Friday, April 13, 2012

An Open Letter to Younger Me

The idea for this post came from reading this. And while that is humorous, what I'm doing here also verges into serious-land.

Dear Younger Me,

If you're reading this, then someone finally got around to perfecting time travel or I was lucky enough to encounter Doctor Who, which is likely way more awesome than you can even imagine. But that's not why I'm writing. This is designed to throw some ice water on a few of the fires you've got burning, because quite frankly, dude, you need some perspective.

Your 34 year old self is writing this to you, my 17 year old self, because where you're about to go and what you're about to do I've been doing now for as long as you've been around, and since we both know that you're not going to listen to any of the "authority figures" you've got around you, let's hope you'll listen to yourself.

You've got a great thing going, and no, you don't realize, and no you don't agree with that idea, but let's work through it a little.

1. You're way angry. You call it sadness, you call it loneliness, and those are components to it, but realistically, you're angry, and you get really defensive and really worked up about things and you feel out of control, so to get back in control, you get angry at anything that moves. That's going to totally bite you in the ass several times in our twenties, but let's stop and look at why you're angry.

If I remember right, and I like to think I do, our big complaint was that "No one was listening." And yes, it's true no one listened. Of course, the flip side of that was that we weren't saying anything. The people around you aren't mind readers. Sitting and fuming, or sitting and staring off into space or sitting and wishing for things to be different are SILENT activities to the outside world. Nobody hears the arguments, discussions, volleys of thoughts in our head. Also, you're not saying them. (We'll get to that in the next one.)

If you want to feel better, the trick is to talk to people about it. If you want to work out the problems and ideas and explore the brainspace (seriously, you're going to start using that term in your 20s, and it's going to be so dumb), you need to bounce ideas off people. Yeah I know, they not the same as you, they're not thinking the same way you do, and you feel incredibly isolated. I hate to tell you this - but we still feel that way in our 30s. Although a lot of the arrogance and superiority is gone. (We'll talk about that too).

Anger isn't going to bring people in. And the anger abates when you talk to people.

2. Silence is not "okay". Alright, this is going to be probably the worst part of this letter. Some REALLY REALLY bad shit is going to start happening to you in the next decade. And while death is not one of them, oh man, prepare for a rollercoaster ride at the No Fun, Super Sadness Amusement Park. Now mixed into this big vat of awful are some really great things (and great people), BUT staying quiet about a lot of things (especially how you're feeling and what you're thinking) makes the rollercoaster ride CONTINUE, NOT STOP.

You want off the ride? Start talking. Start sharing. Start doing shit. You're going to run into a lot of people later who are going to basically make this all about feelings and emotions and ooey-gooey stuff. Dude, really, the "trick" that you're going to want to employ here is this:

DO THINGS THAT MAKE YOU HAPPY. TALK ABOUT WHAT'S GOING ON IN YOUR HEAD. BOUNCE IDEAS OFF PEOPLE. DO NOT WORRY ABOUT APPEARANCES, PERCEPTIONS OR WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF YOU.

3. Protecting Yourself. Post-bad shit, you're going to develop the idea that protecting yourself is a great idea. It is. But, you're going to elect to protect yourself via posture and facade, which is sort of like saying that you can totally hide from a volley of arrows behind a shield made of Saran Wrap. Dude, I'm sorry bad things happened to us. I'm sorry we're scarred and broken and hurt and tired and not like the people around us who we want to be like (newsflash: what you end up doing in your 30s blows them all out of the water - seriously)

Now this posture and facade are going to cater to our intelligence and vanity. Which is great for deflecting the annoying people who sort of flit in and out of our life in our early twenties, but it sucks when we don't build an "off switch" for that until our mid 30s. By the way, a lot of people are going to want to be that off switch for us. Two words - Flute section, is all I'm saying. Trust me on this, everything falls totally into place, after all the other shit dies down.

