Taking the full measure of life

From 30 to 20: A Letter to My Younger Self

August 5th, 2010 · 25 Comments

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Dear Sally,

I know the age of 20 is confusing for you, so I’m traveling back in time to give you a heads-up about what’s coming in life. Feel relieved? Good.

Right now, at 20, you’re a girl consumed with swirls of emotions about nearly everything in life.  You feel battered by some of what’s come your way. You aren’t sure what you want. You aren’t sure who you are or what your value is. You aren’t sure what family means anymore.  You’re moving forward in the ways you know how because it’s all you can do, but you’re in a state of near-panic on a regular basis.

First off, let me let you in to something you know in your gut: he’s not the right guy for you.  For some involved psychological reasons you’ll realize over time, he’s come to represent the sense of family you’ve lost.  But here’s the thing: love isn’t actually supposed to be hard, at least not 90% of the time. Mostly, it should be as easy as breathing.  You won’t be able to believe me until later, when you meet the right guy.  In the meantime, you have an enormous amount of growing to do, and you can’t do most of that while you’re trapped in this back-and-forth with him that’s tearing you apart.  In the next few days, you’ll get a sweet birthday gift from him where he’s trying to woo you back. He’ll be very angry when it doesn’t work. You’re going to stay strong.  You’re going to be lonely for a while–for a longer while than you will admit.  And then you’re going to start moving on because it’s the only thing to do.  It will get easier.

The truth is that life is going to continue to break your heart.  That’s hard to embrace (pain is so difficult!), but it’s just true. Another guy is going to break your heart. (There are more guys between, but they won’t matter. That’s a good thing.) Several friends are going to break your heart. Health problems are going to break your heart. World events are going to break your heart. Family members are going to break your heart. Work that you love is going to break your heart. Your own limitations and frustrations are going to break your heart. You have this basic idea that your goal is to get to some good point and then ride it indefinitely, but that’s not how life works.  Each low you dip into breaks your heart, but it also breaks your heart open, and as it fills back up again, you are more the person you were (and are) going to become.  And, sweetheart, the person you’re going to become is the person you’re needed to be in this world.  You’ll never be perfect, and that will stop being the goal.  Instead, you’ll embrace what is possible within imperfection, within limitations, and that will become something you are known for.

One thing you’re going to learn is that what life best needs from you is flexibility.  When you’re inflexible, you are at risk of shattering into some very depressed pieces.  It can be easy to try to hide from life when change is involved, but that is change, too–of the worst kind.  The more you accept that change is a near-constant and that life is built on shifting variables–as scary as it sounds–the more life will open up for you to create options.  You’ll still be learning that at 30 (you’ll probably be learning it forever), but you should open your mind to its possibility as well as you can. (It can feel like trying to pry open a clamshell that’s snapped shut. And that’s okay, because it will come in time.)

Your life at 30 isn’t going to be at all like you imagine it might be. You’re going to be finding your way in a new place, in a new career, in nearly a new life.  You’re going to be doing what you love in a capacity you wouldn’t expect.  You’re going to be in the best physical shape you’ve been in since you were a small child.  You’re going to be living in a city that you never pictured yourself in (at the beach, though!). You’ll feel some ambivalence (that’s as common a part of life as change), and you’ll also enjoy it. You’re going to have helped a lot of people, in various capacities, and be working on helping more.  You’re going to have a husband who currently makes more money than you . . . and it will still make you a bit uncomfortable at times, but it is one of the things you’ll learn to navigate.  In some ways, your life will be so much better than you picture it being possible at 20.   You’re going to have built amazing friendships.  You’re going to need to build more friendships in your new location.  And since I know what you’re probably struggling with the most right now, let me reiterate that being alone and, then, later, being with the right guy are really going to change your understanding of what it means to be you and what it means to be part of a couple. (I can’t give too much away, but I can tell you it involves something like holding hands while simultaneously evolving as individuals.  It’s easier than it sounds, most of the time.)

Sometimes, life is going to be hard.  Sometimes it’s going to be very hard.  Some moments are going to fill you with despair.  That’s actually okay.  You’re a really emotional person; it’s something you’ve grown up believing is a weakness.  But it’s one thing you’ll have learned to appreciate between 25 and 30. (That guy you’re going to marry? He’s a big help with that. You’ll also learn a lot about it on your own, too.) At thirty, you’ll have learned to treat yourself gently and to remind yourself to treat yourself gently when you’re struggling with feeling harsh.

More than anything, I just want to give you the understanding that you’re more resilient than you realize.  Other people will see it in you long before you see it in yourself.  You’ll see it in others–in many, many people–before you begin to appreciate it about yourself.  Resilience isn’t about handling things well; it’s simply about handling them without becoming (at least for very long) bitter, mistrustful, hateful.  You will retain your beliefs in love and possibility.  You will keep on growing. That is resilience.

