Dear Future Self
Over the course of my life, I’ve written a few letters to myself.
The first was for my college application. It asked the question: “Where do you see yourself in five years?”
It was a very typical question, so I made sure give an atypical response. I wrote a letter to my past self from my future self, which allowed me to imagine what I would be like, what I might be thinking, or at least what I hoped to be thinking.
Then, in teacher training, we were asked to write letters to ourselves often, and we’d be given the letters back in a few months to read.
Additionally, I spend time each day journaling, and my journaling app allows me to see all the entries from this day going back for 7-8 years (I’ve been journaling daily for quite some time and have written about the process elsewhere).
This is a lot of introspection. It’s probably more than most people are used to. And it’s taught me a few lessons.
First, whether I was pretending to be my future self, or reading a letter as my future self written by my past-self, worry was a central theme of my writing.
During my teacher program, I was worried about my upcoming honeymoon, which coincided with the first day of school. When I read the letter a few weeks later, I laughed because while I was still worried about things in my life, the honeymoon ended up being a pretty small deal. It made me feel less anxious about the current moment. Just having the knowledge that we won’t be worried about our current life events a few months from now isn’t enough – it helps to actually see this in action. The actual experience of this is what makes it so magical.
Second, my writing is different when I read these letters. I always feel that I sound immature, even if the letter was written only a few months back. So I’m led to believe that my brain is constantly evolving. This is only one of the ways in which that change is visible in letters to self, and again, it’s much more helpful to experience this than it is to simply internalize it.
Third, and perhaps most important, I speak to my future-self in a very kind and loving manner. I tell myself not to worry, and that everything will be okay. I remind myself of the hard work I put in to my job every day. I congratulate myself once creative endeavors. It’s not how I speak to my present-self; that tends to be a little more harsh, sometimes insulting. And it’s completely different from how I treat my past self, which is nearly abusive.
But I wouldn’t be able to understand the ways in which I interact with my future and past self without this practice. We’re really never given any other opportunity or method to do this. It takes a little bit of planning, and perhaps a calendar reminder to remember to find your letter to self, but it’s worth it.
I did this with 3rd graders at the start of a school year, and gave them their letters back at the end of 4th grade. Most of the kids were so embarrassed by what they wrote, even though they didn’t share it with anyone else, that they ripped up their letters and threw the pieces into the trash.
That’s okay. To destroy your past self, to push it away, is an act of moving on, as explosive as it may be. To look back and realize that you don’t even recognize the person you once were… it can be joyful, liberating even. And to look back and be thankful for the experiences you’ve had, to appreciate your flaws and fuck-ups… that’s joyful too.
Everyone should try to have the unique experience of writing a letter to their future self, and everyone should have the unique experience of reading a letter from their past self. Every now and then.