In the below essay, bestselling author Kristan Higgins pens a letter to her 23-year-old self that has lessons for any 20-something struggling to fit in and find her worth.
Dear 23-year-old Kristan,
Hello from your older and much improved self.
You’re a bit of a mess right now, aren’t you? You graduated college without a plan, and all your friends seem more focused and cooler, with better jobs. You, on the other hand, are slowly going into debt, dating the wrong guy, and constantly thinking you’re not enough—not thin enough, pretty enough, smart enough, interesting enough. Oh, and your father will die soon. I won’t lie. It’ll be brutal.
But I promise you, life is going to be a lot better in a few years, and guess who will make it that way? You are. You’ve got more going for you than you know.
The body you hate right now because it feels too big and lumpy and awkward is going to be loved—first by your husband, then by your babies, and then, finally, by you. And guess what? It’s never going to be perfect, and that’s OK. It’ll be strong (and lumpy and awkward), and you’ll do things you never thought you could. You’ll give birth to a healthy baby in record time. You’ll also give birth to a not-so-healthy baby and survive emergency surgery (the baby will make it this time). You’ll run a 10K. I’m not even lying. You won’t run gracefully or fast, but you’ll finish. Are you feeling a little better about yourself now? You’re never going to have “that” body, so I wish I could tell you to stop obsessing so much.
But I understand. The pressure and messages are everywhere. Everyone else seems so confident. (They’re probably not.) It’s so hard not to compare, but you’ll get better at it. You’ll read that Teddy Roosevelt said “Comparison is the thief of joy,” and those words will mean a lot to you.
There’s a lot of things you’re doing that aren’t good for you—the time you order two pizzas and eat both of them in one sitting, solo, and the month you starve yourself because your shitty boyfriend told you you were getting too fat. I wish I could to give you a hug (and smack him).
You’ll figure it out—that balance between eating and taking care of yourself. Sometimes you’ll fall off the wagon (guess who ate an entire box of Annie’s Mac & Cheese last night?), but you’ll learn to appreciate your physical self more. You’ll see that being healthy doesn’t mean looking a certain way. You’ll love your body because it does the things that really matter, like hiking, giving kids piggyback rides, and helping old folks carry their groceries.
Though it will take you a long time, you’ll learn to choose friends better. You know how you feel grateful for any offer of friendship? You know how you put up with people who treat you badly? You’ll figure it out. And hey, some of the people you’re hanging with will be with your friends 30 years from now. You’re not a complete dope on that front.
That boyfriend you have right now, the one who makes you feel like you’re lucky to be with him…he’s just not that into you. Stop turning yourself inside out to make him like you more, better, as much as he did at first. Seriously. Knock that shit off, sister. He isn’t worth it. If you have to work that hard for his attention, he doesn’t see your value, and you have so much value. Save yourself some time and make room for better people.
I know you feel invisible a lot of the time—never the smartest person in the room, never the funniest or most talented. That will still be true from time to time, that feeling of wishing you could go back to your room and eat Cheetos and watch TV. But you’re going to touch a lot of lives. Yes, you! And it’s not because you look like Beyoncé (sorry) or because you’re a pediatric surgeon (sorry again). It’s because you’re kind and good and funny. You see people, partly because you remember what it was like to be unseen. You’ll go out of your way to make folks feel acknowledged and valued. You’re going to find a job you’re good at, and guess what? You’re going to be really good at it.
When your dad dies in a senseless accident, you’ll find out just what you’re made of. You’ll become an adult with shoulders strong enough to carry your sorrow, and you’ll rise to every occasion, and even though it feels like you’ll break, you won’t. Grief is a harsh teacher, and you grow up a lot.
You’ll meet a man who sees everything in you that matters—kindness, strength, humor, and courage. You’ll be his favorite person, and he’ll think you’re funny and brilliant and beautiful, inside and out. You’re going to be so happy, and even though your heart will break again when your body fails you in pregnancy, you will be a mom someday. A great mom. Every day, you’ll do your best for your kids, and I can’t wait for you to see how wonderful those kids are from the very start.
Hey, younger Kristan: You’re enough. To some people, you’re everything. Be a little more forgiving with yourself. You’ve got this, kiddo. You’re going to have a happy, meaningful life.
Oh, and girlfriend…lose the perm.
Higgins is the New York Times bestselling author 18 novels. Her next novel, Good Luck with That ($13, preorder on amazon.com), will be published August 7, 2018.