I feel compelled to be grown up all the way. But the problem is I get really happy every time I look down and see my blue sneakers with their yellow-green laces.
Do you ever imagine what you’d say to younger-you if you had the chance?
Life is really wonderful and beautiful and full of magic and excitement and love. But life is also weird for each one of us, sometimes a really tough kind of weird. The kind of weird that can make you feel lonely and misunderstood. The kind of weird that makes it hard to go to sleep sometimes, and when you do fall asleep gives you restless sleep and upsetting dreams. The kind of weird that can blindside you on what you thought was a good day and leave you questioning yourself and what you thought you had.
I think we all need help with these weird life-things. But sometimes the different paths you and I have walked, even just the fact that you’re not me, makes it really hard for you to find hope in my words, or me to find hope in yours.
Imagine that you got to talk to your younger self, though. And that your younger self could really listen, because you get them–you were them, are them.
What would you tell your younger self?
If I could talk to 18-year-old me, it might go something like this.
You are free.
You love people. You know people matter and you want to take care of their hearts. This is good. So good. You don’t matter less than other people, though. You need to accept that.
It is okay if some people don’t love you.
You are so much stronger than you think. You can speak up more boldly than you think, you can run harder than you think, and you can be a better friend than you think.
You are strong, but you are not superhuman. Don’t stoically or slavishly disregard your feelings and emotional needs. They’ll only get deeper.
It is okay if you want to dance. But it is also okay if you can’t dance because you’re feeling scared.
Not everything has to have a deeper meaning. You don’t have to always feel profound, always be growing, always be deep. Lots of good life is simple life.
A thing isn’t necessarily going to be better once you understand it. Knowledge isn’t always the answer.
There is SO much you don’t know. That’s okay. Let it stay that way, because it will anyway.
Feeling yucky does not necessarily mean you need to fix something. Some things will always, always, always feel yucky.
Sometimes you’ll even feel tremendously guilty for something you really can’t help, can’t fix. And rationally accepting that it is not your fault won’t stop the waves of guilt. You’ll still feel guilty.
When someone has broken your trust so much, or done you so much damage, that you cannot have a healthy relationship with them, it does not have to mean that they are a completely, irredeemably bad person. You have to learn to let someone be unhealthy-for-you without internalizing the lesson that people who make you feel hurt are inherently unsafe. Remember that when someone has hurt you too much, you don’t have to stay there to help the person who has hurt you come back from it. Sometimes a relationship needs to be over. But you have to let humans be just-humans in your mind. Or else humans will always feel too dangerous for you. And that will leave you very much alone.
There’s another reason you have to remember that even people who hurt you are still just humans. You’re going to hurt someone, too, someday. And if you learned to create your boundaries because the people who hurt you were somehow unworthy, or absolutely bad, then when you discover you also can hurt people, you’re going to feel like giving up all those boundaries you ever made. And that would be very bad. So remember from the beginning that people are just people, because if you create all your boundaries to keep out monsters, those boundaries might come crashing down when you realize people really are just people. And some of those boundaries needed to stay up. Not because there were monsters on the other side of them. Just because the real human on the other side of them was no longer healthy for you. Period. So learn early on to set boundaries just because your relationship with that other person is never going to be healthy for you, even while you see they’re just human.
Healing is going to take a long, long time, and it will be like peeling off the layers of an onion. Trust that process.
It is okay to be frustrated by someone else–that doesn’t mean you don’t love them.
Maybe you couldn’t hear that. Honestly, it really, really, really is okay to be mad. To be disappointed. Annoyed. It is okay to tell someone you don’t like something, that you’re unhappy. You need to express those things sometimes. You don’t have to do it in a mean way, but you do need to say how you really feel. If you don’t, things will get worse, not better.
When you screw up, you don’t have to earn back the right to be loved or to love yourself.
If you feel a desperate need for a thing to make you feel better, remember that there’s an underlying reason you don’t feel good, and until you deal with that underlying reason, you won’t really feel better.
If a thing has helped you make it through the tough times, even if you don’t think it’s healthy and don’t want to keep that thing as a part of who you are, try not to feel guilty about it or angry at yourself because of it. Appreciate what it has done for you. It helped you make it this far.
