Updated: Mar 5, 2019
This post is part of an annual series of letters to myself, which I started in 2013. Just because. As always, this is written primarily for myself, but for anyone who might need it too. Read my past Letters to Self here.
Letter to my 24-year-old self
February 13, 2009 [your time] February 21, 2019 [my time]
Dear 24-year-old Jen,
Happy birthday! I honestly don’t remember what happened to me/you on my/your 24th birthday, but I hope you had a good one. :) I’m sure it would be a uniquely strange and awesome treat to read a letter from your future self as a birthday present (pun intended).
Your wonky decade
What an unexpected / unpredictable / varied life you will lead in your 20's.
It’s been a couple of years now since you’ve graduated from university, and since that time, you’ve explored a number of things: 2 very disparate internships (one at a neuropsych ward, another at a design/media agency), a short Mandarin language course in Shanghai, a growing side gig selling funky, albeit somewhat meaningless things (from laptop sleeves to camera straps to shoes and other stuff you can apply graphic design onto except a T-shirt), and an office-based copywriting job that you’re holding onto longer than you had imagined in your 6th, 3rd, and even 1st month. Keep at it, stay long enough for you to learn what you can learn, and make a good impression on your executive creative director; she’s cool.
You chose your undergrad course (AB-Psychology and Business Management) because you were afraid what it would mean if you committed to something more specific (like industrial design, or landscape architecture). You also later dropped your business management degree because you didn't want to learn about business in the narrow confines of university. It can be debated now whether that was a good idea or not. Right now, you might feel like you're doing just fine on the business end, but also, it's just a side gig that came relatively easily for you. You will soon find out the greater struggles that come with it, which lessons in a classroom couldn't have taught you anyway.
On doubt and continuous learning
You'll also occasionally harbor doubt about whether you made the right choice in college (along with some other choices you'll make in life). You may still carry the feeling of being a frustrated industrial design student, and wish to pursue design / creativity-driven professions. Ultimately, what's done is done, and the choice to study psychology, though you chose non-traditional career applications for it, will serve you well. You'll learn that what you studied (or didn't study) won't indefinitely define your future.
There will always be more ways to continue learning, be it through formal educational institutions, well-created events, seminars or workshops, or periods of hunkering down in your room to teach yourself what you need to know (the latter has served you well so far, but also, there is a growth threshold to this). The important thing to know is that you already have it all inside you to seek those opportunities for growth. You will find them, you will pursue them; and for as long as you stay open, eager to learn, and humble, you will continue to grow.
On finding direction and intention
Ah, what is the meaning of life? What is my purpose on this planet? It's the million dollar question. I wish I could tell you that you'd have completely figured it out by now, or that the path towards discovering it is easy and straightforward. You may think that you've had relatively diverse learning and working experience compared to some of your peers by now. The truth is, you're just getting started.
You'll get into all sorts of other jobs / projects / experiences, some seemingly random, but all helping you along your path to discover what you're good at, what you're not, and what brings value to the world and to your own life. And it's not about "pursuing your passion" as much as it is finding how you can best contribute to society. And every time you think you've "figured it out", well, you haven't, or you may have but only fleetingly so. And that's okay.
Just make sure that in whatever you do, you're guided by your values, and that you won't give those up for anything or anyone, because once you start making excuses, it's easy to veer off course. Pursue mindfulness, empathy, honesty, and intention. Never do things only for the money if you don't have to. Yes, we need money to survive, but also, people generally need less money than they think. It's better to reduce the amount of money you need to get by, than to make money in ways that don't align with your values.
Life is one big experiment, or a series of many experiments - in personal and professional capacities. The data you gather may not always be conclusive or correlational. But hopefully, you continuously learn what works and what doesn't in particular contexts, and proceed with increasing amounts of intention after each experience.
I'm sure you're curious to know about where I am now, what I'm doing, what my life is like. I'll spare you that information, lest I trigger a butterfly effect. Suffice it to say that I'm okay. I'm very okay. Happy might be a word that comes to mind, but the word "happy" has a very contentious meaning. Perhaps grateful would be a more appropriate word. So don't worry, you'll be okay. :)