Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ashley in Salt Lake

A letter at graduation

Dear Me at 18,

It’s weird to write this letter to you here, knowing that now I am facing graduation of my own seniors. I see in them much of what I saw in you—naïveté, precociousness, wit, intellect, self-consciousness, and trepidation. I see their joy in finding out where they’re going to school, the excitement of planning the next phase of their lives, and I remember that with you, too. I’m proud of you for taking the leap to go out of state to school, even if it is a small Idaho town, and it wasn’t your first choice. And you’ll find that a lot of the naïveté will give you a chance for growth—you’ll learn that life on your own is different that you thought, and you’ll meet people that, inexplicably, won’t like you. For no reason. Sadly, they’re your roommates. Just roll with the metaphorical punches and you’ll be stronger because of it. What will matter most to you there will be the chance to work on a college paper, and some of the people who will shape you for the rest of your life will be there. This experience will override the Idaho, the lame roommates, the fact that you can’t wear shorts on campus, and it will change you for the better.

And then will come Provo, a totally different kind of experience. I hate to burst your bubble, but it won’t be the end-all, be-all kind of experience you had pictured for yourself. You won’t date like those girls; you won’t look like those girls. And you know what? It’s ok. I would also like to warn you that big, curly hair is not the way to go and wish you could find a flatiron earlier on, but do what you can to work it out. It sucks to be self-conscious, and at a school like BYU, it feels kind of like high school. Just know you’re great, and the few extra pounds that come in and out of your life do not define you. I wish I could tell you that you’ll stop worrying about what other people think of you. For the most part, you will, but it’s something you’ll struggle with off and on, along with your weight. It is what it is, but there’s more to life than that, and you’ll figure it out. You’ll still date boys—very specifically, one wrong boy—but you’ll learn from your experiences and have some fun and a fair amount of heartbreak along the way. So it’s ok you haven’t kissed anyone by graduation—you’ll make up for it shortly.

I wish that I had more of you with me now. I’m not saying that I regret who I’ve become by any means, but you have so much faith and so much moxie—you always do the right thing, even when it is hard. Stay strong to who you are, and know that you’ll struggle from time to time, with faith, with church, with life, but that at your core, you will know who you are because you’ve worked to figure it out. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. You’ll think that you’ve taken the safe route by becoming a teacher, but then you’ll remember that it’s the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done, and that it’s something that matters. As you see them in their caps and gowns at graduation, you’ll know you’ve made a difference to them, which, in turn, has changed and affected you.

Part of me wishes I could tell you that your life would turn out the way you’d envisioned it, the way you’d written about it in Young Women’s. Well, it hasn’t, but that’s not a bad thing necessarily. You’re not married by twenty-five, you don’t have kids, and you spend more time than you’d like wondering sometimes if those things will happen. But it comes back to this: Life is still great, with amazing friends and family, with chances to travel and find adventures, and you’ve discovered that things happen on someone else’s timetable, not yours.

So with that, good luck on your graduation. Keep writing. You’ll realize at some point that you wish you’d kept up with it like you had at 18. Read deeply and widely. Search for new experiences. Keep listening to good music and good ideas. And know that the boy you are looking for at 18, you’re still looking for at 33, but now he’s grown up, just like you have, which makes you both so much more interesting.

Salt Lake City

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Linda in Northern California

When I was 16, my oldest brother died of cancer. I had always been taught in church that ‘families can be together forever’, but I remember truly wondering what that meant. Won’t my relationship with Brian be forever changed? Won’t we loose years of growing up together? What can really make up for that?

This letter is for my younger self- at sweet 16.

Dear Me,

First off, I’ll tell you that I still don’t have answers to all of your questions. But I can tell you that you’ll start to not be bothered by the unanswered ones. Having trust and faith in God will help. And it’s not ignorant faith, but faith that comes from experience. The faith of young people is so honest and whole-hearted, but usually hasn’t been tested yet. I was no exception at that age. But, I’ve found that experience has given me such a deep knowledge of myself and of God. You are stronger than you think.