Let yourself not be okay. Having “problems” is okay.
You are not alone. The world is full of people who understand how you feel.
If you need a therapist, that’s not embarrassing, that’s okay. Therapy is good. For everybody.
“Nice” isn’t all it takes. Honest matters, too.
Don’t be afraid of bullies. They’re hurting people. Do something about it, even if it makes others uncomfortable.
Learn to say no. It isn’t just a thing-you-could-do. It is a skill, a tough skill, one you need to practice, and one that you desperately need to have. Learn how to say no to invitations. No to requests. No to others’ behavior. No to opportunities. Just say the Yeses you actually want to say.
There are lots of safe people in the world. Trust me, you’re going to find some of them and they are going to be amazing.
You will find some people who are safe and don’t want to hurt you or control you even when they are mad at you.
The amazing people in your life are going to have rough days, tough things, moods that don’t match yours. This is okay.
In any given moment, you are not responsible for the happiness of the person next to you.
You need friends. Real friends. More than one.
Even if it’s not normal, connect deeply with people.
Please don’t stop being a little weird. Nobody is normal and that’s what gives each person their unique beauty.
Do your own thing. Just because the world isn’t used to it doesn’t mean it’s bad. Elope. Change your name. Walk to work. Have slumber parties even though you’re an adult. Take drives for no reason. Skip college (without apologizing) or get seven degrees. Eat bell peppers whole like you’d eat an apple. Lay in the grass too long. Drive to the airport just to play the piano. If books and fresh air are your happy things, read a book while you’re taking a walk–even after a bartender says “Hey I recognize you, were you walking down the sidewalk reading a book?” Different isn’t bad. You are different, and you only have one life.
It is okay to do great things.
Don’t put off what you want to do until everyone is okay with it.
Don’t wait for permission to be epic, to do big things, to chase your dreams.
Ask for things.
It is okay to do “unimportant” things.
You don’t have to do the best thing. It is okay to let yourself really love and want something, no matter how insignificant you feel like it is.
Remember to look closely at the things around you, just to see them.
Remember that you will never live a “yesterday” or a “tomorrow.”
It is okay to be happy.
It is okay to be sad.
It is okay to be tired.
When you can’t know that all these things are okay, just breathe.
Sometimes you just need to be alone.
Sometimes you just need to call a friend, and honestly, they probably really want to be there for you.
Again, it is okay to have “problems.”
You don’t need to hide.
You have to let people love you. When someone gives you their love, let it happen. When someone praises you, let yourself smile really, really big. Feel it soak in. Unconditional love from someone who loves you won’t get through to you if you can’t unconditionally accept it. Only letting someone fill your tank when you’re filling their tank back isn’t safer. It will just make you feel a little more alone and unworthy.
Please, please let yourself get a good night’s sleep.
Music helps. You’ll get busy and distracted, so don’t forget about music.
Laugh so much.
Set aside times to think about life.
Take time to be quiet. Like, a lot.
Give more hugs and get more hugs.
P.S. You’re 18. It’s okay if it takes you all your life to learn all these things. Lots of them might not make any sense right now. Lots of things I’m learning still aren’t making sense to me. You’ll always have a little bit of confused-kid in you. So if you don’t know what to think, that’s okay! You don’t need to “get it right.” I promise.
What does your letter look like?
Try writing it. I bet you find it therapeutic. I bet you find that it brings you feelings of compassion, feelings of peace with who you’ve been and where you’ve come. And I bet the stuff you needed to hear then, you still need to hear on some of the weird days now.
And you and I and all these other weird humans with weird life-things are a lot more alike than we tend to think. So I bet your letter helps me, too. I’d really love to read it.
We’re all in this together.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” ~ John Muir
If there were one thing I could convince everyone to do more of, it would be going outside and being in nature.
In the great outdoors you can find peace and rest, freedom and clarity, challenge and excitement, beauty and awe.
So in the interest of inspiring as many people as I can to go find their adventures, here is the little story of another of Lyssi’s and my biggest adventures: The Colorado Rockies.
