A Letter to My Younger Self

Dear sweet girl—

Today you turn 33 but I’m remembering back to you at 13 and 23 and wishing I could whisper back through the decades and tell you some things you’ve learned.

Read and enjoy. Don’t worry too much.

Life gets better every day.

Hope these small reminders help you to really live it.

letter-to-my-younger-self

Learn to play to an empty room

Someday you’ll have these amazing, talented friends who play music for a living. These people will play to stadiums full of people. They’ll be followed by fans with cameras, begging for autographs. But here’s the thing that will really impress you: when they play to empty rooms. Because what you will see as you watch them create and thrive and perform is that these people are the same people, regardless of who is watching. And you’ll see how it’s the LOVE for what they do that makes them come alive—not how many people are or aren’t watching.

Do what you love. Don’t worry about the applause. The applause won’t do for you what you think it will. (Tweet that)

Have some useless hobbies

Give yourself the space and time and permission to do a few things that aren’t going to directly improve your life’s bottom line. Play the guitar. Sing by yourself on the floor of your living room. Don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t feel like you always need to be efficient. Don’t worry if it doesn’t always seem like you’re “making progress”.

Just enjoy the beautiful way your life is unfolding.

Swing in a hammock for hours, daydreaming about a boy you will never marry. Go ahead. I dare you.

Pretend to read books at coffee shops, while you’re secretly people watching. Go for walks to nowhere. Drive just to drive. Wander in circles a little. Take naps in the sunshine. Float in the ocean until your skin is all prune-y and you get a sunburn on your forehead. You don’t always have to do the productive thing. You don’t always have to do the efficient thing. You do not always have to be thinking about your progress (pssst… you’re making progress even when you don’t realize it). You are not a human doing. You are a human being.

It’s okay to JUST BE. 

You don’t have to marry the first guy who asks you

This might seem like an insane piece of advice, especially considering marriage proposals aren’t exactly coming at you in droves. But what I mean is that you don’t necessarily need to think that, just because someone asks you to marry them, you should say yes.

Take your time. Weigh your options. Pay less attention to his accomplishments, his bank account, and his resume and much more attention to how you feel about yourself in his presence. Pay less attention to getting him to love you and more attention to getting you to love yourself. Getting married is not the point. Getting him to want to marry you is even less of the point.

You have a whole life ahead of you and you do not need to rush into anything. You are beautiful and talented and the only one of you. Wait for a guy who knows what a gift he’s getting to get to have you in his life. 

Let yourself be stupid happy.

Too many people feel guilty for being happy so they go to all kinds of extravagant lengths to sabotage their own happiness—usually without even realizing it. Remember this always: it’s okay to be happy! Ridiculously, stupidly, happy.

Happiness is not a circumstance, it’s a mindset.

You won’t always be perfectly happy. You’ll have to learn to curate happiness, to fight for it in some seasons, to sink to the pits of despair so you can really understand what a rare and shimmering gift happiness truly is. You’ll have to learn that no matter how sad you get, you can always fight your way back to happiness. It is always at your fingertips.

Eventually you will realize that happiness is inside of you, not outside. And that even when your life sort of seems like it might kind of be a wreck, it is okay for you to be ridiculously, stupidly, freakishly happy.

Listen to yourself.

There will be a whole slew of people who want to weigh in on your life. Some of them will have your best interest in mind. Others won’t. It will be hard to tell the difference between the two. But either way, when it comes to taking advice, not all advice is created equal, and you need to know this.

Even those with the best of intentions might be blind to how they are guiding you to the place that is best for them—not necessarily for you.

The one source of wisdom you can always trust is your inner wisdom—that still, small voice. Learn to get quiet, to tune in, to pay attention, and not to let your own voice be drowned out by the noise of the world around you. Your intuition, you will find, is strangely and inexplicably accurate. Not always precise (our intuitions rarely give us details), but surprisingly good at pointing to something important and beautiful and true.