By now, I’ve written about 3 versions of this letter as it’s been harder to write than I anticipated. The first version had a lot of advice that I’d like to give myself, so I want to include some of that here. Some of the advice is particular to me and my weaknesses. Some of it is because if I had it to do over again, I’d hope I’d make some changes. Those aren’t so much regrets (as I’ve learned a lot from my mistakes), but just knowledge that I have now that I would’ve used in my teenage years and beyond. So, here goes:

Let me reassure you that you will grow out of teenage acne (or rather, that eventually you’ll have the money and good health care to pay for the drugs to fix that problem).

You won’t be a mom in your 20’s. Reject, mourn, accept, get on with it.

You will be 30 and single and still attractive and fabulous and your family will think you’re super cool- and not a horrible old maid!

You will have so many good guy friends. Like, really good guy friends that you feel deeply for. They will fill a need in your life. Start now in cherishing friends and in keeping in touch. You need to be socially connected to survive.

Do a double major in school- music can only get you so far and guess what? You’re gonna have a career. I really great, amazing, make-lots-of-money career.

Your mom will be your best friend always.

You have an amazing thin body right now, so enjoy it! It won’t be easy to be thin forever. And, know that you’re beautiful in your uniqueness. Enjoy being different.

Don’t wait to kiss someone- there are lots of guys worth kissing, so try it out. It won’t be such a big deal latter on.

Well, my younger self, your life will be totally different than what you’ve envisioned. There will be true and deep sorrow, but also amazing opportunities, deep connections with friends, and lasting bonds with family that cannot be broken. It will be so much better than you now have planned.


Friday, May 29, 2009

A series, from Jamie in India

Dear Me at 18,

You’ve been so focused and worked so hard to ensure you have the grades for a good scholarship to BYU. You’ve joined clubs, held leadership roles in those clubs and competed in everything you could to fill your portfolio and win that scholarship. So I know how disappointed you were when that disappointing letter arrived.

What you don’t know yet, is using that scholarship to SUU is one of the best things you’ll ever do. There you’ll discover great professors who will inspire you and the types of friends who will stick with you for a lifetime. You’ll walk away at graduation knowing you were exactly where you belonged – even if it wasn’t what you planned.

Dear Me at 25,

I know it’s been hard watching your classmates find jobs in cities or with companies where you were hoping to go. Graduation is just around the corner and you thought by now you’d know what was next in life.

When you agree to that last minute interview trip to Dallas, I know you don’t think much will come of it; and I know Dallas isn’t your dream city. So you are going to be shocked when they offer you the job on the spot.

Go ahead, tell them yes. What you don’t know yet is that you will enjoy life as a Texan and the opportunities that are coming will change your career path and prepare you for something very exciting. So, say yes, pack up and move to Texas – even if it wasn’t what you planned.

Dear Me at 29,

You are nearing the end of what is likely to be the best job you’ll ever have, and luckily, you recognize it and have cherished every single minute. Being a part of the Olympics is something so few people get to experience and to do so at home makes it doubly special.

As you look to the future I know you are worried about settling back into a job in the “regular world.” And I know you are uneasy about moving away from your family again, but what you don’t know yet is that you are going to love Seattle, you’ll feel more at home there than you’ve ever felt before. Your family will love visiting and will do so frequently; best of all you will meet some incredible people who will inspire you – in ways that you could never have planned.

Dear Me at 32,

I know the call came out of the blue; you were happy living live in Seattle with no plans for any moves or career changes. So when the call comes asking you to uproot your life and move to Rio de Janeiro, a place that you’ve never even been tempted to visit, you are, understandably, scared and excited. You’ve always wanted to live and work abroad, but Brazil is an unknown and you are very comfortable where you are.