August 2018, Lyssi and I took a 5 day roadtrip to Colorado. We booked the coziest Airbnb suite in Boulder. Days 1 and 5 were long drives from and back to Minnesota (14ish hours both ways!), leaving us 3 full days to explore! Here are the highlights for you.
Enjoy! I hope that you get to find beautiful, happy places to visit. And if you can’t right now, I hope the pictures from our adventure bring you some of the happiness and wonder of nature! :)
BEAR LAKE TRAILHEAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
After arriving in Estes Park at dawn, we kicked off our first hike in the chilly morning air. We started at Bear Lake Trailhead with an 8-mile loop planned, taking us to a bunch of pretty lakes and waterfalls. No strenuous hiking this day, though the first hour or so we definitely felt the effects of the elevation!
NYMPH LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Our first stop was at Nymph Lake. Aptly named, it looked like a scene from a fairy tale. The next leg of our hike took us to an overlook directly above the little lake, and it couldn’t have been prettier!
DREAM LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Dream Lake is the second of the three lakes in a row along Emerald Lake Trail. It’s a long picturesque lake with the trail running right along the edge.
EMERALD LAKE, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Emerald Lake, the end of its trail. You can see where the Rocky Mountains get their name.
DREAM LAKE AGAIN
Once past Nymph Lake, the trail to Emerald Lake becomes an out-and-back, which means you get to hike by Dream Lake again on the way back.
LAKE HAIYAHA, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Here’s where the trip got fun. Or . . . interesting. ;)
Lake Haiyaha was just to die for. I’d go back and just sit there for hours. Halfway back to the trailhead from Emerald Lake, you can turn off onto the longer Glacier Gorge Trail which eventually loops around past Alberta Falls back to Bear Lake Trailhead. Somewhere along the way you can take Haiyaha Trail out to the sprawling Lake Haiyaha. Its shore all around is made up of big rocks and boulders to clamber over and hide behind. I think this was the most peaceful spot we found all day.
We found our way to another side of the lake and found a quiet spot to just be alone and happy for a while.
Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge
The thing is, to get to and from the trail takes some climbing over rocks, and when we left the lake, there was a little hiccup. Without looking up to see what was above the brim of my hat, I launched myself up onto a rock to hop over it, and I could just feel and hear this CRACK run straight through me. I’d slammed my head directly into a giant rock-solid tree branch hanging over the trail. Blacked out and sat down hard. Said a choice word–sorry families with little kids that were there! I could immediately tell I’d done something legit.
Not only did I give myself whip lash, but it turned out I’d gotten a concussion as well. Which explained the foggy and emotional state I was in for the rest of the trip, and the fact that I couldn’t walk in a straight line too well for a while. But we were four miles out, so we kept on trekking, in between pretty frequent sit-down-and-feel-dazed breaks. And my whole shoulder and arm weren’t too happy. My epic best friend Lyssi insisted on carrying both of our backpacks for a while–and these were heavy backpacks, loaded for an entire day on the trail. Thanks Lys, you’re a champ! ;)
THE LOCH, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
A ways past Lake Haiyaha Trail on Glacier Gorge, you can turn off on The Loch Trail to head up past beautiful green hills with streams and falls. Eventually you get to another big, picture-perfect lake, The Loch.
ALBERTA FALLS, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
The rest of the day as we finished the loop back to Bear Lake Trailhead, we got to see some beautiful mountainous views, some beautiful streams, and Alberta Falls.
SOUTH SAINT VRAIN CANYON
Day 2 we started by driving South Saint Vrain Drive along South Saint Vrain Creek in South Saint Vrain Canyon. Memorable names. Just a beautiful drive, roads winding through brown cliffs and boulders, rushing creek on the side of the road. We hopped out at one spot and enjoyed the rushing water.
Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge
PEAK TO PEAK HIGHWAY
At the end of South Saint Vrain Drive begins one of the most beautiful scenic byways we’ve ever driven: Colorado’s “Peak to Peak Highway.”
After we reached the south end of Peak to Peak Highway, we headed down to Mount Evans. Absolutely worth it, but hands down the scariest road I have ever driven in my life. Up to the peak of the 14,265′ Mount Evans runs the highest paved road in the United States.