The more you listen to that still small voice, the louder and clearer and more reliable it gets.

Learn to say no.

No I would not like to go out with you. No you may not have my phone number. No I do not want to have sex with you. No I will not text you a picture of myself. No no no. No about lots of other things, too, but those no’s will be especially important.

You do not belong to anyone except yourself.

You do not have to do anything you don’t want to do.

I’m not sure why this feels like such a profound lesson when it seems like it should be so basic, but it isn’t. You are your own person. Your life is your own. Do not let anyone else think they get to choose for you.

Learn to stand up for yourself—as soon as you can

It will be tempting to sit around, waiting for somebody or something to make you feel what you’d like to feel—like you matter, like you’ve made it, like you’re safe, like you can be you. You might, at certain points, find yourself waiting for a man to pay your bills or waiting for someone to open the door to your dream opportunity.

But the truth is this waiting is useless.

Not that those men or opportunities or people will never come, but that there is no feeling the world which compares to doing it yourself.

I do not mean you shouldn’t ask for help—which may be one of the bravest things you do. I simply mean there is no feeling like the feeling of taking ownership over your life. Of supporting yourself. Taking care of yourself. Standing on your own two feet. I hope and expect that you will become the kind of woman who doesn’t wait to be rescued, but who knows you have the courage and the talent and the gumption to rescue yourself. 

Say what you want.

Say it exactly and specifically. Don’t hem and haw. Don’t hedge your bets. Don’t tiptoe. Just say, “I would like you to leave now” or “I think you should hire me” or “I want more time to myself”. Say it to your parents, or to your friends, or in a prayer. It doesn’t even have to be a request. It can just be a statement. The things we speak out loud tend to find a way into our minds and lives and hearts.

Practice forgiveness.

You will be hurt. Anyone who lives life with an open heart will be hurt. So learn to forgive. Forgive your brother and sisters. Forgive your parents for not being perfect. Forgive the one who tried to love you but couldn’t.

And when I say “practice forgiveness” I mean it literally. It takes serious practice. Start with the small things so you are not so caught off guard when the bigger ones come.

Remember forgiving is not excusing.

Most people, most of the time, are doing the best they can.

Get yourself a good, strong right hook.

Take a self-defense class. Ask someone to teach you. Just in case. You know. You more than likely won’t have to use it. But it will make you feel a little safer when you have to come home alone.

Don’t take yourself too seriously.

Learn to laugh at yourself more than just about everyone else. Learn to fail because you know that the world does not depend on you succeeding.

As you fail with gusto, you will find your way to great success.

Take up some space in the world.

Be a little louder than necessary. Eat too much every now and then. Don’t shrink down or back off to make other people happy. Laugh your ass off—and say ass even though people will say it’s not “becoming” of a woman. Every now and then, remind yourself that you have choices and that you can do what you want and that no one else gets to make those choices for you.

Don’t worry too much about stepping on toes. Most toes are resilient. And the ones that aren’t could use a little stepping on now and then. It’s good for them. Builds strength. And whatever you do, never forget that you deserve to take up space in this world.

You are bold. You are brave. You are BIG and that’s okay.

Can’t wait to watch you shine.

38 comments on “A Letter to My Younger Self

  1. As I meet my own birthday this week, this post was ever so timely and I thank you for sharing your heart. Wonderfully thoughtful insights.

    “You are not a human doing. You are a human being.” Nailed it. I am working on better letting go of the guilt that creeps in when I am not “doing” as much as I feel I should be + working toward more fully opening my heart up to let myself be stupid happy. And realizing it too takes constant practice.

    “Letting myself” is a crazy way to put it, but, as you mentioned so eloquently, we do all sorts of subconscious tricks to desensitize ourselves to experiencing joy and we get so good at performing subtle acts of self-sabotage — we don’t even see it.

    Your westward adventure seems like the perfect way to close out a year, reflect, explore, and welcome a new.

