Meeting My Own Expectations: What I Learned from My Younger Self

This past weekend I attended my 25th college reunion. I will let you do the math on my age. (Trust me when I say probably everybody who attended did the same—and still did not believe the answer.) It was surreal to reunite with people who had been very important to me at a very important time in my life. Life intervenes, though, which means I had lost touch with a lot of them, some for years, and some for longer.

But being back with everyone reminded me of how much influence that place and those people had on how I developed and who I have become. For one weekend, it was easy to pretend we had gone back in time, revisiting the places where pivotal moments had taken place with the people who had borne witness to them. We were all back at the scene of the crime, the enclave where we all pretended to be grown-ups until it was time to actually go out and be grown-ups.

For three days straight, I laughed so hard and talked so much that afterward I felt like I had been punched in the throat. It was bittersweet, bitter because time marches on (and if I were to try to be a college student now, it would be hazardous to my health), and sweet because I was reminded of just how many people and things in my life I can rely on.

Before the reunion, I had been anxious about measuring up, about whether I had gone on in the past quarter century (good lord) to live my life to the fullest extent possible. I worried about whether my classmates would judge the choices I have made in my life, because many of those choices have been unexpected and perhaps unusual. I suppose everyone could say that about at least some choices in their lives, and I suspect I was not the only person feeling apprehensive. You just never know, though, and it is easy to assume you are the odd duck.

Another reason I was anxious about attending the reunion was that during our senior year everyone in my class was invited to contribute something to a time capsule, to be opened at this very reunion. I remembered writing myself a letter, but I did not remember anything about what it contained. So I was just as concerned about how judgmental my 25-years-younger self had been, and how my present self would compare to what I had hoped for back then. I tried to reassure myself that even if younger me was talking what I would now consider to be nonsense, it was all because I still had some growing up to do. But then there was part of me that worried that maybe present me actually is lacking in important ways. Did I mention I have a chronic case of Impostor Syndrome?

I was relieved, then, when I read my letter and found it to be equal parts trite (preoccupied with things I have not fretted over in decades), optimistic, and kind. The part that really struck me and made me grateful to my 21-year-old self was the conclusion. It read as follows: “Most importantly, am I happy? If not, hopefully I am, was, and will continue to be strong enough to make it all better. Do I have confidence in myself? Do I like myself and am I honest with my feelings and opinions? I hope it’s been a good life so far.”

Just revisiting that brings on a flood of emotions. It makes me realize first that I have worked hard to live up to the potential I had back then, and second that there is always more to be done. I have long believed that making a choice, any choice, effectively cuts us off from numerous other possibilities. But I would rather make my choices actively, even understanding that the very act of doing so limits my options. It is by trying to live up to the expectations of my former self that I make it impossible to do everything I could ever want to do in my life. And yet, especially now, I want to continue to try. If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell her that I live a deliberate life. My choices do not always lead me where I expect they will, but I take responsibility for them, look for the lesson, and do my best to enjoy the ride. I am pretty okay with where that mindset has brought me in life and where it is likely to take me in the future. It does not mean I get to avoid pain, sorrow, and regret. But it means I know those things go along with taking risks and venturing beyond my comfort zone.

It is not always easy. It is usually worth it, though. I even think my younger self would agree.

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