Your dearest friend (who loves you and believes in you more than you can know),


Tags: fruits of my labor · gratitude · on the soapbox · sturm and drang

25 responses so far ↓

  • 1 carolyn // Aug 5, 2010 at 11:53 am

    O the lives we lead when we are young (I well understand your letter). What a great idea!

  • 2 E.S. // Aug 5, 2010 at 2:04 pm

    [Edited for spam]

    I also want to mention that my lawyer in Princeton, NJ, advises me your post infringes on my trademarks “Letters To My Younger Self,” “What I Know Now Letters To My Younger Self” and “What I Know Now.”

    A simple mention of my name [edited for spam] and my website [edited for spam] preceeding your letter would address this infringement. Let me know if you are comfortable with this.


  • 3 Hannah S-Q // Aug 5, 2010 at 2:53 pm


    I really appreciate you writing this. The more I’ve read and learned of you, the more alike I realize we are (and maybe the more alike everyone is.)

    We all stumble along painfully and then slowly make our way back again, all throughout our lives.

    I always appreciate comments that highlight that the goal is not to be ‘nicey-nicey’ but to be authentic in each moment. If you feel shitty then feel it. If you’re happy, then accept it, but be aware of the ephemeral nature of happiness.

    It’s just a really hard lesson to learn. Especially for emotional/worrying types like us.


  • 4 sally // Aug 5, 2010 at 3:03 pm

    Hi, E.

    Wow, you know what I left out of my post? One of the best things I’ve learned in the last 10 years is how to stand up for myself.

    You are what we refer to as a bully, trying to use the threat of legal power in copyright protection to force me to draw attention to your works. But if your ‘attorney in Princeton, NJ,’ really did tell you to come after me, then you need a new attorney. Basic knowledge of the law informs me that trademarks don’t apply to non-commercial works, or works that aren’t intended to be in competition with the trademarked work. In fact, where I live (that would be California), for you to threaten me with a “wrongful or groundless” trademark violation is itself a breach of the law.

    More importantly, if you want to encourage readership and goodwill, bullying people who non-commercially use a phrase and concept that have been around way longer than I or you is certainly not the way to do it.

  • 5 Hannah S-Q // Aug 5, 2010 at 3:16 pm


    You know you have my support on the copyright thing. I wholeheartedly disagree with ‘E’ and as an artist/creator myself, I hope I never stoop to the level that this writer did.

    If someone truly did infringe on my work (which, in your case with this person’s writing, you did not) then I would never approach them in such an aggressive and manner.

    I hope you know that there are many more people who appreciate your writing and your post than there are detractors who would try to challenge you.
    Hugs and Support,

  • 6 Princeton St Neighborhood Association // Aug 5, 2010 at 3:23 pm


    I note that you are using the word “Princeton” in your comment. My lawyers (here in beautiful Wayne, MI) advise me that the Princeton St. Neighborhood Association (headquartered at 24768 Princeton St) actually owns all usage of the word Princeton. Please cease & desist usage of the word immediately; you are also welcome to mail a check for $500 to the above address as a one-time licensing fee for said usage.



  • 7 E.S. // Aug 5, 2010 at 3:43 pm

    No problem–check is on the way!
    And you’ll be fine if someone else blogs using Approvechar or Sally Parrott Ashbrook I guess?

  • 8 Princeton St Neighborhood Association // Aug 5, 2010 at 4:01 pm


    My only concern, as duly appointed representative of the Princeton St. Neighborhood Association, is that our trademark of “Princeton” is properly respected. Rest assured that your check will be used to pay our lawyers’ hourly consultation fee, not for a neighborhood block party or to help feed starving children in Africa.

    Now, if someone wants to use “Aprovechar” (I think that’s only one “p”) or “Sally Parrott Ashbrook” in the title of a blog post, that’s Ms. Parrott Ashbrook’s business. But I’m sure that she would respond with appropriate unfounded legal threats and requests for free advertising.



  • 9 Molly Hoyne // Aug 5, 2010 at 4:19 pm

    Gorgeous. Lovely. Wise.

  • 10 sally // Aug 5, 2010 at 4:53 pm

    F., you are hilarious. I wish you had left a valid email address so that I could thank you for making my afternoon.

    Thanks, Molly. 🙂

  • 11 Amanda // Aug 5, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    This is almost as good as the obnoxious person on my parents’ neighborhood leaving letters IN all our mailboxes (which as you know it is illegal to open anyone else’s mailbox) about something she was upset over regarding use of the neighborhood funds. She stated that she was a paralegal and some other BS….then proceeded to talk about “tork

  • 12 Nikki // Aug 5, 2010 at 6:38 pm

    Wow, E., that is a lot of effort put forth to attempt to intimidate a blogger over one post. Congratulations on whatever it is that gives you that kind of free time.