What you don’t know yet is this change is going to change who you are at a fundamental level. After living and working in Brazil you will view the world and its citizens differently, you will be more compassionate, patient and flexible. Your world will be bigger and your confidence in your skills and abilities will grow in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

Be adventurous, put your condo on the market, quit your job, pack up your life and head to paradise – even if it wasn’t what you had planned.

Dear Me at 35,

Your adventure in Brazil some how morphed into a gig in India, something else you never saw coming. I know you spend a lot of time wondering if you are on track and what should be next on your life’s agenda, marriage, babies etc. I hope today you are finely wise enough to recognize the patterns of life and the lessons you’ve learned along the way.

Let go of your rigid plans- because what you don’t know now is that life has things in store for you that you simply don’t have the power or imagination to dream of today. There is no way the you at 17, who was worried about the college she was going to, could have imagined at 35 you’d be sitting in New Delhi doing a job you can’t even explain to most people. Let go of your preconceived notions of what you or your life should be and enjoy the adventures that come your way – you’ve yet to be disappointed.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Christy in Vegas

Dear Creek,

Feels weird trying to give you advice as I'm pretty sure I'm the one who should be taking advice from you.

You're leaving for college in the morning. I know tonight feels like the end of life as you know it but I promise you (I PROMISE!) it only gets better from here. It sounds crazy now but pretty soon you will forget almost everyone from high school and the thing about it is... you won't even feel sad about it. Why? Because you are going to meet some amazing people and experience some amazing things.

It is sad to think about all the friends and acquaintances you will never see again and this will be a reoccurring theme as life goes on and you move from chapter to chapter. And even though life won't always turn out the way you'd hoped it would, you will always be blessed with great friends wherever you go and they will make every experience richer by their presence. Some will cross your path for only a short time and others will stay with you for life but rest assured, one constant in your life is fabulous friendships.

You are such a good person. It amazes me. As disappointing as it may sound, I wish I were half as good as you are. So, trust that you are good. Trust that you are great. One of the greatest days of your life is when you realize that you are great just the way you are. Forcing yourself to like Dave Matthews Band (at least more than you would on your own) just for the approval of a boy will one day seem just as absurd as confessing to the boy you like that you are a mega fan of Backstreet Boys (and seeing them in concert will, indeed, be one of the best nights of your life). Which leads me to the next thing I must tell you.

You aren't always going to make great decisions. There will be a lot of things you will be able to look back on and regret but you know what? Don't. Don't regret anything. Like the fact that your mantra in college will be "C's for degrees!" and you will heartily adhered to it? You won't have to regret that because college will be damn fun and the social and emotional education you get there will be worth more than a 4.0gpa any day. Be La Belle Dame Sans Regrets!

Now, having said that, pay attention to the most important piece of advice I will give you: Never underestimate yourself. Don't put limits on yourself. It'll take a lot of fear and a lot of difficult situations (ie training for a marathon) before you realize it but you are capable of WAY more than you give yourself credit for. You can do anything! It's amazing what dedication and consistent hard work will accomplish.

So there you have it. Go forward. Be brave. Be amazing. You already are. It's just time for you to believe it for yourself. Cheers!
the 31yr old version of you

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Dear Me,

You are twenty-four years old. It’s 1999. You are living in Chicago. You got on a plane in your home state of California, having never experienced an arctic temperature in your life, and you flew to Chicago on a bright January morning. Just the week before, you said goodbye to your fiancé of four and a half years.

Through almost all of college, you were with him. You loved each other. When you began dating him, he was picking you up from your parents’ home. When it was over, you were living on your own. In a very real way, you had no taste of how to be an adult without him next to you. Ten days after he drove away for the last time, you boarded a plane, heading to a place where no one knew you. You were numb when you boarded the flight. You were ready to fly away. You probably didn’t want to know anyone, anyway.