So you elect to become smug and superior and a little prissy. This is going to bring a lot of people around you, and separate you from a lot of others. Some of those people aren't good for you, some are (also: remember the Tattoo Rule when you learn it, it's a lifesaver). And some of those people (even the good ones) you're going to treat like shit, because, well, we're kind of an idiot that way. But, don't worry (flute section AND frankly yes, that thought you nurse in the back of your head that when "it's right, you just know" is TOTALLY 100% true), you're going to work with and meet some amazing people who aren't dicks and they're going completely revolutionize your life and how you work. Let them. (Dude, we're going to Gen Con, really. Let these people in.)

4. Have a backbone. See, this weird thing is going to happen. You're going to get all down on yourself, and that's going to invite in people you don't want around you. And because they pay attention to you, or end up naked near you, you're going to keep them around. Eventually, either you or they are going to burn that bridge. They of course are going to be upset. Let them be upset. Those are their feelings. They own them, they have to sort them out, it's not for you "fix". (Here's a new rule for our 30s - We get to choose the bridges we repair). What would have stopped a lot of the above-discussed bad shit was having a backbone. But, we weren't ready for one until about 2 months or so from before I write this letter. Had to grow into it. Also, when it's right, it's right.

You're going to feel like doormat for a lot of people and positions and opportunities. You're going to let some really great ones slip past and you're going to go through some really crappy ones linger for years or months because you'll end up trying to do what they want, not what you want. DO WHAT YOU WANT. AND TELL PEOPLE WHAT YOU WANT. YOU'LL BE GOOD ENOUGH TO GET IT WHEN YOU ASK FOR IT.

That backbone is going to put you on a lot of good radars and get you a lot more "living the dream" moments than you can fathom. You will do phenomenal things, when you're done being a dick.

5. Trust. Okay, so bad things happen. You're going to miss out on a lot of "traditional" benchmarks of success, but I swear to you, once you're nearing birthday 34, you will realize that all that shit won't matter. Oh, for the record, you're going to realize that when you wake up in someone else's bed, (which is WAY more comfortable than yours) and when they make you breakfast. That person? Trust them. It pays off.

But there are going to be heaps of people you aren't going to trust.

Here's the litmus test: "Does this person gain anything from my doing this?"

Don't listen to the people saying they don't...of course the jerks of the world aren't going to admit when they're using you, taking advantage of you or in the case of one person, mapping out your existence while running you slowly into debt and then complaining why you aren't successful and supporting them. (Again, Tattoo Rule!)

When you find people that you trust, and believe me, there are going to be plenty of them, everything's going to be awesome. You'll work with them, hang out with them, be yourself with them, enjoy their company, and be a better person around them. Those people, those wonderful amazing people and their awesome experiences they offer you and the things you do for and with them....that's the reward for making it through the shitty 20s and shitty early 30s.

Don't get me wrong, there are bright spots between where you are and where I am, there are fantastic people and things going on, and you're going to know moments of true happiness....but you're also going screw some of that up, or lots of other factors are going to collide and those moments and people will leave. It happens.

It's not about where you find yourself, it's what you do once you're there. Depending on when you read this, you'll have heard this at one of those boring dinner parties you were dragged to, when you had to wear a suit (Oh, we grow up to work in a bathrobe.). It's true. It comes to define much our mid-30s.

You're about to spend the next 17 years of your life feeling like you've got no handle on things, like you can't do this, like everything's a waste. I'm writing this to you today to tell you it so totally isn't. Life now is the best it's ever been, and that does NOT mean it's tenuous and about to fall apart. It's because you work your ass off (though not literally, you should probably consider walking more) and a better life is your reward.

Four rules: 1. Don't be a dick. 2. You will work hard to get what you want. 3. You deserve it. 4. Speak up.

If there's a fifth, then it's this - Your path is your path, and while lots of people will influence it and try to change it, you still have to walk it.

Okay 17 year old me, it's April, that means later today you're probably going to go play street hockey after school. And while you will tell yourself that life won't get any better, it does.

- YOU

PS Girls will finally talk to you.
PPS We still don't like peas.
PPPS Puppies and babies are still AWESOME.