Today, I turned a different age somewhere along the continuum of the roaring twenties. I don’t feel any older than I did yesterday and in some ways, I am quite humbled by the life I’ve been privileged to live with its many lessons and experiences, its mountaintops and valleys, and the trek in between the two. When I was 12, I didn’t exactly write a letter to myself, but I did write down all the things I wanted to do with my life. Looking back, I’ve done a good deal of those things and I’m grateful. When you’re 12, 20-something seems like a grown-up age, and you long to get there. But when you’re 20-something, 50 seems so old and so far away that you dread the thought. Maybe it is a thing to fear or just the thought that scares us. Then again, maybe it isn’t. You be that judge. But here is my letter to myself at 50.
Dear Self On Your 50th Birthday,
Today, you changed ages. You’ve entered that strange and beautiful group of people between middle age and elderly. You’re not super young, but you’re not old either. You’ve come a very long way from thirty. Congratulations!
I am certain you have grown enough to understand that life is precious and fragile. It must be lived boldly yet handled with care. You understand that it is not so much about you as it is about you living for something higher than you. I’m certain that you have accomplished way more than you imagined but your underlying aim behind all of those accomplishments was to make a difference in the world.
I think you have done that well.
Make your mark.
Everyone seems to have that common desire to make a mark on the world. At least at this age, some expect to have had this goal reached. Indeed, some people have done so long before now, while others are just getting started. But you have thought about your place in making a difference long before now. And you’ve reached a pinnacle that has you everywhere you want to be, doing the things you want to be doing at this age.
You are settled, strong, and gracious. You’ve found your happiness – that one thing (or maybe more) that gives you joy, that gets you excited even after decades of doing it. Your writing, your research, your speaking, your leading pushes you out of bed every morning, even after so much time. I’m certain that you have smiled at your successes, celebrated your achievements, cried at your pain, reevaluated your progress after failure, and even worried about one thing or another at some point. But you realize that every experience was a blessing in disguise even if the blessing came after the fact.
So you walk with your heart humbled and your head up. To see you doing so well in life, feeling so fulfilled and satisfied, brimming with meaning and the best excitement, gives me pride and great joy. You went through some very difficult times and crushing moments, yet you managed to stay strong and use the negativities to push forward on your path to where you are now. In a nutshell, you’ve done well. I have to pinch myself when I look at all of your accomplishments and especially the people who are impacted by your work.
Much deeper than gold.
You’ve developed a tough mind and a tender heart through it all. You know that your wealth, your fame, your success, and even your material gains are worth nothing compared to the joy you feel in your soul each night. You used to think of grace as some heavenly idea for a select few. But now you know what it is and how it feels to be perpetually in its grasps. You have learned that every step you’ve taken has been an exercise in grace. And you desire to live no differently.
You’ve struck that careful balance between work and play, career and family, goals and achievements. You’ve always wanted to move people with your words and research, and boy, you’ve done a good job. People used to not like it that you spoke your mind, told the truth, stood by your beliefs, and had no worries about the opinions of others. But most have gotten over that now. You’ve learned the longer you stick with something, the more respect you gain.
And then there is the part of you who has grown to be accepting. Accepting of everything – the good and the bad, the difficult and the easy, the favorable and disappointing situations, the news that brings joy and sadness. For a long time, you have chosen that path of gratitude that you spoke and wrote so much about when you were younger. You’ve stopped beating yourself up and stopped feeling like you’re not good enough, or smart enough, or anything else enough. You’ve learned to show yourself grace.
That grace doesn’t come directly from you exactly. You know, you used to be quite the perfectionist. But you’ve allowed yourself to be open to that grace that is unconditional, incomprehensible, unlimited, and wholehearted. You’ve pulled back the curtain and let in the light that comes from God above, that leads you into paths you never thought you would enter because you’ve stopped relying on the past to answer questions about your present or future and you’ve let go of what you could not control, and you’ve turned your focus to accomplishing something worthwhile not for yourself, but for the people around you.
You know what it feels like to be friendless, to be lost, to feel stressed and emotionally drained, to feel like things aren’t moving fast enough. You know what it feels like when everyone around you is shouting at each other and nobody is listening. You know what it feels like to let yourself go even in the midst of the unknown. You know what it means to love and to be loved. You have been someone’s hero and someone has been yours.
And you know that if you were to take a few days to thoroughly look back over your life, you would realize that God’s grace is not like man’s grace. It is so divine and flourishing that you are blown away when the sun shines on you. You have all people, so unsuspecting of your success, continue to have that heart that puts others ahead of yourself. You are living, working, and playing now because you have grown into a person who can do all these things because you are gracious and thankful for the experience.
Where you’re headed.
Yet you’re still the same person. You drink coffee for the good feeling. You eat chocolate for the good feeling too. You go to grocery stores just to buy snacks and look around for nothing in particular. You dress up because it is important even on odd days and you’re not afraid to just be who you are. You listen and you talk because you can feel people’s hearts that way. You love your old soul because that is where you get to understand people and show compassion and grace. You know what it was like to be 20-something and uncertain. You know what it was like to create your own path forward with not an inkling of an idea of what you were doing. You remember that it took you some time to get to where you are. And you’re not afraid to share all the personal horror stories because you’re happy to help even if you’re the example.
I am happy to see you where you are right now.
So bold yet humble, so free yet always striving to be better, so amazed by what you know and even more surprised by what you don’t. Yes, you’ve grown a great deal since the last time we talked. You’re not exactly striving anymore, just cruising in your life’s goals. Self-actualizing as they call it. You’re not getting old; you’re just getting older. You’ve grown up and you continue to grow and improve and make a mark on the world for good. And I’m crazy proud of you for that.