A Letter to My 20-Year-Old Daughter
Dear 20-Year-Old Daughter,
Here we are. It’s the eve of your 20th birthday. We’re spending it in our typical low-key fashion. You’re on your laptop working on homework. There’s a cookie cake resting on the counter that has already been halfway eaten (devoured). We’re passing the time watching funny commercials that are rudely interrupted by a football game that we couldn’t care less about. Life’s moving along at its leisurely pace tonight, but I can’t shake the feeling that the slowness of this evening is mocking us. When I take a moment to realize that in less than a few hours you’ll be 20-years-old, I realize that time has raced past us without full appreciation.
It’s taken me by surprise. That’s probably because of that unrealistic notion of time that I have, which you, your dad, and sister like to poke fun at. You know what I’m talking about. It’s when I say something happened “the other day” when it was likely that it happened two or three months – years – ago. Time is just like that for me. It’s stagnant. Until it’s not. Right now, in this moment, the dam has broken and time’s waves are rushing at me like a tidal wave of epic proportions.
Twenty years ago, on this night, I was two weeks past my twentieth birthday, walking the halls of the hospital waiting for you to arrive and avoiding that epidural needle. “Just let me get through this episode of Beverly Hills, 90210,” I told the nurse when she wanted to move the process along. Time control was a power I thought I possessed. Well it turns out the joke is on me because somewhere along the way you went to being a newborn to twenty and I soared from twenty to forty. Just. Like. That.
I don’t want to scare you. I don’t want you to think you’re going to wake up tomorrow and be blowing out forty candles on your birthday cake. But it will get here quicker than you think because we can’t harness time and we certainly don’t have the power to stop it. As shocking as it is to comprehend that twenty years can go by so fast, I’ve learned a few things that might serve you well during your next two decades.
Give yourself room to grow. Don’t hold on too tightly to the idea of who you should be. Allow yourself to grow into the person you will be. Some days you’ll feel confused about who you are. Other days you’ll see a clear image when you look in the mirror. The you of yesterday won’t always be the you of today. Keep your core values, those standards you’ve set for yourself, close to your soul and the growing pains won’t be so intense or scary. One thing to let go of during this time is expectation. Holding on to expectation will strangle opportunity and you’ll wake up one day wondering how you got where you are. Life is a journey. Make sure you travel, meet new people, immerse yourself in a variety of situations, but remember you are the navigator. You can define the route and choose how you’ll get to the next stop.
Protect your heart. It’s a fragile organ that feels deeply and is susceptible to bouts of unrealistic expectations, disappointment, and pain. Don’t stop loving others, but do so while respecting your boundaries. This is probably one of the hardest lessons to learn and something that I think continues until we die. I feel like I should tell you to love freely without worry or care, but no one has ever accused me of being a romantic. Maybe my 90-year-old self will write a letter to your 70-year-old self with a corrected version of how to love. For now, though, I say love without expectation and love yourself first. When we love ourselves and respect who we are, love gains momentum and flows freely from us bathing everyone we meet in goodness, respect, and dignity.
Share your gifts. You may not know what that gift is yet. Some people have tangible gifts like the gift of writing or singing, but I find that more people have gifts that you can’t gather into a box and slap a label on it. Those gifts can be harder to identify, but they are equally as important to cultivate. That’s why you need to give yourself time to get to know you. Eventually you’ll find that one special part of you that’s uniquely yours and you must resist the urge to hide it from the world. Share it openly and proudly.
Learn to work with others. Compromise, assertiveness, understanding, working through adversity, and compassion are skills we must learn as we grow. Working with others can be frustrating at times. Often, you’ll feel like you’re not being heard and you’re being held back. It’s when we figure out how to work through conflict that we move forward – together.
Choose happiness. Life is a series of choices and no matter what choice we make there will be consequences. I think that when we choose happiness, 100% of the time the consequences are favorable to our well-being. We’re not in jobs we hate, friends with people who suck the life from us, and we’re not held prisoner by loathing and self-despair. Find people and experiences that make you happy, not things.
So, I guess that’s it. You know how much I hate cards? I think I just gifted you the ultimate card for your birthday. It’s a little cheesy, overly sentimental, and long-winded, but I’m okay with that. Twenty years from now, I’ll write you another one that’s just as mushy because as I get older I’m not so afraid of being emotional. Although, I still resist crying in public.
Happy birthday, oldest daughter. I hope this next decade brings you happiness, fulfillment, and an abundance of love.
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Piper Punches is an author of fiction and truth, tackling topics on social justice, mindful living, creativity, and the writing life. She is the Amazon bestselling author of The Waiting Room, and the short story, Missing Girl. Her newest book, 60 Days (Missing Girl Series — Book 1) is currently available on Amazon. For a limited time, readers can sign up to get a free copy of Missing Girl here.