Right now you’re working two jobs, mostly to fill the emptiness eating you up inside. You’re biding your time. You’re freezing, because California stores don’t carry the kind of coat you need to endure a Chicago ice storm. You’re about to go through a very grueling and painful experience, without God, without friends, without family. This was by choice. Everything you believe has been severely tested, and now you want to do all the things they told you not to. Back home, under the watchful eye of so many who knew you, you wanted to do everything right. Now there are no eyes watching over you, no one knows who you are, and you don’t care anymore.

You’re just so sad, honey.
You’re all by yourself, going to see As Good As It Gets three weeks in a row on your Saturdays off. You practically live at the Brentano’s bookstore down the street. Your only conversations clocking in over five minutes are work-related. You’ve taken up smoking. Smoking! Not your brightest idea, kid. It’s going to take you four years to kick that nasty habit. Your grandpa asks you on the phone one day if you’ve heard from him. When you tell him you haven’t, he says “Then I guess he never really loved you.” You know he means well, but that just killed you all over again.

The upside is you’re writing some fierce poetry. You’ve taken up yoga, you got a cat (because they won’t let you have a dog), and you’ve been doing a lot of thinking.
I see you there, I remember it. Picturing you in your studio apartment, on your fold-out bed, wide awake at three a.m. staring at the ceiling, I imagine myself crawling in next to you. I lay my head on your shoulder, wrap one of my arms across your chest and watch your stomach rise and fall. I observe these quiet tears slipping out of the corner of your eye, sliding down to your ear. You have a sense of how this is changing you. But right now all you register is how it’s changing you for the worst. This is what I’d say to you: I love you. Everything’s going to be okay.

And it is.

I’m writing to let you know you made it. Broken and bruised, yes, but you made it. You came out the other end with a depth and a compassion that’s hard to explain. Ten years from now, when you hear a total stranger tell their story of heartbreak, you cry with them. You’ll know what to say to someone when they are all out of hope. You aren’t afraid to eat alone at a restaurant, or pick up and move to a new town when it feels like the right thing to do. You’ll know how to love somebody so much it hurts. And if that love leaves you, you know you’ll survive it. You’ll know that even when you stop believing in God, He never stops believing in you. You’ll know that in the moments when you’ve never felt more alone, you’ve learned a greater truth; He stands at your door and knocks. You will let Him in. You’ll know more about forgiveness, about giving away your broken, bitter heart, and how to ask for healing. You’ll know more about your own nothingness, and your infinite worth. Most importantly, you will know joy. Lots and lots of it. A happiness rooted in wisdom, sprung from struggle and strife. People might even ask you where your faith comes from. And then you’ll tell them this story.
I love you. Everything’s going to be okay.


Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monica in Utah

Dear Younger Monica,

Here you are, thirteen years old and so much ahead of you! You have started seventh grade with quite a bit of trepidation…who are you and what is your place in this vast world? You have friends who are confident and bold, but you are reserved and more laid-back. Your dream is to become a wonderful ballerina and dance on stage – to feel the exhilaration of performing something that you love and to bring joy to others. The problem is, you’re really not cut out to be a dancer. Your ankles are too weak for pointe shoes and you are not flexible. Sorry – truth hurts. I don’t think mom wanted to say anything to you, for fear she’d hurt your feelings, but I’m sure she would have encouraged other pursuits if you hadn’t been so passionate about ballet, and of course wanting to do what everyone else was doing.

Now listen, I know that dancing brought you great joy and you had lots of fun performing, but do you remember the first time you ran hurdles in gym class? Or the 50-yard dash that you ran in mere seconds? Do you remember the thrill of the high-jump and practicing over and over again? Try out for the track team! Maybe I’m telling you this because when you are 38, you’ll have just completed your first half marathon and loved it, or maybe it’s because I know what else you could have been passionate about.