    Best,

    Sarah

    • Thanks Sarah! And happy birthday to you, too. Hope this year is filled with light and love and more joy than you know what to do with.

  2. Thank you for this. I’m 25 and this was incredibly powerful to read as I’ve been learning some of these lessons. Hearing them affirmed and encouraged makes me feel like I’m on the right track.

    Peace –

  3. Allison,

    The lady with the bright eyes and huge smile also possesses a bright heart and a huge sense of self-awareness!! Thanks for sharing your journey. I think we have to pass through some of the moments in the 1st stage of our lives to be ready to fully understand why they don’t work and prepare ourselves for the 2nd stage of our lives – one where to we fully own our past so we’re free to build a different present and future. The peace and purpose with which you right is beautiful to sense. May you continue to explore yourself and share the findings so beautifully with the rest of us!

    • Thank you Clark! Appreciate you reading and sharing your thoughts. Glad this felt encouraging to you.

  4. “Let yourself be stupid happy”-
    This is something i’ve struggled with because I feel like I can’t be happy…I remember being unemployed for 4 months which sucked, but there were moments where I found myself completely happy and people would question that…I could never understand why just because I didn’t have a job I couldn’t find happiness in my situation. And the same goes with singleness. I kind of just want to tell people MY LIFE IS NOT CONSUMED BY BEING SINGLE THERE IS PLENTY TO BE HAPPY ABOUT IN THIS WORLD! Honestly it’s almost expected for us to be unhappy with what we have in our lives and so when you actually find yourself in a moment of happiness you tone it down because it’s not expected especially if you find your life is a bit turned upside down.

    What I am reminded of today is that me and my happiness (no matter my situation) needs to stake out some space in this world and spread that joy and be me, which sometimes includes days where I just can’t keep the smile off my face even if everything happening in my world is telling me I should be anything but happy. 🙂

    • Emily—I think you’re right about people expecting us to be unhappy. My guess is it’s part of a culture of people who feel guilty for feeling happy. Once we learn happiness is a choice and that true joy can be accessed, even when life circumstances don’t necessarily warrant it, life changes in a big way. People are so confused by that! Ha.

  5. I love the concept of writing to past self and your future self from a specific point in time. Thank you for sharing your perspective! I resonate with the advice to
    “Learn to stand up for yourself – as soon as you can.” It was and is all too easy for me to shrink back and wait for an outside influence to propel me into motion. However, many of the greatest memories and accomplishments of my life came through an independent, bold risk. Although I value the encouragement and support of others, taking ownership of my life and choices has been pivotal in my personal, professional, and spiritual development.

  6. That was just lovely to read. As time goes on, it seems like we can all recognize that worrying never brings anything into fruition. But taking time to pause, ponder, and reflect as we sway with the breeze is when things can really come together.

    Also: happy birthday! 🙂

  7. Ally,

    This is my favorite of all of the stories you have ever written. Being real, and daring to live loud. I often try and hide and keep my voice down.

    Love your words and your heart. Happppppy birthday again. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. God made you special and He loves you very much.
    xo
    Pamela

  8. I truly enjoyed this … its a letter I’d like to write to my daughter. Thank you for those reminders!

    • Funny you should say that. When I first started making this list several months ago, it was titled “A Letter to My Someday Daughter” but in light of my recent life shift, it seemed more appropriate as a letter to myself.

      Glad you liked it. Thank you for reading!

  9. Thank you, Allison!

    Most of these are things I’ve known to be true and experienced in full, but forgotten so easily as we tend to do. Your first thought –“Learn to play to an empty room”–went straight to the core of me. The band I have been playing music with for the past few years will soon be no longer and I’m experiencing an ache that feels like I’ve lost the stage I use to share my voice, like an avenue for bringing light has been closed. The ache may take a while to fade but you’ve reminded me that the audience doesn’t affect the importance of the performance (which is less of a performance and more of being fully myself).

    Curate happiness and say what you want. Those are lifelines. There’s a lot in here that makes me feel able and in the driver’s seat. Thanks again for sharing this.

