In five days, I start my journey through the final year of my thirties. 39 doesn’t seem like an age that should hold any significance, but it feels like it launches the close of a chapter. Maybe a whole book.
I haven’t lived 39 years worth of living. There’s been a lot of time wasted while treading water, biding time, and hemming and hawing. But I’ve learned a lot, I’ve seen even more, and I wish I could go back and pass it on to myself as a teen. Here’s the letter I would send my 19-year old self:
It’s me, you. But I’m 38 now, and it’s the year 2016. When you’re reading this in 1997, you’re obsessed with Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, reading Anne Rice over and over again, and spending your evenings playing Duke Nukem in the computer labs at Washington and Lee University, where you’re a junior. You study Japanese and ignore your core classes, which is why you’re going to graduate with a 3.9 in your major but a 2.7 overall. Luckily, your LSAT score will be so high that you’ll still get into a top 25 law school, without even taking a prep course. High five. Yeah, people still do that.
But here’s where you have to listen, and I know that’s the hardest part for you. You’ve spent 19 years being one of the smartest and most capable people in the room, even including the adults, and it’s left you with a feeling of omniscience. You start to think that you know better than everyone else, and that nobody has anything to teach you. I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.
You can learn something from everyone you meet. Succeeding in life isn’t about always being right, because while that’s fun, it can also alienate you from people who might otherwise be amazing parts of your life. Stop reveling so much in correcting others and start turning that eye inward. Learn about culture and society and interpersonal relationships and why personal connections give us a strength and power more than makes sense logically.
Stop controlling everything, because you’re not. You think you are, but it’s all out of a fear of the unknown. Let someone else take over sometimes. Go get drunk. Embarrass yourself. Be human. Stop trying to show the world an unbroken facade, because the cracks are way too visible.
It comes to an end. The facade crumbles and you’re left broken for a long time. A marriage that probably shouldn’t have happened, or at the very least should have included some real communication. Relationships that fizzle because you’d rather be right than loved. A desperation and depression that make it hard to get out of bed. This is where your path is taking you.
Go to law school, but realize that law school is an education, not a career. Start writing early, and start performing stand-up at open mics as soon as you can. Create! Make short films and write novels and perform comedy and realize that your purpose on this world is pretty clear. You’re not here to cure cancer. You won’t be President. You probably won’t even end up with a wife and kids. But your words and your actions will have a power that you can’t see right now. You can make an impact just by being you. But the you when you’re alone. The you who’s vulnerable and a little scared, but confident and hopeful. The you who wants to be loved and liked because that’s how he feels worthy. The you who’s honest and open, even if it hurts or makes him look weak.
Save your judgment for yourself and your love for everyone else. Show compassion and empathy above all else, and open your heart, your arms, and your door to those who need it. Love others like you really, really want to be loved, and put yourself in someone else’s shoes before you ever dare open your mouth to say anything against them.
And have fun! Go out, party, and don’t be so shy and creepy. Talk to the girls who made you nervous, like Ericka, Sarah, Courtney, or Celeste. They’re just people, too, and years later you’ll find out that you would have gotten along with them better than you could have realized. If only you’d given it a shot in the beginning, and stopped worrying what people thought.
Finally, buy stock in Apple. Trust me, it will be worth it.
-Adam Heath Avitable, age 38.
P.S. If you don’t believe it’s me, remember that time that we were 13 and almost broke our neck in an attempt at auto-fellatio? Yeah, nobody knows about that except us. Well, in 1996. In 2016, I talk about it on stage, so it’s no longer a secret.
P.P.S. Have sex soon! It’s worth it. Don’t wait until law school. Trust me. It’s amaaaazing.
This is part of a series in which I will attempt to write something every single day of 2016. Will I be able to do it? You’ll only know if you subscribe using the form below!