A Letter To My Twenty-Something Self

A Letter To My Twenty-Something Self 
by Julia Flood, LCSW

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of young professionals in my practice, and there's a pattern I notice over and over: Despite being in the prime of their lives, and having landed that cool tech job, they tell me they are worried. They wonder if “this is it”, or if they have a higher purpose in life, and what the fastest way is to get there. They wonder if they've “found their soul mate,” or if s/he is still out there. 

Author and sought-after speaker Mark Scandrette wrote a beautiful blog post last year that I often find myself referring to. Mark has given me permission to share my favorite parts from it. It speaks to so many of the questions my younger clients have. You can read the whole piece here: http://markscandrette.com/dear-twenty-something-self/

The post is written in the form of a letter in which Mark, now in his forties, gives his twenty-something self advice, despite the fact that he knows his younger self will probably not take it, needing to make his own mistakes. One part I like in particular is this:
“Twenty-something self, right now you go from one thing to another, hoping that the next job, the next project, the next town or the next hair cut will be the complete container for your identity. It’s a dead-end. Building your identity on achievement — more money, more prestige, more influence, more places and pleasures– will never be enough. The sooner you learn this the better. You define yourself now largely by the things you are good at ... Believe it or not, a time will come when no one will think of you as any of these things … none of these activities in themselves will define who you are.”

Although far from my twenties, at times I still fall into that trap! Doing can feel so much more comfortable than being! As Mark notes, the first step out of this is to slow down:
“Twenty-something self, be patient with the process. When I was you at your age, I was always in a hurry. I thought I was on the main stage of life and that everything I did was of vital importance. I wish I’d known what Robert Clinton, among others has observed: that your twenties are about preparation for what you will contribute later in life. Relax. Stop striving.”
Mark then speaks to the classic mid-life crisis:

“Twenty-something self, one day you will meet a man, Father Richard Rohr, who will tell you that ‘you spend the first 40 years of your life building a tower of success. And in the second half of life, you will leap off that tower into the unknown.’ When you are 41 years old, you will stand atop that tower looking out on the horizon, seeing what lies beyond and wondering if you have the courage to jump, leaving behind the persona and props of identity that you have so carefully curated and cultivated. You’ll wonder why you worked so hard on what you must now abandon with a tinge of regret for the energy that might have been better spent on being a loving father, husband and friend. Your mortgage will be paid off, your kids will be on their way to college and the future will seem as open and unclear and confusing as the day you turned nineteen.”

Mark's letter to his twenty-something self ends with a somber reminder to us all – no matter how old you may be – to never stop following the call of your own voice:

“One day you will find yourself on a silent retreat in the snowy mountains of the Sierras and you will hear a voice in your head whisper this question, ‘If walking the path with me through the next stages of life will mean that you are less understood and more obscure and less certain about who you are and of who I am, will you still follow me?’ This is the question we must both live into, one day at a time.” 
I couldn’t agree more!

Julia Flood, LCSW is a licensed psychotherapist practicing in San Francisco's Lower Pacific Heights neighborhood. She has been working in the mental health field since 1996 and specializes in couples therapy/marriage counseling, helping partners in crisis to break out of the vicious cycle of hurting and being hurt. You can find out more about Julia on her website: www.newstarttherapy.com, or by calling (415) 820-3210 to arrange an initial phone consultation. She is bilingual in English and German.

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