A Letter to My Younger Self On My 40th Birthday

From birth to age 40, girl—here’s what you need to know.

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These are things are that are yours:

You were born in Mease Hospital on August 2, 1976 for a reason, to the parents you were born to for a reason. They are the ultimate examples of love, acceptance and generosity. Every story you write must begin here, though like all stories, it has a prologue.

You were born five blocks from the Gulf of Mexico. You believe that a little bit of salty air drifted in to that room that night and into your angry little newborn body. You will return to the Gulf again and again in your life, for solace and peace and delight, and at 40, continue to feel like a baby sea turtle making her way back home.

Florida is home. Hot and sticky and full of weirdos and natural beauty. Everything else is just a stopover.

The prologue: You come from people who left their homeland for a better life in the U.S. Your ancestors include a famous soccer player, tough nun-teachers and a fairly successful writer. They are cheering you on from the bleacher seats, and the universe conspired for you to come from them for a reason.

Your father was almost a priest. He listened instead to his call to be a husband and father. Thank God.

The library is home. The smell of the musty stacks delighted you as a child and delight you now. All of the answers of the world are in books, and you will be drawn to people who understand that and guide you to and through them. The best people come from books.

The best people come from being broken-hearted, broken in body and in spirit.

You will play the saxophone, and dance, and write poems. But you can do one thing in particular and that’s write. Also,  people tell you their stories. It comes naturally, and they come naturally to you, and you get over your shyness and anxiety to do this.

As a young reporter, you get the chance to sit with, people who have lost their children and homes to cancer and natural disasters. You will not understand the depth of life quite yet. To really tell stories, first you must live, be seasoned with all of the things of the world that nearly break a person.

24-year old you doesn’t want to hear that. Nor does 30-year old you. But.

No matter how mature, smart, and put together at 24, you just haven’t earned it yet, baby. Your twenties will contain some hell. Your thirties too. Things you get to learn about first-hand during these years: cancer, heart disease, addiction, caregiving. You get to learn more about the lifelong condition you have that causes you to pass out and have half the energy of your peers.

You pass out. You stand up.

Girl, you will not get chosen for the following: basketball team/teen board/fancy editor job/dream job at Instagram/room mother. You will cry each time, but there’s something better in store for you each time.

You are resilient.

You get to hold your newborn, dive in the Keys, and sit at a campfire retreat talking to horses. You collect vintage clothes and art and always find the gift shop. You can talk to everyone. You have many friends, who gather around your dining room table and answer texts at 6 in the morning when you are lonely and far away. And a village who helps raise your son and bring you sushi. It balances out.

Along the way, people will let you down, break promises, and handle things poorly. You let people down, break promises and handle things poorly. We are not perfect. You were given the gift of grace.

But know your worth.

This worth does not come from any of the following: awards, speaking engagements, Twitter/Facebook/Snapchat followers, your partner, the success of your child, the story that you land, how many whatevers you sold. It doesn’t come from how funny you are, or how pretty you are, or if you publish a book. It doesn’t come from a professor, or a boss, or any number of men in power — especially the ones who say you are “too much” — too passionate, too emotional, too transparent. That’s a line of BS.

This will be hard. At your core you’re an approval junkie. But — your worth comes from one source and one source alone: that you are a child of God. Already forgiven. Already redeemed.

At 40, you know that life is incredibly short. You now have a frame of references to know that drama involving the following is not worth a come-apart: things on spreadsheets, complaining about taxes, bad customer service. Just not.

People are insecure. You can be insecure. Don’t spin stories in your head that don’t exist. No one is thinking about what you are thinking, except maybe your mother, who reads all of your stories and says you were always going to be a famous writer.

Sleep is your very best friend.

Anger and fear are your worsts. Handle that shit.

No meeting, trip, or deadline is worth you pushing yourself. You have one body and you should start taken care of it like it is the damn temple it is.

A good therapist is worth his weight in gold.

A good hairdresser is worth his weight in gold.

You will often you feel you don’t belong and that’s OK because there are plenty of places you do belong. You belong with people who share scars, people who love to sing and dance and make art, and people who believe even when they can’t see the evidence. Hang with those tribes.

They will bring you into the next decade and the next.

At 40, you get to begin again. With an entire life behind you and an entire one ahead.

And the Gulf always ready to welcome you home.

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