A Letter to My 28-Year-Old Self

From a wiser, stronger Evy who finally started a blog when she was 40.

Feb 18, 2022
Is it possible or even desirable to alleviate a young adult's angst about life?
I don't want anyone to be in pain. But can you grow without the emotional turmoil of your twenties?
Maybe you can and we have become obsessed with the “no pain no gain” philosophy, but let’s assume that like building muscle, building character requires stress for adaptations to occur.
When I was 28 years old, I was living in France, married to a nice person, but the wrong partner for me.
I smoked a pack of Camel Lights every day.
I didn't work out.
Heck, I still wore color. 
I was so indecisive I couldn't pick a book to read.
If I had to do something new, I would Google for hours looking for the answer instead of slowing down and thinking.
I barely had savings because I had been working in Sierra Leone for one-third of the entry level salary I had been making a few years before that in Washington, DC.
I was finishing a grad school program in marketing because I couldn't find a job in France in biodiversity conservation, which was my first profession. 
Even if I could have found a job in that field, I felt so jaded after working in the international aid industry, all I wanted was to join the private sector.
I found living in France to be harder than living in Africa. 
It took me time to put my finger on why this would be, but ultimately I decided it was because when a Minnesotan goes to Africa, it is expected to be very different. But when she goes to France, everything and everyone is similar enough to fool you into thinking it's the same, but it's not. 
There is this subtle undertone of not fitting in that just sits there below the surface all the time.
Despite being afraid of everything, I would still jump head first into opportunities even if it meant barely being able to breath before a presentation or crying myself to sleep because I was worried about failure. 
I credit this ability for much of my success. However, I wonder just how much more I could have accomplished between then and now if I didn't dwell so hard on the angst.
Looking back, I see everything in discrete chunks. 
I was a kid. I became a stressed out young adult. I got over it. 
As if one day I woke up and knew what I wanted and how I wanted to be in the world. 
That didn't happen.
Things remained emotionally rough into my thirties.
I moved back to the U.S., got divorced, pushed myself professionally, met my life partner, found CrossFit, and mastered proper nutrition. 
All of those changes were gradual. Nothing came easy. 
They all involved many deep discussions, lots of starts and stops, and emotional processing. 
I don’t pretend to have it all figured out but a sense of calm confidence has emerged.
It’s common to hear people say your 30s are better than your 20s and your 40s are better than your 30s. 
Are we saying, “just muster through until you are older and then life is better?” 
That’s not right. 
The biggest difference between my 28-year-old self and me today is that I’ve learned how to do hard things gracefully.
Hard things don’t feel easier today, rather I have learned to separate the emotional turmoil of doing something from the act of doing it.
How? Here’s my attempt at explaining what I do when something feels hard: 
  1. I let go of the feeling that I would rather be doing something more enjoyable.
  2. I accept that whatever I am doing will take longer than I want it to.
  3. I put a box around the thing I’m trying to do and forget about all the other things that will be waiting for me when I get done with the thing I am focusing on now.
  4. I attack the problem by listing out the questions I need to answer and I start chipping away.
  5. I throw paint on the wall, but I'm not overly committed to form. 
  6. I ask for help when I need it. 
Was that helpful?! 
So I promised a letter to my 28-year-old self… 
Dear Evy,  This life thing is tough and you've got to learn a lot.  You'll continue to experience pain, frustration and fear.  You’ll also develop your voice and find your direction.  It doesn’t get easier per se. But you will get better at living.  You will develop pattern recognition and skills that help you navigate situations that stress you out today more gracefully.  You’ll get more practice under your belt and this will give you confidence.   Try writing it all down. It sounds cliche but I wish I would have journaled more regularly. It gives you an outlet to express all the things in your head. It helps you process faster. It shows you progression over time. It helps you laugh at yourself when needed. Keep pushing. Keep learning. With confidence,  Your wise future self who finally started a blog when she was 40. -Evy
Phew, that was deep.
Next week I promise to bring this back to something less esoteric… like how to eat more protein.
Some of my favorite past posts: