On my 28th birthday, to my 18-year-old self

Today is my 28th birthday, which means I have been an adult for exactly a decade. Legally, anyway—while I might’ve been sure I was 100% an adult the second the clock ticked over to midnight on January 19, 2009, looking back I’m pretty sure you don’t actually feel grown-up until at least… 23? 27? 35? Somewhere around there.

Fittingly, there’s a “challenge” going around social media right now to post a photo of yourself 10 years ago and today, either to see your “glow up” or, more negatively, “how hard aging hit you.” Here’s mine:

Ah yes, the “myspace-angle selfies in the park” days
The humidity is doing a lot to my hair, none of it good

Definite glow up.

If I could talk to my 18-year-old self now, there’s a lot I would say (after I made her take off that terrible eyeliner).

First I’d say: get some sleep. Staying up until 6am and then sleeping until 2pm is no way to live unless you’re working the graveyard shift. If you knew I now regularly go to sleep before 10pm and wake up by sunrise you’d be horrified, but look, your dark circles are bad enough thanks to genetics, you don’t need to add to them. It’s not like you’re staying up studying.

Speaking of studying, I know you’ve barely had to do it except for algebra and chemistry and AP tests, and I have to tell you that’s not really going to change in college or even grad school, but you know you can study for more than just tests, right? You love to learn, and regardless of what you think, you’re not going to be in school forever (believe me, you are not going to do a PhD), so find something outside of academia that draws you in and put your studying efforts on that.

Oh yeah, and academics? Right now you’re sure you’re going to be a journalist. It’s what you’re going to go to college for, and you’ve got big plans to end up at a newspaper or a website or the big one, Rolling Stone. That’s… not going to work out, and you’re going to be disillusioned with journalism pretty quickly, but don’t worry. All those writing and researching and communication skills are so important in everything you want to do in the future, and half the people you know who are currently so certain about what they want to do are going to change their majors anyway.

The thing about these “letter to my x-year-old self” things is that there’s not really much point in doling out specific advice because it’s not like you can actually go back in time and take it, so mostly what I’d want to say is: some things are going to work out worse than you’ve planned, and that’s life, and some things are going to work out better, and that’s great, but most things are just going to work out different.

If I asked you what you thought your life would be like 10 years from now, you would probably not expect to be in Australia (someplace you’ve never really been interested in going), with your SO with whom you spent a significant period of time in a long-distance relationship (something you swore you’d never do), looking for temp work (when you’ve always considered yourself so career-driven), doing a lot of yoga and training for your first marathon (you don’t like yoga and you hate running).

You still haven’t gotten published and you still don’t know what you want to do with your life and you never got any good at playing the guitar and you still don’t speak French… maybe when you’re 38 and talking to your 28-year-old self, some of those things will have changed, or maybe you’ll have done some more amazing things you’ve never even expected. I bet you can’t wait to find out.

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