A Letter to My Younger Self

January 13th, 2012 | Shonali Burke | 79 Comments

Shonali at Age 18A few months ago, I came across Nancy DavisLetter to my Younger Self. It was very touching, and I promised her I would write such a post myself.

Seeing as how my birthday is approaching (Sunday!), this is it.

Dear 18-year-old Shonali,

Right now, you’re wondering if your life is over, now that you’re almost out of your teens. As your 40-something self, I can tell you that it’s not… in fact, in terms of experience, you haven’t even been born yet. So listen up.

Embrace your difference

What you want most of all right now is to be like everyone else. Tough. It’s not going to happen.

You’re always going to be” different.” You’re going to be taller, darker, weirder … you name it, you’ll be it.

It feels horrid, because you want so much to be one of the gang. But one day, that “difference” in you is going to click and you will come into your own. It will take about 12 years, but it will happen.

You will still have to deal with, and fight against, favoritism, condescension, even racism. You’ll still be hurt by the assumptions people make about you. But your “difference” is going to make you who you are… and bring you to the wonderful man you’ll marry.

Speaking of men

You’re going to meet a lot of them. They will find you attractive, and they will let you know that. And, as a result, you will let them walk all over you.

Your heart is going to be broken many, many times. And when you least expect it, you will “meet” one (I’m keeping that bit a surprise, because right now, you couldn’t imagine how things will unfold in a million years) and he will be just right for you.

And you will learn that men don’t validate you; only you can validate yourself. It will take a while, and it’s going to hurt while it does. But you’ll finally get it.

Speak up

You’ve been brought up to be a “good” girl. For the most part, this is a good thing. But it is also a bad thing, because you draw back when you should stand up for yourself, and give in when you know better.

Learn to listen to your gut. It is rarely wrong. Scratch that. It is never wrong. And you have a very talkative gut.

Learn to work hard

Most things come easily to you. As a result, you put in the minimal effort you need to. This will get you by for a while, but in about two years, you’re going to find it doesn’t. And you’ll have to work your butt off. And it will be tough.

And it will be good. Because nothing worth having comes easily. Trust me on this one.

Mother of none, mother of hundreds

Many years from now, you will be diagnosed with severe endometriosis. As a result, you will never bear children. This is going to hurt you, and you will cry and mourn the children you never had.

Grieve. Mourn. Weep.

And then open your eyes and look at all the children you never bore, but had; all the children you helped mould and grow to be fine young men and women. They will be the children you taught in primary school, through acting workshops, and yes, even graduate students.

In a way, you will be “mother” to them all. Isn’t that something?

Many years from now

You’ll be coloring your grey hairs with red highlights. You won’t be as thin as you are now. You’ll have to learn how to live in a fast-changing world… so much faster than you can imagine.

There will be this thing called “Twitter” that will, at first, confound you. It will be frustrating, frightening, and lonely at times.

And you’ll be just fine.

Love,

Shonali

P.S. One more thing. Never stop dancing.

What would you say to your younger self? I’d so love to know.

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Shonali Burke
Head honcho of Waxing UnLyrical, Shonali Burke is President & CEO of Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. Based in the Washington, D.C., area, she loves helping for- and non-profit clients, both small and large, turn corporate codswallop into community cool™. She also loves ABBA, bacon, cooking, dogs, and Elvis. Wouldn't you like to be in her kitchen?
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

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72 comments
bdorman264
bdorman264

Oops, Happy birthday ma'am; hope it's a great one for you today.

bdorman264
bdorman264

I would tell my younger self 'it's going to be alright, you will figure it out, but you knew that didn't you'? It took 3 years in the Army and 3 years in college before I decided 'insurance' would be my career. But just being in college (after 3 years in the Army) put me in the bonus round and everything was icing on the cake. Life was good and I was enjoying it.

I guess I would say to others, just take a deep breath, enjoy being you, and it truly will all work out.

Live life with no regrets.

Shopna Ghosh
Shopna Ghosh

How beautifully you've grown :-) Always knew you would.