    There is protecting your copyright and there’s being needlessly annoying. You are not JK Rowling, and I am betting that JK wouldn’t bother herself with anything as silly as this.

  • 13 Amanda // Aug 5, 2010 at 6:40 pm

    (sorry phone screwed up).

    But anyway it is TORT not tork and so it was obvious that she was looney.

    And, unless E.S. is the person who invented the idea of letters to one’s younger self, he/she has no leg to stand on. And since I saw letters to peoples younger selves featured on several other blogs recently because of yet another blogger doing a carnival of sorts asking all her friends to write them…I’m thinking this E.S. person is either really jealous of you, is smoking crack, or has waaaaay too much time on his/her hands. Or all three.

  • 14 Strick // Aug 5, 2010 at 7:24 pm

    I was about to say almost exactly what Amanda says: unless E.S. is the person who INVENTED the idea of letters to one’s younger self (a concept we language arts teachers have been employing for some time, by the way), he/she hasn’t a leg to stand on.
    And the reason we need “TORK” (what a hoot!) reform is exactly this kind of ridiculous assault, which people feel free to launch.

  • 15 Andee // Aug 5, 2010 at 7:25 pm

    Sally…wonderful post! I LOVED it.

    F….you’re awesome.

    E.S. …You’re a douche. I might have looked up your stuff if you had made a nice comment referencing your similar work. However, because you feel the need to be negative and insulting I refuse to do so. I certainly hope karma kicks you in the rear.

    Sally again thank you for the great post!

  • 16 Laura // Aug 5, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Wonderful post, Sally! I love the idea of reflecting with compassion on how we have changed in the past decade and how we have grown…. and understanding, with even more compassion, that we will grow even more in the next decade.

    What a wild and crazy comment by E! It only proves all the more that life is full of crazier events and people that we could ever imagine on our own.

    You know I got your back, twin. Great job standing up for yourself!

  • 17 Lesley // Aug 6, 2010 at 7:09 pm


    Very well written!

    And really… who employs searches for themselves or their “works” for this sort of self-righteousness anyway? Take your B.S. elsewhere, E.S.

  • 18 Margaret // Aug 7, 2010 at 7:36 am


    Loved the post. As always you are so honest. What a wonderful thing to look back 10 years and realize life is moving in the right direction. Something that is so easy to forget as we deal with day to day.

    And maybe you should edit the post for standing up for yourself. Cause you rock at that!

    Well ick. Not nice. You might want to consider how you respond to bloggers in the future. As you can see, we are loyal to Sally; shouldn’t be too surprising, I mean, we read her personal blog. We don’t know you from Adam and now we don’t like you. You might had have a chance to get a few sales out of this crowd if you handled yourself differently.

  • 19 Sally JPA // Aug 7, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    Thanks for the support, y’all. 🙂

    Every time, after I post, I feel a bit panicky about having been so honest/vulnerable in a public forum. Yet I’m always rewarded for it by people who find that what I say resonates with them.

    As for E.S., I feel certain she has gotten the point now, so let’s not direct any more comments her way.

  • 20 cheryl // Aug 8, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    oh my. I loved your post, Sally, and it’s so oddly ironic/telling/perfect that someone had to be so silly and petty.
    But you put things so beautifully, and of everything you wrote, I was most touched by the salutation. Congratulations on becoming your own dearest friend, and presumably, happy birthday.

  • 21 Cindy // Aug 8, 2010 at 9:21 pm

    What a sweet and very insightful post. I’m so glad I stopped in to read it. It brought me back to reflect on my 20s and 30s and all the years since.
    AT 50 I would write to my younger self that the many major life events of the next couple of decades may be unbelievably difficult, but in time they will be revealed as blessings.

    Who is this E.S. person, and why would anyone seriously think they owned the rights to the idea of writing a letter to one’s younger self?

    Be well.


  • 22 Nikki // Aug 11, 2010 at 9:43 am

    Hi! First of all I love this post. Secondly, any friend of Molly’s and member of the Tribe 🙂 is a friend of mine. What part of LA are you in? Yes, please, let’s hang out!! xx

  • 23 Lori Wright // Aug 14, 2010 at 8:56 pm

    Hi Sally! Love the post and catching up with you and your blog. You’re doing wonderfully and I am a bit motivated to do better in my own life. (Miss you in FB world — love your dog!)

    Keep up the good work!

  • 24 Jenn // Aug 18, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    Sniff. Love this.

  • 25 Iris // Dec 20, 2010 at 9:59 am

    I know this was written months ago, but I absolutely love it and feel like I was meant to read it at this point in my life. Thank you.

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