A mixture of fast elevation gain, concussion symptoms, and just generally being halfway to space, meant I almost passed out on the drive back down. It was rough. And scary. But man alive what a view! In the picture above, you can see in the upper right corner the road cut out of the side of the mountain. Right along the edge of the road the entire way was just a steep mountainside that just kept going and going and going.
Mount Evans was just . . . massive.
PEAK 12,150, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge
We got to see some Elk sparring at dawn across from Poudre Lake at Milner Pass. We arrived to the trailhead just as it was starting to get light, and the drive there was absolutely incredible. It was foggy, dark, and stormy as we drove Trail Ridge Road from one side of Rocky Mountain National Park to the other. The Alpine Visitor Center lies at the top of Trail Ridge Road, the highest paved through-road in the United States. When we pulled into the Visitor Center at around 5 or 5:30 AM, there was lightning all around us. The fog all around us was flashing yellow and pink. Up above the treeline, where the world is huge. What a morning!
Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge
Our plan had been to hike from Poudre Lake Trailhead to Mount Ida, but more incoming thunderstorms meant a last-minute change of plans. We would have just enough time to get as far as Peak 12,150 and back down below the tree line before the rain started. The mountain we hiked is called Peak 12,150 because it’s not considered its own mountain. Because of the saddle between it and Mount Ida, Peak 12,150 just lacks its own distinct prominence just barely enough that it doesn’t get its own name. However, at 12,150 feet, it is an epic spot!
To this day, I think this was the most awe-inspiring place I have ever had the pleasure of walking. Above the treeline in the Alpine Tundra with the occasional marmot or glacier, and endless views of the Never Summer Mountains to the east. A long, beautiful walk. Very uphill. What a picturesque path!
Oh man, the colors! Other-worldly.
In the picture above, you can see Mount Ida on the right. And on the left is Lyssi taking the last few steps up to the tip-top of Peak 12,150.
Video credit: Alyssa Elbridge
Back below treeline just in time for the rain to start!
ALPINE VISITOR CENTER, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Glaciers in the fog at 11,800′.
OLD FALL RIVER ROAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Pretty stream along Old Fall River Road. The road is a one-way precarious drive on dirt and gravel from the east side of the park up to the Alpine Visitor Center. Very beautiful!
TRAIL RIDGE ROAD, ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK
Near Forest Canyon Overlook on Trail Ridge Road. Goodbye, Rockies! We miss you!
Happy adventuring, everyone!
There’s lots of beauty out there, and lots of thrill! Chase it down!
P.S. As always, thank you Altra Running for being a big reason my feet love hiking miles and miles up and down mountains! :)
P.P.S. And thank you Airbnb and Enterprise Car Rental for making so accessible a life of exploring our big, beautiful world!
P.P.P.S. And thank you Panic! at the Disco for great tunes to sing on our 14 hour drives and thank you Neil Gaiman for writing and narrating Norse Mythology to keep me awake and enthralled for the drives before sunrise. :)
There are lots and lots of people in the world.
And all of them want friends.
Everybody wants the really good kind of friends–the kind that support. The kind you can be real around. The kind that smile and hug and laugh. The kind you can call when you need.
You’re not the only one who feels this deep need to make a friend, to connect.
You’re very much not alone. You just might not know that you’re not alone.
The people really are out there. They all, like you, know what it’s like to be a person. So deep down they, also, are ready for connection.
So make that awkward move. Dare to connect.
You never, ever, ever know what might happen.
Fear plays a funny role in our lives. A funny role, but a very big role.
The earliest fear I remember having, maybe at 3 or 4 years old, was this: My family would be out for a walk. I’d fall behind, and as soon as my family was out of view, gypsies would rush out of the trees to steal me away and make me be their own child. (I had heard about gypsies.)
I remember watching The Elephant Man when I was 9 or 10. I hardly slept for a week. It’s an old black and white–true story–about a man with a deformed head who was put in a circus and ridiculed and died alone. I knew there was a good chance that would happen to me.