Hajra
Hajra

A blogger friend of mine did this too and I had promised her I would do the same! Thanks for reminding the lazy me ;) Things I would tell my 18 year old self :

1. It's okay to make wrong choices.. as long as you don't have to blame others for something can stand up for yourself and make the wrong, right.

2. You might take up psychology as majors, doesn't mean you have to diagnose yourself with every single mental disorder.

3. And for God sake's; get some new glasses!

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

What nice things to say. Brad you should write a post about that!

Jackie Fishman
Jackie Fishman

Very touching....I think it is a painful but ultimately healing to mentor ourselves as a young person.

Brad Rosenstein
Brad Rosenstein

Lovely, Shonali. Fun to imagine what our younger selves might do if actually receiving such letters. In my case, it's a Woody Allen movie waiting to happen...

hackmanj
hackmanj

I really love this idea, when I was in a Leadership Program a couple of years ago they had us write a letter to ourselves during one of the exercises. I forgot all about it then it showed up a year later. Kind of the opposite of this but now you have me wanting to try this!

Thank you for sharing more of you with us.

JGarant
JGarant

A beautiful and moving post @shonali - I'm so very honoured to be one of the 'children' that is learning from your wonderful example as a person and professional. It has been incredible getting to know you these past 10 months, and I look forward to many more years of friendship ahead :)

So, even though I'm only 26, there's definitely a few things I'd like to say to 18-year-old Jamie....

1 - Jamie, you're a complete nerd, embrace it and don't try to be anything or anyone else

2 - Learn from other people's paths in life, but forge your own

3 - Your difference form others is your strength, not weakness

4 - Listen to your gut and heart

It's great to look back on the past to learn and embrace the future.

Wishing you the happiest of (almost) happy birthdays Shonali!

jasonkonopinski
jasonkonopinski

It's these kinds of genuinely heartfelt posts that often remind me why I blog. The ability to connect with people through shared experiences and honest, emotionally raw writing is one of the most powerful things we can do as communicators, regardless of industry.

I've certainly enjoyed getting to know you over these past few months and certainly look forward to what lies ahead. Happy birthday to you!

KenMueller
KenMueller

Well, I tried to comment before then got busy, so now I'm back. This post is amazing. I really could feel my heart leaping at times, and my stomach dropping at times. This is great insight into who you were and are.

I'm definitely going to try to remember to do one of these in 2 months when I turn 50. Seems fitting.

Priyali Ghosh
Priyali Ghosh

You have always been unique and unutterably wonderful to me. as to being different - well, its a badge of honour but the road to understandiing that is very stony.

Shonali Burke
Shonali Burke

Thank you all so much! Munish, I'd love to know what she thinks/how she reacts. And everyone else... y'all are going to write your letters now, right?

ginidietrich
ginidietrich

I would add that you, 18 year old Shonali, will become a force to be reckoned with in your industry. Someone people look up to and respect immensely. In a way, your peers will become your children as you teach them new skills they need to grow in their careers. And, when you decide to have pink highlights, you will embrace it fully because that difference I talked about earlier? It will make you lovely and striking and mysterious.

PattiPalmer1
PattiPalmer1

Delightful, poignant, and perfectly-timed. Thank you, Shonali! I'm going to send your letter to my young nieces to inspire them to stay true to themselves.

On another note, weirdos unite! (We're all weird! Some of us just happen to be more aware than others. ;))

NikkiBusmanis
NikkiBusmanis

Wonderful post, Shonali. I always enjoy reading your blog, but this post truly moved me to engage. As someone more on the receiving end of one of these letters, I wish my older self could write one to me now. That said, I can still look back at a younger-Nikki and reflect on what I would tell her already. Again, touching post and thank you for sharing.

rachaelseda
rachaelseda

Shonali, how touching! As fate would have it I have been fortunate enough to be one of those "children" you have inspired and taught. You have had a profound impact on my life and I know you will only continue to do so.  

Aww gut insticts...my mother always taught us to listen to our gut instincts, to validate it was given to us for a reason, especially us women and for some reason we often teach our children not to listen to it. I am glad I was encouraged to listen to mine, there are many times I am sure it kept me safe when my fate could have been very different and I also know it is another reason I am lucky to be working with someone like you! 

