#14

Dear Zoey,

It’s the last day of twenties, so along with my letters to my former child and teenage self, I figured I’d end this era with a letter to my “20s” self, and a bit of what I’ve learned along the way.

In a matter of 10 years, I have managed to get married, divorced, birth two babies, raise one as a (mostly) single mother, join the military, discharge from the military, and am on the cusp of getting my degree (FINALLY!) Talk about a whirlwind. Zo, so much happens in your 20s, regardless of what you choose to do with those 10 years. Who I am at 29 is so incredibly different from who I was at 20, but in so many ways, so much the same. If I could talk to my “early 20s” self (this is pre-Zoey, we’re talking). I’d tell her to stop planning everything! Yes, it is good to have goals. It’s good to have clear visions of where you want to be, but don’t get so wrapped up in trying to make life happen that you forget that life is right now. I would tell her to stop spending money on stuff and spend it on traveling or experiences instead. Life is meant to be experienced, not just merely observed. I would tell her to stop being so damn regretful about everything. I lived so much of my early 20s in shame and fear, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that regrets are bullshit. You can’t change the past, so stop beating yourself up about it. Holding onto shame only stunts your growth. Inhale all the pain and bitterness, and exhale all the goodness and positivity.

Around 26, I started to feel like a failure. I didn’t have a husband or a degree. I wasn’t a homeowner, and money was a constant struggle. I kept thinking, “I have nothing to show for success.” And then around 28, I realized what my definition of success was…and it was different from other people. From that point on, I’ve become more and more comfortable in my own skin, comfortable with my choices. I still have self-doubt sometimes, but it doesn’t seem to invade me like it used to. I’ve learned that like everything else, it will come and go. You get to choose what your success is — that is powerful.

Which leads me to one of the best lessons I’ve learned. It’s from a simple quote that a former technical director at JCCC had posted on his door, “No excuses, only choices.” It seems like a simple idea, but it really was revolutionary for me. The minute that you can hold yourself accountable for your own actions, you are unstoppable. By not allowing yourself to make excuses, you are suddenly in control of your life. Sure, you won’t always make the best choice, but when you own your choices, and stop blaming outside people or circumstances, you find a whole version of yourself. You are no longer a victim to your circumstances, and that is so incredibly pivotal.

Your 20s will be some of your hardest, most rewarding, weirdest, most fun years of your life…no matter what you choose to do. Don’t pressure yourself to have everything figured out….because love, you will never have it all figured out. I think that’s one of the biggest indicators of “growing up.” You will never get all the answers, but keep striving to learn and grow. Invest in people that invest in you. Love and friendship involve a great amount of choice — You choose who to give your energy to, so believe in those choices. Don’t allow people to influence your decision making, if they won’t be affected by the outcome. Trust that life is a constant ebb and flow. Bad things will happen. Life will blind side you, just live it. Don’t be a spectator of your life. Engage in it with no regrets. Breathe in this moment because it’s gone before you know it.

Love you,
Mama

#13

Dear Zoey,

So, I talked last time about what I would tell my former child self, and today, I’m gonna talk about what I would tell my former adolescent self.

Adolescence is hard. For anyone. The obvious changes physically and emotionally make you feel like a walking moron half the time. You feel like no one understands you, and it can get really lonely. You never feel pretty or valuable or interesting. And I would tell my former self: you are beautiful and vibrant and enthusiastic. You are valuable and interesting. Don’t doubt the impression you can make on the world because you may be young, but you are fierce and you can change the world. I would tell her that you should never settle for friends that treat you poorly or belittle you. I would tell her to slow down, life goes fast enough, stop trying to speed it up.  I would tell her that kindness is not weakness. You can be bold and strong, but also be compassionate and kind. In fact, true kindness comes out of a deep strength of character. I would tell her that her body is beautiful, not awkward. I would tell her that karma will always work its magic. Keep giving out positive energy, and it will be returned to you.

I would never want to relive my pre-teen or teenage years. Ever. And I have some great memories, and some great friendships were born out of that time, but those years were tough. So, when you come home from your first real heartbreak, I will let you cry on my shoulder, or lock yourself in your room while you listen to sad songs. When you feel chubbier than all of your friends, or hate your new haircut, I will look you in your eyes and tell you that you are the most beautiful thing in my world. I will recite one of my favorite slam poems from Kate Makkai,

“This is about my own someday daughter.
When you approach me, already stung stained with insecurity begging,
‘Mom, will I be pretty?’
‘Will I be pretty?’
I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer, ‘No!
…The word pretty is unworthy of everything you will be!
And no child of mine will be contained in five letters.
You will be pretty intelligent.
You will be pretty creative.
Pretty amazing.
But you…will never be merely pretty.”

When you can’t figure out your emotions, and end up angry…all the time. I will try to be understanding. I’ll snap too. I’ll be reminded of all the times I felt misunderstood and realize that I now must step back and allow you to grow. I mean it when I say…I will be here for you no matter what.

Love you baby girl,
Mama