In the weeks leading up to my birthday this year it hit me that turning 28 means a decade has passed since my 18th birthday. Ten whole years! That’s the same amount of time that passes between second grade and high school graduation! As an adult, the time goes so much quicker and the growth is less obvious. I started to think about who I was and what I was going through when I was 18, the memories were grim. However, it became glaringly obvious to me that every challenge I was facing back then directly maps to where I am today.
For my 28th birthday, I wrote a letter to me at 18.
Dear 18 Year Old Melissa,
This is you from the future, 10 years into the future to be exact. I know you are confused and struggling to figure out what to do with your life right now so I’m writing this letter to put your mind at ease.
You will probably be shocked to know that even if I could prevent the difficult things you’re dealing with right now or that will happen over the next 10 years, I wouldn’t do it. The good and the bad will lead you down the path you are meant to take. And where it leads, is pretty unbelievable. You are spending your 28th birthday on the beach in Hermosa Beach, California, which isn’t far from your home in Las Vegas. That’s right, next year you will pack up that Chevy Cobolt of yours and move 1500 miles away from Chicago! Right now, your only knowledge of Las Vegas is what you’ve seen on episodes of FRIENDS and Chevy Chase’s Vegas Vacation. Don’t worry, you don’t live at Caesars Palace or in a trailer in the desert. You’ll see, there is a lot more to Las Vegas!
With that little sneak peak into your upcoming years, I’d like to address some big things you are dealing with right now and tell you that all of it is preparing you for an amazing journey ahead.
I know breaking up with your high school boyfriend was more difficult than you could have ever imagined. Even though you care about him deeply, you know the relationship was unhealthy and that he wasn’t right for you. It will take several more months and a relapse kiss at his sister’s wedding before you move on. But you will! And you will see, this breakup not only leads to your Las Vegas move but will help you realize when a future relationship isn’t right. Don’t worry, the next decade of you life is not drenched in heartache! As a matter of fact, 28 year old you is surrounded with more love than you can even fathom right now.
Between the bad economy, the aversion to indulgent vacationing you picked up on that cruise a few years back, and your current obsession with getting your life on track, the trip to Italy you were given for your high school graduation isn’t going to happen. Trust me, it’s a good thing! There are things you need to accomplish before you will be prepared to travel properly, like moving away from home and earning your bachelor’s degree.
You will travel. And it will be when you’re ready. And it will be on your own terms. And it will be on your own dime. And it will completely change your life. By the time you turn 28 you will have traveled through Western Europe twice, up the East Coast of Australia, visited 19 states and been to Mexico twice. You will learn to appreciate the difference between traveling and vacationing and know there is a time and a place for both.
This next thing I’m going to tell you will be incomprehensible: 28 year old you is planning to travel indefinitely. That’s right, you’re buying a one way ticket with no idea where you’ll go or when you’ll return. I’ll keep the details of this plan a mystery but I have to let your Type A side know, it’s been well thought out.
You will earn a Bachelor’s Degree! Right now you are debating between studying journalism and education. Spoiler, you choose education. I know, a career in journalism is enticing. It has the potential to take you all over the world! Maybe even to the Middle East where you are dying to go! But you think it’s too risky and unpredictable. How could you travel alone? How would the sporadic hours and travel schedule of a journalist fit into your American Dream of a future? I mean, what will your hypothetical future husband and children do without you for weeks at a time? (At 28, you will be baffled that you once asked yourself these questions). Education is the safer choice. It’s familiar. You know what the life of a teacher looks like and can plug yourself into it along with all those other things you think you’re supposed to have. Let’s just say, you don’t know what you don’t know.
At 28, a job with traditional hours and a stereotypical American Dream lifestyle couldn’t be further from what you want. As part of your indefinite travel plans, you’re starting a blog to document your travels and life musings though writing. You’ll be traveling and writing! Future you is headed down the path that right now you’re too afraid to take. Don’t worry, stick with what you’re doing. You aren’t prepared yet to take the other path. But by doing exactly what you’re doing, one day you will be.
Choosing Education will take your life in the direction it’s supposed to go in. It will lead you to major self-discoveries that give you stories to write. Your degree in education will also prepare you to teach English abroad, and that’s an excellent skill for a traveler to have in their back pocket!
Oreos and Cheetos do NOT Constitute a Meal
This is probably the only topic I’m going to give you a hard time about! Start eating better! Those headaches you get happen because you’re not getting enough nutrients or drinking enough water. Oreos and Cheetos do NOT constitute a meal. Eat greens and cut back on the sugar, woman!
Yoga Doesn’t Suck
HA! I bet you think I must be high for saying that. That one Bikram Yoga class you took was HELL, I know. But when you’re 24 you will (reluctantly) try yoga again, a different kind of course, and it will have a huge impact on your life.
I couldn’t be more pleased to tell you that you are still super close with Shael, Morgan, Jen and Mariah! And let me tell you, ten years post high school graduation, that’s rare. Right now, I know it seems like each one of them is drifting away from you in opposite directions, taking different paths, and chasing completely different dreams. But over the next ten years your paths, although very different, cross often. No matter how much time passes you manage to pick up right where you left off with each of them. One of those trips you take to Europe, you will spend a week in Paris with Jen, Shael and Morgan. When Mariah and Jamal’s kids get a little older (that’s right, plural, they will have a second baby!) they will come to visit you in Las Vegas, and it will be one of the best weekends you ever have on The Strip (and believe me, you’ll have a lot of those).
Right now, the risks you are about to take seem scarier than they are because you’ve never gone against the grain like this before. You’ve always taken the opinions of others into consideration and have always done what you’re “supposed to” do. That’s starting to change. Courage breeds courage. The more risks you take, the more risks you will take. Overtime, taking a risk will feel more comfortable than predictability. I didn’t write this to tell you what you should do differently (except to eat better).
I wrote this to let you know you’re on the right track. I wrote this to let you know the hard things will in fact make sense one day. I wrote this as a birthday present. For you. For me. For us.
28 Year Old Melissa