Be yourself! Look for talents and passions that bring YOU joy. Don’t worry so much about what your friends will think of you. I think part of you didn’t want to stand out – to be different than everyone else around you. But guess what? It’s okay to shine sometimes! It’s okay to be the one that people marvel about. It is okay to do something different and unexpected. Just always remember that you are the best you and no one else can be who you are meant to be. A copy is never as good as the original – don’t try to be what you are not. You don’t need to be the best at everything, just do the best that you can do. Be grateful for talents you have been given and cultivate them.

You are going to have a wonderful life full of experiences you cannot even fathom right now. Jump in with both feet! Be bold, be brave, be yourself!


The Older (and Wiser) Monica

Monday, May 25, 2009

Anon in the US

Dear Me at Fifteen,
All of that day dreaming you do while you run at night will come true. You will be married to an amazing man, who is strong, loving, protective, educated, successful, wealthy, handsome, and comes from a wonderful family. You will have two gorgeous, adorable sons, ages 4 and 2 months. Both of them have smiles that light up the room, and they adore you and your husband. The 4 year old runs to “Daddy” in the middle of the night when he is scared, and crawls into bed with you in the morning to cuddle. You guys are very devoted parents, totally in love with each other, and when you walk through the front doors of your big, beautiful home you can actually feel the peace.
That career you always wanted, you got- you graduated from a top law school, and are a successful lawyer with a top law firm, and get this, you work out of your home, and only work part-time, and you draw a six figure salary. Even your financial planner is openly envious of your professional success.
All of your loved ones are alive and well, and you are actually incredibly close with your older sister believe it or not! You talk everyday on the phone, and she is your 4 year old’s favorite aunt. You and your mom are also very close. You love, respect, and appreciate each other, and you actually inherited her warmth and hospitality and strong sense of morality. You too are now known for your own famous chocolate chip cookie. Your Dad is so proud of who you’ve become and you are married to the exact guy he wanted for you. Your parents are wonderful grandparents.
You are blessed with too many friends to count, and will even remain close with the pack you run around with now. You are surrounded by so many people who love you, all of whom helped you pick up the pieces when your life was completely torn apart.
That’s right. Unfortunately, you will not be exempt from life’s challenges. You will marry your first love against your better judgment, and he will divorce you when your first son is only one year old. He will continue to torment you and resent you for the great life you built for you and your first son and do whatever he can to interfere with your happiness. Get ready for some really, really, dark days.
But here’s the twist. Without that horrible thorn in your side, you won’t experience true suffering, which will lead you to great faith, which will give you great hope, which will give you that beautiful life you are dreaming about right now.
So don’t cry too many tears during the next fifteen years when you go through all that pain, because that experience will end up being the thorns on the stem of the most beautiful rose God could ever give to his daughter.
Love, Me at Thirty.
P.S. Invest in EBAY!!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Submission information

Like what you've read? Join us, the letter writing itself is an incredible experience. Here are some guidelines to help you with writing and submitting:

-Your younger self can mean 6 or 16 or 46! There are no rules about how old the recipient of your letter should be-just younger and in need of your older and wiser perspective.

-Pick a specific moment in your history to write about. For example, the day you left for college, the night of your first break up, a moment you said no when you wished you said yes…the more context you can put around your advice the better.

-Don’t feel pressure to be profound! The best advice is usually simple!

-Funny advice is just as welcome as serious advice. If you really think your teenage self should have ditched the blue eye shadow (paging teenage me!), tell her!

-Be genuine and be honest. It’s OK to admit that you weren’t always as smart and put together as you are now.

-Keep it focused. Remember that other people will be reading so make sure details and background are truly relevant

-Length is up to you. But short and sweet is advice I would give to MY young self.

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Please send your letters to katieclifford AT gmail DOT com. You can attach a word document or just lay it into your email.

Letters will then be posted to the Dear Me website at I will inform you when your letter has been posted.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Dear Me

We all know the old adage "listen to your elders" right? Well what if those elders were actually you? Dear Me is a project in which women write letters of advice to younger versions of themselves at crucial points in their personal histories.

If you want to participate, please leave a comment with your contact information and we'll send you more information.