On Turning 20

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An open letter to myself on the eve of my 20th birthday (written February 4, 2016)

I know how you feel. You stare at that number, 20, and it makes your breath catch in your throat. It makes you feel small, scared, and inadequate. It reminds you of that one time you were lost in the downtown of a city and it was raining and you just wanted someone else to take care of you. It makes you think of the friends you see getting engaged on Facebook and then wondering what happened to playdates. It makes you think of “grown-ups” in suits making small talk over hors d’oerurves. It makes you feel like you have to be something you are not.

20. You will be just as close to being 40 as you are to being born, and that is a scary thought. Suddenly articles for people “in their 20’s” apply to you, and you don’t feel ready. You are exiting the teenage years that you were so remiss to enter, and yet now you don’t want to leave. The past two decades are marked by a nostalgia that you never want to forget.

Somehow the number 20 makes you feel like you suddenly have to “have it all together” and be an adult and face responsibility. The truth is, you will never have it all together, you are already an adult(ish), and you have already taken on a lot of responsibility. But there’s always more to learn. At 16, would you have thought that you could take on love and heartbreak, that you would experience inexplicable grief, that a strange town would become your home, or that you would start a life on your own? No, and yet you did.

You are afraid, yes. But you are entering a brand new decade that holds all the possibility of grander adventures and bigger accomplishment and greater joy.

I do not know what this year holds for you. But as you enter year 20, my hope is that you leave no room for fear.

May you never lose your sense of wonder. Getting older doesn’t mean you have to lose your childlike excitement and your relish for life. There’s so much more out there to wonder at and delight in. Do not worry about what others may think, but allow yourself to embrace life to the fullest. You’ve only got one to live.

May you love intentionally. Love people with purpose and take time to love yourself. May your love not be shallow or half-hearted but may you learn to love wholly, genuinely, selflessly, and unconditionally. Know what in life is worth loving and what is worth letting go (people are worth loving, the world’s definition of success is worth letting go).

May you overflow with joy. Challenges are going to come, things harder than you’ve ever faced before. But you are strong. And despite whatever hellish things life throws your way, you can choose joy. Keep smiling. Continue to let your smile be the defining characteristic of who you are.

May you speak and think words that give life. How many times have you heard and spoken the words I am tired, I am stressed, I am overwhelmed, I am so over this? May you choose to speak life into your day, into your situation, into the lives of those around you—words like I am strong, I am thankful, I am blessed beyond measure, I am loved. 

May you dare to step out of your comfort zone. You never know what grand adventures you will have or what incredible people you will get close to until you take that first step. Dare to step beyond the place where your body and soul feel comfortable and into a place where they take flight.

May you find out more about who you are—what makes your heart ache and what makes it sour. Explore your passions and do things that make you glow. May you become more of yourself in this next year.

And as hard as it is to leave this phase of life behind, remember: it only gets better than this.

Happy 20th Birthday.

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