“To get back my youth I would do anything in the world, except take exercise, get up early or be respectable.” – Oscar Wilde
Last year I received an unusual email in the midst of an ordinary kind of grey-skied day.
It was an invitation to write a story – my story – in the form of a short letter to my 21-year-old self.
The letter would be added to a book being compiled by award-winning author Kim Chandler McDonald, and form part of a compilation of never before told stories and truths revealed in letters from 270 women including The Hon. Julie Bishop, Jane Caro, Margie Warrell, Lord Mayor of Melbourne Sally Capp, Marina Go, Kathy Lette, Rebecca Poulson and many more – including Oprah (yes, as in, THE OPRAH).
So of course I said yes.
But when I sat down to write the letter, I was paralysed by a whitewash of terror, a fresh jolt of imposter syndrome, had no sense of where to start or finish – and a disconcerting realisation that I hadn’t ever really thought about what sort of person I actually was at 21.
Perhaps I was a complete and utter dick? Probably obnoxious. (Likely actually noxious.) Unresolved, outspoken, unfurling, in your face. A typical post-teen with enough gumption to think I could go it alone in the world, but when it came down to it, actually very little to offer – scant lived experience, skinny earned wisdom and, recently, far too many cigarettes and late nights had (plus some pretty sketchy company kept).
It was Socrates who is said to have uttered the famous dictum: “The unexamined life is not worth living”, apparently at his trial for impiety and corrupting youth, for which he was subsequently sentenced to death.
So truth be told, when I did sit down to examine my life as 21-year-old, there was impiety, probable corruption of youth (and siblings), and most definitely a misplaced rebelliousness that amounted to little other than late-night poetry scrawled on the paper-clad table tops of Smith Street bars. Youth is truly wasted on the young…
But it was actually quite hard to remember the me that (I think) I was. To go from my future back to my past and understand myself anew. How can we reliably trust our memory and patchwork of recollections? Can we ever really know ourselves?
What I do clearly recall is that at 21, I did have a deep love of writing and reading, an insatiable curiosity, and an early pull toward journalism as a career pathway.
I also remember that I had felt the first sharp stings of feminism as the deep cracks of inequity in the world around me were exposed – but back then I had no idea where to direct my indignation.
Little did I know then that a few short years later I would go on to work as a journalist, proudly call myself a feminist (in that I believe absolutely that men and women should have equal rights), and that years after that I would make gender equity the springboard for girledworld. (Unsurprisingly, I am still incurably curious.)
According to research published in the journal Social Forces, just 6 percent of adults end up in the careers we imagined for ourselves in our wide-eyed youth. This is in part because when we actually leave the cradle the force of real world survival hits us in the face and shuts down our idealism in one fell swoop, in part because we are abruptly shocked out of our deluded self-important reverie when we subject ourselves to trying to get actual jobs and rental houses, but mostly because as adults our brains are fully formed and although we can still learn, fewer connections are made, and so our rational brains start to shut down our imagination and kill our lofty dreams – reducing many of us to suburban mediocrity.
I am not sure I knew what I wanted to do with my life when I was 21.
But when I eventually did sit down to write the letter to my 21-year-old self as a now 47-year-old, the process of writing in the end was worth it in itself – a chance to reexamine my life and make sense of myself, then and now. Part catharsis, part paralysis and part synthesis – by winding my way back to the young woman I was, I freshly discovered how far I’ve come, and yet how similar I still am to that younger self I met in my memory.
My completed letter now sits amongst the 420 pages of Postcards From Tomorrow, an extraordinary collection of heartbreak, hilarity, insight and inspiration from an incredible array of women of influence and integrity writing to their younger selves.
Letter authors include Australian and international luminaries from the worlds of comedy, theatre, TV and dance, solo adventurers and Olympic champions, broadcasting and journalism, activism, philanthropy, politics, business, innovation and adventure – and I’m completely honoured to keep their company.
During a time when the world needs more good stories and wisdom traded, I hope you have a chance to read this book and learn from the many women within it – who have examined their lives and themselves, and brought their reflections, regrets, revelations and foolish youthfulness to the surface to be shared.
All proceeds from the sales of Postcards From Tomorrow will go to Lou’s Place, to support women in crisis and experiencing domestic violence.
PURCHASE POSTCARDS FROM TOMORROW.
Meet the Postcards From Tomorrow Letter Writers here.
To support Lou’s Place and women experiencing domestic violence please visit their site here.