I’ve composed my own answer to that question below – but I’m also curious what you have to say. I’d encourage those of you who write your own responses to that question to provide a link in the comments section of this entry; I will compose a new entry in a few days which links individuals who writes journal entries and I will try to highlight some of the more thoughtful/interesting/well-written ideas. Feel free to focus whatever strikes you as the most significant moments that you wish to tell your younger self: whether it’s painful experiences to avoid, opportunities to seize or something else altogether.
(continued from main journal
Hi PJ –
This may be a bit difficult to believe, but I’m you – ten years in the future. No, this is NOT one of Phil's pranks and I can prove it – here’s a few things you’ve told nobody about.
1. You trashed a copy of a letter detailing a full-ride scholarship to U.C. Davis because you knew mom and dad would insist that you go if they found out – but you felt that living just two hours from them was uncomfortably close. Boy, would they be pissed off if they knew, huh? :)
2. You have a crush on Sharon Young but you can’t even work up the nerve to talk to her because you think she’s out of your league – and spend your days alternately fantasizing about marrying her and despairing over whether she’d ever notice you exist.
3. You are closing in on your final year in high school and you still haven’t kissed a girl yet. It’s ok, don't worry. You will.
Knowing you (err … “us” … whatever) as I do, I suspect the first things you want me to tell you is investment advice – stock tips. “What call options do I need to buy to become fabulously rich by the time I’m 23?” Sure, I can rattle off a dozen NASDAQ symbols that will guarantee you wealth beyond imagination – but what would it accomplish?
I know exactly how much of a money-obsessed larval yuppie I was your age (in this regard, little has changed in the intervening years). Please believe me: it pains me to deny myself this most obvious luxury – but like it or not, unearned wealth will prove been the greatest source of unhappiness in your life. As much temporary pleasure that great gouts of money might bring – it is those moments of desperation and poverty that bring out your finest qualities. And who am I to diminish that, in exchange for fistful of stock certificates?
Though I’m not going to help you weasel your way into prematurely becoming a millionaire, I hope you’re still reading – because there’s some important things you need to hear.
Have you noticed how your words have an unnaturally powerful impact on others? How your essays end up being copied and passed to total strangers, who feel compelled to approach you to tell you how much they enjoyed your words?
I don’t know if I can break through that cluster of insecurities which enfortress your heart with this letter – but I have to try. The sooner you recognize that you’re a gifted writer, the sooner you can abandon the fool’s errand of pretending to be a physics major in college and all its attendant frustrations. It is not your destiny to understand Fourier series or La Grange transforms. So write. Write a journal – get involved with the campus newspaper. Practice your craft, hone it in every opportunity you can.
I know how Mom and Dad can make you feel so small for failing to become a scientist, an engineer or doctor – and I think we both understand that they did so not out of malice but out of the best of intentions. Stand true – your gifts will be recognized in time. At this point in your life, I know you feel so beaten down by disappointments and failures that you are convinced you have nothing to offer the world. I wish I can send across this decade something more than a letter to give you that unshakable confidence you need … but that’s the one thing you need to find on your own.
A lot of people use their “letter to former self” opportunity to say stuff like “don’t date so-and-so,” but I don’t believe such advice would ultimately do you any good (when was the last time you see somebody hear the advice “don’t date so-and-so” and respond “Oh, ok, I’ll do that,” huh? Exactly). At this point, you’ve never even kissed a girl – so the idea of having a girlfriend is a sort of distant fantasy. Don’t worry – you’re a late bloomer but it will happen.
I have some good news: in the next few years, you will create bright moments of intensity and glory with gorgeous women that you will revisit years after preserved in the memory palace of your mind. But fair warning: nothing good is free. You will fall in love with women who will betray you, lie to you, break your heart into a thousand pieces and leave you in twisting in crushing despondency. You will mourn for happy endings that failed to pass, shed tears for connections lost to eternity … and a part of me wants to shield you from the hurt and anguish that will befall you in the years to come. But what kind of man would you become, if you never taste the bitter sting of sorrow, never touched the keening grief of heartache, never learned to climb from the pit of despair with your own hands?
There isn’t much I can say except be sure you learn the right lessons from your experiences. However tempting it might be, never use the sins of one woman to judge them all, nor let grief over one relationship consume you and poison your soul against the next. You have a good heart – guard against it being tainted by bitterness and wounded pride and you will end up a better person than I am today.
Well – time is growing short and the techs who are sending this message tell me I’m nearly at my message-size limit, so let me conclude by offering a few words:
1. Even in its worst moments, life is not as bad as you think it is. On balance, you have been a lucky, lucky man and it would do you much good to remember it.
2. Losing a job you hate is not the worst thing that can happen to you. In fact, it may very well be the most liberating experience of your life.
3. Women like sex too. It took me years to realize this, and I hope it won’t take you nearly as long.
4. NASDAQ: MSFT, CSCO, SUNW, ORCL. But dump them around 2000 and set yourself up with a bond ladder with the proceeds. Ah, hell – I can’t help it. Do with the information what you will.
Your future self