Dear 20-year-old me,
Happy Birthday! You are enjoying an unseasonably warm day in Evanston as you celebrate two decades of life. I am writing to you from 20 years in your future, in the midst of what is the most severe winter in my (and your) existence. On this, the eve of our fortieth birthday, I want to share some thoughts with you.
At age twenty, you still expect to attend law school after college. Keep your mind open, because you will take a different path in life. More than one different path, actually. By age forty, you will be on your fourth career. You will be a published author, which may not surprise you, but the subject matter on which you write will astonish you.
You will fail at things that are important to you. You will be scared, even terrified, about your future. It will be okay, because you are a really hard worker, and you will make new opportunities. Your voice is uncertain at age twenty, but it will grow in strength.
You need to learn to talk less and listen more, which you will realize in your late twenties, and you will make this very difficult change in the way you approach the world. It will pay off enormously, both in your personal and professional life. It is one of your greatest accomplishments, your ability to learn how to really and truly listen with your heart when others talk.
Your stomach is not flat at age forty. Yes, it is true. You, who panic at age twenty if you can’t fit into size zero clothes, will gradually soften with age and pregnancies. You will choose to eat the pizza and the cookies with your friends instead of drinking diet coke on the sidelines. You will learn that food is part of the celebration that is life, and you will be partly but not completely okay with that.
Even with some padding and a few lines around the eyes, you will look surprisingly similar at age forty to how you look at age twenty. You are not terrified of aging. Life is too short to spend time staving off a natural organic process. You have witnessed the loss of those who die too soon, and you prefer the privilege of growing older to the tragedy of remaining forever young. The biggest difference in your appearance is that you wear your curly hair straight, the result of a keratin treatment that refuses to grow out, much to the distress of your family. You never thought the day would come when you would miss your crazy curls, but you honestly look forward to the return of the ringlets.
At twenty, you have not met the man you are going to marry, but I assure you, he is a gem. You will meet him in a little over two years from now. You will marry him six years and two weeks from now. It will be the best decision you ever make in your life, the choosing of this particular partner.
You will make some insincere friends over the years, and you will have the luck and wisdom to recognize it. You will learn that it is much scarier to stay with the false friends than to walk alone until you find the true confidants. At age forty, the people in your life are incredible, the people every woman needs and deserves, and you are blessed for the abundance of love and affection in your relationships with friends and family alike. Your closeness with your sisters and parents is unparalleled at age forty.
At age twenty, your favorite thing in the world is spending time after classes and in the evenings with the kids for whom you are a nanny. The family will continue to be important to you, even after you finish at Northwestern. The baby girl will be the flower girl in your wedding, and eventually, she will be the beloved babysitter for your own children.
You happily refer to her big brothers as “my boys” with pride. Your many hours with them will take on sharp poignancy down the road, because they are the only boys you will ever have. You will lose your own boy, your first baby. You will survive. It will be horrible, the defining event of your twenties, but you will be okay.
You will be a mother to three daughters when you finish your fourth decade of life, and they will be the source of exquisite happiness. The arrivals of your daughters, both by adoption and by birth, are the defining events of your thirties. Each girl changes you in ways unforeseen, and once she enters your life, the thought of a world without her is unimaginable.
At age twenty, you honestly fear forty. You believe that all the exciting things in life will have already happened, and there will be nothing to look forward to. You worry that your best years will be over, and you will look back in angst at a life of youth gone by.
But here you are at forty. And you are looking back at twenty and saying, I was so afraid at twenty. And now I am not. I am so happy to be here, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. Fabulous forty, here I come.
Carrie Goldman is the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.