I recently came across an exercise where you write a letter to your younger self. I chose to write to myself at age 15 when I was full of teenage angst and bursting with ambition and struggling to contain other emotions that felt like they could tear me apart. As soon as I started the letter, the words came pouring out. Pages and pages. The first line was this: “Dear Young Teresa, guess what? You never did find that one big, world-changing, hyper-important thing you were put on this earth to do. But in the process of trying to figure out, you’ve done some really cool things.”
I continued by writing, “And you know that burning desire you have to write a book someday? You did it! In fact, you wrote eight. Isn’t that cool? And relax, for God’s sake, you are a good mother and you did find your soul-mate.”
After catching her up on all the important things she would experience in the next forty years of her life, I couldn’t help but tease her a bit: “By the way, you still love John Denver and musical theater, but you’re mostly over Barry Manilow. And you know how you can’t get enough of pizza and hot fudge sundaes? You can’t eat either anymore, but that’s okay . . . you’ve learned to love really healthy foods. No, really, you have!”
After I wrote to my fifteen-year-old self, I felt so much lighter. I had reassured my inner child that everything was going to be okay, that she could stop worrying so very much. A few days later, I wrote to her again. This time, I thanked her: “Thank you, Young Teresa, for being the desperate dreamer you were. For wanting things so bad it hurt. Because you put those desires out there, because you wanted them more than anything else, you got them. You’ve achieved your dreams, although not always in the ways you thought you would. Thank you for leading the way and for being my guide and teacher. Thank you for making me brave.”
After I wrote those letters, I realized it might seem to Young Teresa like I’d reached the end of my life. After all, 54 would have sounded downright elderly to my young self. So, I reassured her that I’m healthy and still have plenty of life and longing left in me.
I know it sounds like so much self-help nonsense to engage in an exercise like this, but I highly recommend it. A friend did it, but she wrote to her five-year-old self, and in doing so got back in touch with her sense of playfulness. For me, I could finally let go of all those worries I hadn’t realized I was still carrying with me after all these years. And I could feel deep respect and admiration for my inner child who felt so misunderstood and out of place but was far wiser and far more powerful than she ever realized.
We are our own best teachers, and I still have so much to learn. But now I can trust the guidance from my inner five-year old who believed the moon followed her and was her friend, and the teenager who knew to her core that a career in the arts was valuable no matter what anyone else said, and the twenty-something who took her first daring step onto the path of being a writer, and the young mother who knew she needed to model to her children that being true to yourself was the most important thing.
If we gave ourselves permission to flip our sense of time around, I think we could see how in our senior years, we are often moving back toward the truths we knew in our childhood. Moving forward in the opposite direction, so to speak. Fascinating.
By Teresa R. Funke
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