Letter to my 18-year-old self

Dear Brooks in 2009,

I’m 28. You’re 18. Ten years ago, I was you.

I’m writing to you now because I know you are afraid. You don’t frame your emotions as fear, but rather as a form of nervous excitement, or as a blase detachment from the eventual unfolding of events, but between you and me, I know the truth. You’re afraid, and that’s alright.

If you take nothing else from this letter, take this: It’s alright to be afraid. You’ll do fine.

When I was in your shoes (those awful semi-casual leather loafers — you can do better) I would have given anything for a letter like this one, something to affirm my concern, to steady my nerves, to give me just a hint that there was a path in front of me, to tell me that my aimlessness would yield something more than ever-shortening concentric circles.

By now, you’ve already wound up in Austin for school. You’re right to be excited about this. Austin will prove an effective staging ground for your curiosities, and you will be lucky to have friends and teachers and rivals that challenge you. You will be proven again and again that you aren’t as smart as you thought, and to your credit, you’ll enjoy it. Don’t lose that.

The loneliness and sense of disconnectedness you feel now will not last forever, but it will return eventually. By the time it does, you’ll almost welcome it back. I know it’s hard to imagine, but that loneliness will carry you far if you learn to appreciate it.

You’re not going to marry that girl. I don’t say this to discourage you from enjoying your time with her, because she is wonderful. She’ll teach you how to love someone, and you’ll teach her the same. In a few years, when she finally realizes that it’s not meant to be, she’ll say it better than you ever could: You want a great life, and she wants a good one. And that’s okay.

It will hurt, but you’ll survive. That breakup will be the spark that lights the fuse of the next several years. I’m living in the fireworks even today.

By now, you’re curious about travel. I don’t want to spoil everything for you, but you don’t need to worry about never getting out of the country. It’ll happen, and the day it finally does will be one of the most memorable experiences of your life. Don’t rush it. By the time you go, it will mean a lot more to you than the study abroad program you see advertised in the hallways. You can’t afford it now, and that’s okay.

You’ll get to Asia. I know you could never admit it now, but you will worry about losing a connection to Texas, that state you are so eager to escape. When you finally leave, you’ll buy your first pair of cowboy boots (Ariat Ramblers, if you’re curious to see what they’ll look like) and carry them with you into the subtropical heat of southern Taiwan.

I have them here now, in my 80-year-old townhouse in Shanghai. They’re almost as impractical here as they were in Taiwan, but I break them out when I’m missing home.

This is everything you’re going to take with you when you leave the country.

That’s something else: You will miss home.

Your Texarkana will disappear. Time has a way of turning the past into magic. The smell of cut grass and sweat, the sound of a baseball game on the TV in the living room, the electronic chimes of your brother’s video games (which you now try to distance yourself from, although that distance won’t last), even the feeling of carpet beneath your bare feet — all of it will become distant and hazy. You’ll regret not taking it in.

Things will change. Your home will become a scattered and disjointed location after the divorce that you really should, but don’t, see coming. A few years from now, you’ll realize something obvious: Although you’ll have your parents for many more years (I still have them today), most of the time you will spend with them has already passed. Yes, you can always pick up the phone and talk to them, but that time spent eating spaghetti and watching Survivor and arguing (so much arguing) will represent almost all of the time you ever get with your family. After you leave, your relationships with them will improve, but you’ll never be just a family at home ever again. You’ll always be a visitor.

“I’ve always wanted to get as far as possible from the place where I was born. Far both geographically and spiritually. To leave it behind … I feel that life is very short and the world is there to see and one should know as much about it as possible. One belongs to the whole world, not just one part of it.” -Paul Bowles

In the summer, you’ll start work at a scrapyard doing manual labor for minimum wage. It’s a way to save up a bit of cash, because let’s be honest: You’re never going to be great with money.

That said, you’ll be right to spend your first paycheck, all $350 of it, on a Kindle. You’ll carry it with you everywhere. I have it here now, a totem of that summer forcibly dismantling Gulf War bomb casings.

Knowing you, you probably want some advice. I’m apprehensive to tell you too much, for fear of swindling you out of some of the more interesting experiences you’ll have, but:

  • Please, keep the weight off. It’s only going to get harder to lose.
  • Let your guard down, and let yourself have fun. No one is going to judge you for drinking a beer. You’re gonna like beer.
  • Instead of Turkish, maybe study Chinese. Your call.
  • Keep up your journals. You may think there’s nothing to say, but you’re wrong.
  • Stop beating yourself up for not believing in God.
  • In the last week of school, a sophomore who lives relatively far away from school is going to ask you for a ride home. Instead of making up an excuse for why you can’t that day, just take him. For the rest of your life, you’re going to be ashamed if you don’t.
  • Tell your brother that you love him. It will be weird, but he needs to hear it.
  • Sarcasm will cost you. It’s better to be kind than to be funny. Ideally, be both.

There’s not much else I can tell you. You’re confident, and that’s good. You’re more likable than you think you are. You’re curious, and that will carry you a long way.

You have so much to live for. Don’t be afraid.

You’ll spend a lot of the next ten years traveling. This is Jaipur, Rajasthan, India.


P.S. Buy Bitcoin. Google it.

Featured photo courtesy of  Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

Brooks Eakin

American abroad. I write about creativity, travel, productivity, and design.

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