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a letter + some advice to my 18 year old self

September 5, 2012

Dear Self,

You’re 28 now! Congratulations, friend; I bet it feels good. When I think about to how you thought 28 would be ten years ago, when you were a tender-faced 18 year old, getting ready to finish high school and dreaming about the big world out there, I have to laugh. I’m pretty sure by 28, you thought life would be like a cleaned-up version of “Sex and the City”. You’d be living in some impossibly cool city, striding around in high heels, going for Cosmos with your inevitably charming and cute husband, and working the day away in some hip office where you’d use your PR skills to save the world.

Oh, how disappointed 18 year old you would be to found out that you’re more akin to some bohemian vagabond, whose life Carrie Bradshaw would never write a column about; who never wears high heels, who prefers craft beer to Cosmos, who works at an organic farm, and whose love life is an occasional blip on the radar instead of the heartbeat by which everything else keeps time.

Actually, the love bit is what I really wanted to speak to in this letter, for it’s been on my mind.

If you recall at 18, you were frozen with insecurities when it came to boys. Your first boyfriend left you for your best friend and you spent months pinpointing all the ways you weren’t enough. You wrecked your brain believing that if you had only been exactly what he wanted, he wouldn’t have left. This set you in a pattern of thinking that has foolishly persisted over the years.

Let us remember your crushed, confused heart at 19. And 20. And 22. And 25.

What I want to say is this: I know there are wounds that will always have that ghost pain; a never-fully-healed quality, where those weaknesses and insecurities build a stronghold that our own humanity will never be able to fully conquer. I know you will spend the rest of your life fighting against those thoughts that speak so pervasively and poisonously, telling you that you will never be enough for anyone unless you become exactly what they want.

But I want to remind you that this is simply a bold-faced lie.
Did you hear me?
That. Is. A. Lie.

You do not have to ever feel like you must change for anyone to love you. Though you didn’t know this ten years ago, I can tell you now that you are, without hesitation, an extraordinary, intelligent, and wholly loved person just as you are, and most importantly, you are finally in a place where you believe that (well, most of the time). You’ve stopped allowing other people write out your worth and speak to you as if your value is for them to decide. This has been the lesson that has cost the most to learn and one you will keep learning over and over again.

In the words of Ezekiel,

“You became mine…You grew more and more beautiful, and became fit for royalty. Your beauty won you fame among the nations, for it was perfected by the splendor which I set upon you, declares the LORD.”

This beauty is something no one can take from you, because it’s nothing that they gave. It’s the kind that was woven into you by your Creator, was written into your skin, your bones, and your very marrow and soul. It’s the kind of beauty that nourishes you with real, honest life, that reminds you who you are on days when you feel small and worthless; the beauty that ripens with time, that has nothing to do with whether or not your thighs feel huge or if your hair looks cute today or if the guy wearing the hipster glasses at the coffee shop notices you or not.

I know the temptation is unbearably strong sometimes to believe that you have to arrange yourself in certain ways for someone to notice and love you. I know that when you consistently fall for those rugged guys whose hands are smeared with dirt and whose adventurous spirit thrills you, you immediately feel embarrassed about your lack of outdoor panache and hemp pants. You want to hide your tangerine nail polish and piles of cute Anthropologie dishes and pretend like, of course I want to sell everything I own and bike across the country and be everything you want me to be because you have a beard and smell like mown grass and clean t-shirts and I’m lonely.

Well, simply put, don’t do that.

Rock your nail polish.
Dig in the dirt anyway, but do it because you like it.
Enjoy your yellow kitchen timer and IKEA bookcases and funky vintage artwork.
Don’t be ashamed of valuing beauty and whimsy. It’s not worthless.
Live in the loneliness when it arrives and don’t fear it. (And maybe go buy some cute underwear.)
Dance to Rihanna and Usher even when indie folk seems cooler (it’s okay to love both).
And remember that if it turns out that you aren’t exactly what this man wants or needs, there’s a fair chance he probably isn’t what you want or need, either.

I’m so proud of where you’re arrived in these last ten years. I know it’s been a rough journey and that it will continue to be as the years press on. But you aren’t alone and never will be.

Thank you for learning to love yourself, exactly as you are, and keep believing with that characteristic, relentless optimism that you will always find people who do, too.

I’ll be seeing you,

[photos from]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Grannie permalink
    September 5, 2012 2:48 pm

    Caroline – I just wanted to weep while reading this. Not because it made me sad but because it is so wise, so beautiful and SO TRUE. I was well beyond 28 when I discovered how to really live at peace with who I am. You have it nailed, my dear girl. The big ‘life lesson’ I have discovered is that God has not equipped any other human to make us continually happy. So just look in the mirror and say “hello, I’m here to make your life joyful, instead.” You are a beautiful kaleidoscope, you are fascinating and I love you. Blessings…Grannie

  2. Sara C permalink
    September 5, 2012 11:27 pm

    I’ve been following your blog for about four years now, and this is my first time commenting. I just turned 28 this summer, and shortly thereafter my boyfriend of three-and-a-half years broke up with me. This was made doubly difficult (or maybe triplely so) because he was also my best friend and the reason why I moved cross-country from California to Ohio. Your written words are (and have always been) encouraging, and they are much appreciated by this blog lurker.

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