Dear Future Daughter,
At the time of this writing, I am not very old. I don’t have reams of life experience to hand you, neatly stacked and organized. I don’t have much direction to offer you, as I am just starting to find my own footholds. But I have observed. I have collected scraps of wisdom, personalities, interpretations, and successes from women around me. I have sculpted a model of the woman I want to be. And though I am young, I am old enough to have known what it is to lose, love, struggle, and triumph. I know what it feels like to despair and what it feels like to find peace.
And before you set out, attempting to learn all of life’s choreography on your own, there are a few basic moves I can teach you, however imperfectly I might currently be dancing them.
Move #1: Love yourself.
I know this might be difficult at times. Even though I know I will see you as distinctly beautiful, one hundred percent deserving of every inch of space you take up in this world, you may not always feel that way. I hope you inherit the confidence and courage of my mama, your grandma, or of my sister, your aunt, but if you are wired more like me, this particular move will be hard to learn. You might find yourself comparing yourself to others, analyzing the differences and left feeling inferior. You might find your mind wandering to dark places, lonely places, where thoughts become tangled and ominous and you lose the way home.
Though it might take practice, find every reason to love yourself. Figure out how to embrace your you-ness. Don’t even think twice about piling fifty million sparkly clips on top of your head because you think they’re pretty. Don’t listen someone tells you it’s weird to wear one lime green water shoe and one bright orange water shoe to school. Don’t get anxious that you’re doing something wrong if you’d rather read before all your K-12 and college classes rather than face the terrifying notion of talking to people. Don’t worry if your coworker thinks it’s strange to have a picture of a shih tzu that is neither yours nor anyone else’s you know tacked up on your cubicle’s bulletin board (yes, honey, I am speaking from experience on all of these and I turned out…fine).
Your quirks and anomalies will make you you, and even though you don’t exist yet, you are a masterpiece, “fearfully and wonderfully made”.
Move #2: Let others love you.
Here’s the thing: It is very tempting to try to do it all on your own. It’s comforting to be in control. It feels right. You are beholden to no one and everything can be done your way.
But here is the other thing: Doing life that way sucks. You will inevitably let yourself down, and you will have alienated the people who might have extended a hand to pick you up. It’s not possible to do it all on your own.
At some point in your life, you will think that other people couldn’t possibly understand. You will think you are alone, battling in the dark: vulnerable, armorless, and disoriented. I will try to save you the painful, angry process of waging war against yourself: The people who love you get it. They know you – sometimes better than you know yourself. And when you’re not strong enough to fight your own battles, they will take up arms and do it for you. Let them.
And then when the people you love are struggling, help them fight theirs.
Move #3: Question.
Drink in all the information you can. Listen to people in authority, and follow the rules when necessary. But know when something’s not right. If you conform to everything the world and the communities around you say you should conform to, you will be sorely disappointed.
Move #4: Look at the big picture.
In school, in work, in life in general: Try really hard to step back sometimes. We all get caught up in the details, in the minutiae. Our brains take comfort in patterns and routines, so we let them get into routines. We go back and forth, back and forth, building our one little section of the hive without ever realizing how we’re contributing to the intricate structure of the hive – and the honey, the sweet decadent product of all our labor.
If we miss the big picture, we become complacent. We trip and drop the purpose and the drive, the things that comprised our map, and we are suddenly lost. You can get bitter that way. You can burn out. Don’t lose sight of the bigger picture, whatever it is to you: God, family, people, work, mission. The world is larger than your fleeting anxiety.
Move #5: Choose to be happy.
My generation is a restless one. Maybe it’s not necessarily unique to my generation – I find people of all ages wishing for that next thing that will make them happy. It might be an event, a place, a job, a person, or something else. Perhaps it’s simply because my generation has so many more options than previous generations did that so many people seem to be having existential meltdowns over their lives. But I don’t think that event or place or job or person will single-handedly improve your life. You are responsible for that. You can choose to be happy in any place or situation. You can choose to count your blessings rather than your misfortunes. Happiness is a matter of sheer will. Just as there will always be reasons to be unhappy, there will always be reasons to be happy. So why would you be anything but?
Move #6: Pray.
I know that when it comes to faith, you will have to find your own way. I can tell you that I believe there is a God who sent His Son to die to save me and to save you, but I also know that is a very personal thing and you will have your own spiritual explorations and doubts and revelations. But if you want to see a higher power at work, try praying. You will be amazed by what you witness.
Move #7: Stay humble and work hard.
Believe that nothing is deserved and everything is either given by God or earned through hard work, because it’s true. It will be a sad and bitter existence if you constantly feel cheated out of something you think you deserved.
Move #8: Laugh. A lot.
Life is hard work. No one is disputing that. And sometimes people around you will focus on that. Sometimes you will focus on that, because unexpected and tragic things happen. But so do joyful things and hilarious things. There may be a time to cry, but there is also a time to laugh and a time to dance. Sometimes those joyful and hilarious things are big, and sometimes they’re small, and the small things can be the best things. For instance, I might get mad at your dad Jamie for something and be tempted to let the situation get heavy and serious, and then he might play Muse’s song “Mercy” and in falsetto sing the chorus: “Show me MEEEEERRRRRRCCCYYYYY” when I’m dropping him off at law school on my way to work. And suddenly I can’t help laughing and things are solved.
The best cliches and dumb metaphors I’ve ever known have been about laughter. You know, “laughter is the best medicine,” “laughter is wine for the soul,” “the human race has only one really effective weapon and that is laughter”, blah blah. But it’s true. There is nothing better than laughing except for maybe one thing, but we’ll talk about that when you’re older.
Move #9: Read.
Yeah, okay, I sound like my mom/your grandma. But seriously. I swear it makes you smarter. And reading will leave you dazzled with all the incredible people and stories in the world.
Move #10: Love.
Yes, 3 out of 10 of these moves have been about love. So that should tell you that I think it’s pretty important. Even if you’re bad at it because you know you can be selfish and egotistical, keep loving. Keep listening to and learning about the people around you. When people are different from you, embrace them because that’s what makes humanity so weird and wonderful. Because there is nothing more profound for a human being than knowing you are deeply loved.