A letter to my 20-year-old self

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Let’s see, what were you doing on March 21, 2003… oh, that’s right, sitting on the couch in the living room of the dorm, watching the Lakers play the then-rival Kings on TV with your buddies (accounting for the time difference, it was March 20 stateside). Then, the very minute that you turned 20 (midway through the second quarter), Sacramento guard Doug Christie stole the ball near midcourt and glided in for a breakaway reverse dunk, the purple No. 13 on the back of his jersey entering the frame as he finished in style. Yeah, I remember it like it was yesterday.

 

It wasn’t yesterday though, of course; in fact, a decade and a half has now passed since that day, and a lot has happened during that time. I’m not going to pretend to be some wise know-it-all, but I’d like to think I’ve learned more about life and about myself since then—much of it as a result of me messing up from not knowing any better. There sure are things I wish I’d known at your age, so let me share some (a baker’s dozen, in Christie’s honor) of them with you here.

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1. Treasure your friendships.

It might be easy to forget in college because you’re always surrounded by them, but your friends are an invaluable presence, and are not to be taken for granted. They’re the people you share the most laughs and smiles with, make and relive memories with, and go through highs and lows and everything in between with. They’re also the people who know you best, and who may be kind enough to offer advice or support when the chips are down. Life is hard enough as it is, but infinitely harder without a support system. So, stay close to your friends, be there for them, and appreciate their company; your friendships are your greatest asset. If you’re going to take away one point from this letter, let this be it.

 

2. Build connections.

There is no better time, in terms of opportunities and freedom, than college to meet new people. Whether it’s your dorm mates, lab partners, basketball buddies, professors, or TAs, the connections you make can greatly enrich both your present and future lives. So, interact with as many people as you can, get to know them, and keep in touch with them—even, or especially, after college. You’re going to be on your own in Japan and in the real world, so it’ll be helpful to have a network of connections.

 

3. Brace yourself.

You’ve basically decided by now to “go pro” after college, but the transition will be harder than you even imagine. Not only will you be entering the real world, you’ll also be starting over in a different country half the world away, where you have no friends and the culture is vastly different. You’re going to face new situations and life events, and your mettle will be tested like never before. So, prepare yourself for the next stage of your life, because the good times, as goes for the Lakers and Kings, aren’t going to last forever. It’s not that life won’t be fun anymore, but it’ll be a lot different than college.

 

4. Learn to trust.

You’ve always kept to yourself, but at some point you’re going to have to muster the courage to open up to others; life is just too much to handle on your own. You may have only a couple of friends that you feel really close to, but talk to them and let them know what you’re going through and how you feel, just as they do with you. It’s okay to show weakness. You’re so accustomed to being belittled and berated for every little mistake, but not everyone is going to react that way. There will be someone that listens. You have only two years left with your best friends. Spend them wisely, or you could end up spending your 20s and beyond alone, with nobody who understands or to turn to.

 

5. Don’t try to please everyone.

You may face situations where you feel pressured to do something just for the sake of making others happy, at the expense of your own happiness and well-being. If obliging means you have to put on a happy face and get stressed out in the process, don’t do it. It won’t help anyone. But, try to explain yourself and to understand each other. It’s important to be honest with your feelings, but so too with others.

 

6. You’re only 20 once.

At your age you can do anything with your life. It may be cliché, but looking back it rings so true. Countless paths lie before you now, and there’s nothing holding you back from taking any of them. But, that may not necessarily be the case 10 or even five years from now. So, make the most of your time. You’re already halfway through college, and the next two years are going to fly by.

 

7. Do things while you still can.

How’s this for fate? About 10 years from now, you’re finally going to make peace with your bittersweet memories of Singapore, your childhood home, and to yearn to revisit the place—so much so that you book a trip back there for the first time. Then, mere weeks before you go south, your health suddenly does, causing your plans to be shelved—possibly for good. Such a turn of events could happen, not just with places but with people too.

 

8. Test yourself.

College is also a great place to try different things and challenge yourself at whatever piques your interest. Don’t be shy about joining any of the various campus organizations. If you’re interested in journalism, join the student newspaper group and ask for a chance to write. You may or may not have what it takes, but now is the time to give it a shot and find out, not when you’re 35.

 

9. Keep growing.

Whether it’s your hobbies or personal skills, pick up new ones and hone those that you already have. You don’t necessarily have to excel at them, but keep working on them as a way to have fun and to challenge yourself. It will give you a sense of fulfillment, and who knows, you might even find your passion.

 

10. Give yourself some credit.

No matter what happens going forward, you’ve overcome a lot just to get to where you are today. Nobody knows what you’ve been through, and most people are just going to think you were born on third base, even though it’s the other way around in so many ways. Don’t wallow in self-pity, but if nobody is going to give you a pat on the back, give yourself one for what you’ve been able to achieve so far.

 

11. Perseverance pays off.

Your job hunt may not go as smoothly as hoped. Even with all your grades, preparations, and effort, the first 60 companies may reject you. Sixty. You’re going to feel pretty low after the first 20 rejections, crushed after 40, and despondent after 60. But, the 61st company could accept you. Not only that, that company could be a good fit for you, and it could have a boss that you would run through a brick wall for and count among its staff some of the most wonderful people you’ll ever meet. So, hang tough, and don’t give up. Sometimes, it really is darkest before dawn.

 

12. Don’t let others define you.

This relates to the job hunt as well, but don’t listen when people tell you that you can’t do something. You’re going to have naysayers who tell you that you can’t become a translator or that you can’t hack it in the real world. But, if you want to do something and you believe you can do it, go for it; don’t worry about what others think. The only person that needs to believe in you is yourself.

 

13. Remember who you are.

Time can erode memories. Once you enter the real world and you’re toiling away in the concrete jungles of Tokyo day after day, it can be hard to remember that you once were a college kid in sunny SoCal who spent his early mornings hoisting 30-foot shots at the gym and late nights chilling and wrestling with friends on the beach. But, those memories can later in life remind you of who you are, and help you put things in perspective or reset when you lose sight of yourself. So, record (in a journal, etc.) what’s going on in your life and what’s on your mind. Remember the field trips you took in ecology class. The dance-offs at the dorm. The time you played point guard in an intramural game. The pancakes at IHOP. The hummingbirds that hovered in the warm, dry air on your way to class. The sound of the waves washing ashore as you endured a headlock. The songs you performed. The laughs you shared, the tears you shed. All those memories shaped your life, and are part of who you are. So, don’t lose them.

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It’s a cold, snowy day in Yokohama as I close this letter on March 21, 2018, the view outside wintry as a snow globe. Is life good? Like the weather, not always. But, do I look forward to each day? You bet. Am I glad to have made it this far? Absolutely. Life may not treat you too kindly at times, but buck up, kid, and hang in there; as long as you do, you’re going to be alright. How can I be so sure? Because today, despite all your mistakes and scars, your older self turned 35, and I’m still going strong.