    • Valerie—wow, yes. Just because we learn to play to empty rooms doesn’t mean the process isn’t a humbling one. It forces us to come to terms with our own un-importance. Ha. I always say the hardest two truths to hold onto at the same time is that you are remarkable and that you are nobody special, all at the same time. Learning to play to an empty room (metaphorically and actually) reminds us of that.

      So glad this was helpful for you. Thank you for reading!

  10. A very thoughtful and fun-to-read piece. Thank you, Allison. It was particularly timely since my own birthday is this week (albeit I’m just shy of three decades older than you).

    This is a great exercise for us to undertake at various points in our lives. Looking back on my own I can think of a few different things I’d like to have incorporated into my life at an earlier point.

    One overriding truth that would have been of great benefit is:

    Be more patient with the flaws of others,
    because they have to put up with yours.

  11. Leave my toe alone, other than that. Wow! I get to make a few rules now and I should have sooner to save myself some misery! Though some say my personality is coming out. I also know I needed to read your letter to yourself! I copied it to read over again and again to inspire me to write one myself to myself! The toe I stubbed still hurts. I think I will put a sign on the steel pole I kicked, “Don’t kick this” just for fun.

  12. Thank you for sharing. Is very nice to read something like this every now and then. It should be a trend to love ourselves, to care about ourselves and to embrace ourselves like womens. I loved the part where you write about saying NO. Not just knowing this at an early age but understand it can make a big difference in a girls life.

    Happy Birthday Ally, I’m looking forward for your next post. Greetings from Monterrey, Mexico.

  13. wow……this article!!!! How i wish i read this 10 years ago…it got me remembering the stupid things i did years back and am so glad i did them..i would have loved to be alittle more of all these things tho!
    Thank you very much Allison for the honesty, its liberating.

    You are an inspiration to me. Thank you

    Quin

  14. There is so much good wisdom in this post that I had to comment and tell you how much this post meant to me. Thank you for these words. For reminding me that there is only one ME, only one LIFE I get, and that I get to live it the way that feels most authentic to me. Nobody else gets a say! Just me.

    And for this: “And whatever you do, never forget that you deserve to take up space in this world.” I think this is my new mantra in life, whenever I’m feeling small and insignificant and as if I don’t belong. I deserve to take up space. I deserve to take up space. YES.

    Everything you write is beautiful, but this post is especially so.

  15. Oh that I would have had this to read 50 years ago. I could have hopefully saved myself years of struggling to be myself, the person who was forever screaming out to be heard. Two marriages destroyed my self worth, but my children gave me the courage to step out of my unhappy comfort zone & join the real world. At 72 I am writing, I am experiencing the pure freedoms of making choices for myself, I am meeting beautiful people who are becoming friends. What a joy life can be when others are not trying to drag you, for whatever reasons, into the depths of hell. I am alive, I am.

  16. Solid. Such a lovely post. The one thing I have learned these past three years since being intentional about self growth is this, you nailed it: You do not always have to be thinking about your progress…

    Prior, I was always thinking about progress. But, when I started to be still, and think, and reflect, and write, basically slowing down and just being, this is when I actually made the most progress; emotionally and spiritually. You see, my definition of progress was only fixated on my external world; better job, fancier title, more money, etc. But, the real progress is just being and paying attention to your inner world. This shift for me changed my life. I live a slower, more present, more fulfilled life. Lovely post. Thanks for sharing and Happy Birthday!

  17. Ally,

    I can relate to many different points in this article and while I can’t go back in time to teach these things to my younger self I hope I can demonstrate them as an adult and one day pass them on.
    Thank you for being so brave to share these words with us. I admire your vulnerability I think it’s what makes you so relatable and encouraging. Continue to be brave. Happy Birthday Ally!

    -Melinda Kneeland

  18. I love this. 🙂 Do what you love, you are a human being, and you don’t belong to anyone except yourself…Wise words.

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