Dear Twenty-Five-Year-Old Me

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Hi, mind turning off Northern Exposure for a minute? Thanks. I just wanted to drop you a line with a suggestion—if you could just stop assuming that everything in your life is going to fall into line as easily as the first quarter-century has, you’re going to be a lot less bamboozled when it doesn’t.
 
The good news is that you possess a level of self-awareness that enables you to recognize that you are, indeed, exceedingly lucky. Though born into a close family, sent to great public schools, and surrounded by supportive friends, a steady diet of novels like The Outsiders and Catcher in the Rye has at least made you realize you have it easier than a lot of people.
 
What’s vexing is that you take it for granted anyway.
 
There is, I admit, a certain pattern in your life thus far: wish for something, have it happen, move on. You got into the college you wanted to attend, a choice based primarily on miraculous appearance of the Men’s Crew Team alongside the station wagon as your dad parked the car before the campus tour. You told everyone, “I am going to work in Germany after college,” and, two months before graduation and long after every other classmate had an offer, met with the lone German employment recruiter who came to campus and accepted the job in Munich. At some point you decided it was time to attend grad school back in the US, to get that out of the way before getting married, and you got accepted. Now you’re wearing an engagement ring.
 
No wonder you think you’re about to have a fabulous lifelong career in international marketing and two self-maintaining children and a sunny brownstone in a major city on the Eastern Seaboard. Everything else you’ve wished and planned for has just fallen into a single file line, like so many obedient dominoes.
 
So I wanted to tell you, from twenty years down the line, those tiny cracks you’re just now seeing in your life plan? They’re real. They’re about to get bigger.
 
And it is totally fine. Better than fine, in fact.
 
Over the next twenty years you will be paid less than you think you deserve, less than men holding the same job in the same company. You will not get jobs you apply for. You will be laid off while you are pregnant. Your children will come—and thank god, your luck still applies where it matters, because they are delightful and healthy people, but they will require more of your soul than you ever thought you’d devote to anyone but yourself. That will make the dream job requiring frequent international travel for long periods of time morph into a nightmare. You will eventually quit corporate work to start an entirely new career, starting all over and lower on the career ladder than you are right now at twenty-five.
 
You will have a rat exterminator service on speed dial, and one rainy winter afternoon, brown water will pour through the kitchen ceiling. There will be an incident involving a dog and an unguarded corned beef cooling on the kitchen counter.
 
If it sounds dismal, rest assured that you will be developing a compensatory level of empathy and generosity that is entirely out of reach to you today. When you hear of people who have lost loved ones, you will have a basis for understanding why the right thing to do is express your condolences and maybe drop off a meal. When you hear of people who have lost their jobs, you will remember the kindness of people who set up lunch meetings or shared their prized contacts with you, and try to follow in their footsteps. When a friend suffers the demise of a hot water heater and furnace in the same weekend, you’ll be the first one at her door with a space heater.
 
At any rate, I just wanted to say hello and tell you to enjoy your sense of control and power while it lasts. Which is not much longer.
 
Best regards,
 
Forty-Five Year Old You
 
P.S. Wear your bikini! Every day, and in every weather. This is as good as it's going to get, so enjoy it.
 
P.P.S. Four letters for you: AAPL.

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