment again.
Read that last paragraph 17-20 times in succession, and imagine the stuff of life carrying on as you march through the repetition. Envision that cycle while earning degrees, getting promoted, marrying, divorcing, being fired, starting new jobs, and moving across the country multiple times.
That should give you a good idea of the general theme of your adulthood. It’s exhausting.
And after that exercise, you’re probably thinking: wouldn’t it make more sense to stick to treatment and at least feel better while everything’s going nuts?
Yes, it would.
Now, apply that patently obvious strategy to the coming years. #solved
I know this is a lot to take in. I could write a thousand more pages on the things you should and shouldn’t do in the coming years.
I could warn you of situations to stick out, even though your mental state will tell you (incorrectly) to run like hell. Or I could tip you off to run away from situations your skewed brain tells you (incorrectly) to persevere.
My hope, though, is that approaching your future with optimism, realism, humility, and acceptance will render my unshared advice moot. You’ll make better decisions than I ever have.
And if you take nothing else from my sincere, heartfelt letter, please remember this:
The Red Sox win the World Series in 2004 and the Cubs win in 2016.
With a paradoxical amount of self-love,
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Need some more Hitting The Trifecta right now? Try this one: These Are The People In Your Neighborhood. Sorry. Or how about this one? Wonder What This Rando Thinks. You’ll like this one, too: The Millennials Are Alright.
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