(Today’s guest post is written by language coach Aaron Myers, who shared a story with me of writing and mailing letters to his future self between the ages of 25-50. Blown away by that, I asked him to write to share his story.)
Benny’s blog post, What I Would Say to Myself Five Years Ago and Five Years From Now reminded me of my own letter writing adventure.
While Benny’s letters were inspired by a writing project called #trust30 and Corbett Barr’s question, my journey began with fear and has lead to a life filled with receiving letters from myself. In the beginning though, it began with a conversation.
It was 1995. I was twenty one, a junior in college and preeminently occupied with the idealistic irrationality of youth. But then one night I got scared. I was enjoying a good talk under an expanse of Kansas stars with a friend. Conversation ranged in and out of dreams and challenges and faith and eventually, our fears.
Chris shared her heartache over a relationship with a father who – while a good man – never really understood her. They were like two strangers, who after sharing a home for eighteen years, had now parted company. She cried at the loss. And I shook with fear.
The proclamation that her father did not know her set me back and I wondered at the overwhelming challenge that one day fatherhood would bring.
That night as I walked through quiet streets to my apartment on the edge of town, I decided that I did not want that lot in life. I determined to do something to avoid such a fate, to avoid raising a daughter with whom I had no relationship.
And so I did what any reasonable English major would do.
I got out a sheaf of college ruled paper, brewed a pot of coffee and wrote a long letter of challenge and encouragement and warning to myself to be received on the day my first daughter was born.
After finishing that letter, a half a pot of coffee remained and I still had a chest full of hopes and fears. My biggest hope at the time was to get married and to someday have a family.
This prompted a letter to a wife I did not know, introducing her to the 21 year old version of the man she was marrying. Next I wrote a letter to my first child on his or her 16th birthday, sharing my hopes and dreams for their future and urging them to call me back to a life of passionate purpose if it seemed I had slipped into a life middle aged sleep walking.
And this was my biggest fear at the time, of one day turning 35 and discovering that I had grown apathetic and dull and had lost the passion, faith and sense of purpose I had as a twenty one year old. And since there was ample evidence around me that this was a path down which too many adults traveled, I set about writing letters to myself at 25, 30, 35, 40, 45 and 50.
Those letters were letters of exhortation. I received my third letter on my 35th birthday two years ago and have it with me here in Turkey. “Happy 35th.” it begins, “You’re getting old.” As I read through it, I am amused by my 21 year old self. But the challenges rings true. Here are a few of the things I wrote:
- Remember back to your junior year and your life of faith.
- Don’t stop growing.
- Don’t grow old and apathetic.
- If your heart has stopped breaking for the poor and needy, find it in you again.
- If you’re married, love your wife like no other.
- Love your kids. Give them your time, not stuff.
- If you have a daughter, remember your talk Chris.
These exhortations and others greet me as a forced reflection on life, causing me to stop and take stock and reconsider what it means to live from the passionate core of who I have been called to be. For me that core was and still is a core centered in life giving faith. All of life flows from that core and makes me who I am. For others it may be something else. For all of us though, as Steven Pressfield reminds us, “there is an enemy.”
I believe this enemy works to defeat us with what Chris Guillebeau has called “a contagious pattern of settling for what is good enough.” We must fight against this, against the natural tendency toward complacency and the slow death of losing focus.
Writing letters to our future selves can be for us the immunization we need against this plague of mediocrity. That is what it has been for me. Each time I have received one, it has been a transforming experience of remembering what is important, of reflecting on where I’m at and of thinking about the years to come.
Each letter has a sticky note with instructions and I have placed them in the charge of my mom who has faithfully mailed each one on time.
I remember my wife’s eyes when she looked up twelve years ago from the letter I had written her as a young college student. I received my “daughter” letter five years ago when Sonora was born. I’ll receive my next letter when I turn 40.
I’ve grown a lot from my 21 year old self. I’ve learned to recognize that many that I looked down upon as stuck in a life of mediocrity, were really leading passionate lives of direction and purpose. My father was one of those. I have heard too many testimonies of his impact on the lives of others to doubt it any longer.
The thing that most impresses me about my twenty one year old self, is that I focused the letters not on a my future vocation or on a bucket list or anything really pertaining to what I would do. These things are important, but they are at the peripheral of the core, of who I would become. Who I am is much more important than what I do.
I would encourage you to consider this exercise. Think about those things that are most important to you, about family, about dreams, about the core of who you are.
Brew a cup of coffee, grab a pen and paper, and write. Write to yourself. Write to those you love. Leave a legacy in the future that will call you back to those things which are most important in life.
Written by Aaron Myers. Aaron believes everyone can learn another language. You just need a little help. That’s why he writes The Everyday Language Learner and why he has developed the soon to be released EDLL Guide to Getting Started, a new eGuide including three great interviews, twenty audio lessons and much more. Stop by the site and check it out.
Photo by cicciofarmaco