Around 11 or 12 I used to sit on the stairs crying because I was quite sure–in fact I knew–that I was going to die. Die early. Die early of one of two diseases: Small pox. Or spinal meningitis. And the morning I woke up with a sore neck after falling asleep propped against my headboard, I knew spinal meningitis was the culprit. I was beginning to die.
I’ve been afraid of lots of silly things in my lifetime. Of spiders laying eggs inside my ear. Of accidentally dropping something on a baby (like I actually had a phobia I’d like toss something on a couch only to discover a baby had been lying there). Of hitting somebody with a line drive if I ever batted a baseball as hard as I could. I have had many strange diseases I learned about on WebMD.
Maybe the scariest possibility of all was put in my 7-year-old head courtesy of my older brother: Bill Clinton and Al Gore were going to sneak into our house in the middle of the night and murder me in my sleep. (Bet you can’t guess which political party I grew up in.)
And then I grew up, and fears became more sophisticated. I’ll accidentally screw up my taxes and get in trouble. I’ll run out of money and become homeless.
So I say yes to things I don’t actually want, because I’m afraid of what someone will think.
More frequently, I say no to things I do want, because what if I screw them up?
What if people discover that I’m not a very cool person? What if nobody likes my blog post? What if I try making a podcast and nobody listens? What if people make fun of me? What if I accept a promotion only to fall flat on my face? What if I make close friends, and those friends let me down? What if I open up to a loved one, and they realize they don’t like me? What if, what if, what if…
Lots of things could go wrong. I could forget to lock the door to my home before I go to sleep. And when I go check to make sure I locked it, I might see it wrong and still leave it unlocked. Oh man… (#thankyoutherapy)
The thing is, I think even though our fears get more sophisticated as we get older, they’re still just exactly what they always were: Just fears.
Fears that you can get past. Fears that probably won’t come true. Fears that, if they do come true, will probably be fine.
Have you ever watched a child learn how to swim? Take their first jump in the pool? They stand there shaking and whimpering. Mom or dad smile and coax them into the pool. “I’ll catch you!” But the child is frozen. “It’s going to be okay. I promise.” But what if you’re wrong, mom? Finally–finally the child decides they want it bad enough to try anyway. They jump. Have you seen what happens to a child’s face in that moment? The terror changes to this incredible feeling of wonder and awe. So many emotions flash across their face: Relief. Excitement. Pride. They did it! They’ve unlocked a whole world of fun and fulfillment. They’re so relieved and excited they can’t help laughing. Giddy. It feels so good.
What’s something you’ve been so, so afraid of, that when you finally did it, you felt a similar relief and pride and excitement? What’s something you really wanted that you couldn’t have for a long, long time, because you were afraid? As Jack Canfield says, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
Sometimes the fear doesn’t just go away once you’ve done your thing. Sometimes when you face your fears, all you feel is capable or healthy.
But I bet that most of your things you’ve done–through the fear–have left you with the incredible realization that it was okay. Even if it didn’t feel okay, you’re all right. Life’s not over. You are strong. You CAN.
But fear is still scary.
So in case it helps, I have 4 questions I’d like to suggest that you ask yourself about fear. 4 questions to quietly reflect on and answer thoughtfully:
1. What is something you haven’t done/aren’t doing because you’re afraid?
2. On a scale from 1-10, how vague is the outcome you’ve been afraid of?
3. What are the realistic possible outcomes? The good? The bad? If the bad happened, how would you deal with it? (Be very specific.)
4. What one step could you take today to move toward that thing you’ve been too afraid to do?
I don’t think answering these questions will make you unafraid.
But I do think when you answer question 1, you’ll realize that you want to do your thing even though you’re afraid.
And when you answer question 2, you’ll realize you’re mostly just afraid of the dark. You’re afraid because you have no idea what possibilities are lurking on the other side of your fear. As the iconic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft put it, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”
And when you answer question 3, you’ll realize that when you switch the lights on and take a more realistic, honest, specific look at what was in the dark, it’s never quite as awful as you thought. In fact, the whole thing might be quite safe.
And when you answer question 4, you’ll be starting your new journey. A journey toward the life you want and dream of. No matter how scared you are.
Because you see fear for what it is: Just fear.
You’ve got this.
And you’re going to be okay.