I love how open you were in this post and it's even more inspiration for me in my own blog as I conquer the fear that arises in being truly open. 

Happy Friday and better yet Happy Birthday weekend!!

P.S. Most of all I enjoyed the picture of your younger self..you really should bring that hairstyle back ;)

anitapkelso
anitapkelso

Great blog, Shonali. I think I would say...if I only knew then what I know now...

Anita

Munish Gandhi
Munish Gandhi

Very nice, Shonali Burke. I just forwarded it to my 15 yr daughter. Thank you for sharing a bit of yourself with everyone.

John Friedman
John Friedman

What a profounding revealing and moving letter, Shonali. Would that we could reach out to our younger selves.

kbkcomm
kbkcomm

@shonali You're very welcome. Thanks so much for sharing...very touching and inspring :).

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@hackmanj Thank you, Joe! I hope you do write such a letter and share it with us?

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@JGarant And I'm honored that you're part of my extended family. What a nice thing to say, Jamie, thank you.

Your list made me smile. Especially #1. Too many nerds grew up thinking they were uncool, right? And now look at you/them/us - we're reveling in our nerdness! I think it's terrific you already have these insights at age 26. Just imagine what your letter written by you in your 30s and/or 40s will look like! I can't wait.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@jasonkonopinski I have SO enjoyed getting to know you too. I know, I know, we are woefully behind on our Skype chat. But it will happen...

It's tough to know how much personal content is ok on a blog that isn't completely personal, especially since there are so many contributors to WUL now (if ever you'd like to write...). But I think part of what makes blogging fun - and bloggers interesting - is getting that personal, right? Perhaps not every day, but once in a while.

That's a really interesting point you make about being emotionally raw, Jason. I was with a client just yesterday and talking about videos they produce. They are beautifully done, slick, well-edited... and they have about as much soul as a sock monkey (sorry, @ginidietrich ). I'd so much rather see something heartfelt and "real," even if it's raw around the edges, than something perfectly produced and as cold as the Ice Queen.

Thank you so much for stopping by! My commenting level on the blogs I read will go lower the next few days, but I promise I will be over at your place very soon.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@KenMueller I made you feel all that? WOW! :p

I can't tell you how glad I am you're my friend. Thank you, and I can't wait to read your post.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@ShakirahDawud Thank you, Shakirah! If they can hear me talk to them, then I consider this post a huge success. And honestly, I'm so touched by everyone's kindness by sharing and commenting. 18-year-old Shonali would never have dreamed that would happen.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@ginidietrich Oh, my dear friend, you choked me up with that one. Thank you.

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@PattiPalmer1 Oh, what a nice thing to do! I do hope you'll tell me how they react... hopefully they won't roll their eyes, LOL.

Yes, you're right. We're all weird. Some of us just revel in it more, eh?

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@NikkiBusmanis What a lovely comment, Nikki - thank you! I do hope you'll write your own post and share with us?

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@rachaelseda So the funny thing about that hairstyle & photo ... well, there are a LOT of funny things about that hairstyle (!) - that was taken when I was in rehearsal for "Smike." I played Fanny Squeers, and it was terrific fun and one of the first experiences I had of embracing "difference." @aseem seth could tell you all about that...

I'm so glad to know and work with you, Rachael. And I learn so much from you too!

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@anitapkelso Truer words were never said, Anita! And you are such a good friend; I got my lovely card and birthday gift today - I LOVE it. Thank you!!

JGarant
JGarant

@Shonali@bdorman264 such wonderful advice - as a young communicator, this comment really makes me smile and want to embrace who I am each and every day ... and to enjoy every minute in the process! Thanks for sharing this great comment.

JGarant
JGarant

@Shonali As my parents always tell me, "nerds will inherit the earth" hehe :)

Shonali
Shonali moderator

@KenMueller I will. Thank goodness Lola didn't get a hold of it first, else she'd have eaten it, LOL.

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  2. [...] ideas, but kept coming back to the original idea of writing a letter to my younger self. My friends Shonali Burke and Nancy Davis, and Shonali was the first one who encouraged me to write my own take on this for [...]

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