Sunday, December 11, 2011

Come on in, the Future is Fine.

This one is going to take a little more creativity and thought. Last time I wrote a letter to my 22 year old self. But what would my 62 year old self want my 42 year old self to know right now?

Dear Brooke (age 42):
Greetings from 2031! Yes, the world is still here and humanity is chugging along quite nicely. Although some things will never change, all in all humans are evolving. We have achieved so much in 20 years and you are personally doing splendidly.  In fact, your life is everything you hoped it would be. No regrets. You are in the ideal position to answer your life calling and--although the path is sometimes fuzzy--your trajectory in 2011 really is leading you just where you want to go. So this is what I have to say to you. Listen:

Stop worrying! Sometimes you can see how far you've come and sometimes you are just too hard on yourself. Where you are in your life right now is perfect. It is a wonderful time. You will look back at this time in your life with great fondness. Your children are at such a fun age and you are enjoying them immensely. This is a good thing. A great thing. So you worry that you aren't accomplishing as much as you should professionally, that you should be making more money, that you should be more "successful." Do us both a favor and stop "shoulding" all over the place. You need to see that you already are successful. You are on the right track. It's not about the money right now. It's about your kids. Remind yourself of one of your favorite facts: Even United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor took several years off to raise her children. I'm not sitting here at 62 saying, "Gee, I should have spent more time at the office and less time with Macie and Lucas." You know what my perspective is in 2031? This is it: I can't believe my babies are all grown up. It just flew by so fast. I'm so glad I didn't miss it. The school-age years were such precious times. I wouldn't trade them for all the money, power or conventional success in the world. In 2011 they are 8 and 10 years old. In 2031 they are 28 and 30 years old. Happy, healthy, productive good citizens blessed with a terrific, nurturing childhood contributed to largely in part by having had joyful, loving and involved parents. Congratulations! You are doing the right thing by prioritizing your children at this time in your and their lives. Besides your business is doing just fine and it's only going to get better. As you have more time to devote to building your career, your career will grow and thrive. You have the perfect work/life balance right now. So quit worrying. Everything is progressing the way it should. It's all going to come together beautifully. You'll see.

Stop feeling guilty! What is it with you? Why is it that whatever you are doing, you think you ought to be doing something else? Can't you see that whatever you are doing is what you are supposed to be doing right now? That is why you are doing it. When you are working, you feel you should be exercising. When you are exercising, you feel you should be working. When you are resting, you feel like you should be doing something "more productive." You are actually doing a rather fabulous job of having it all. You have everything you need. Everything is perfect just the way it is. Enjoy the moment. Be mindful of whatever you are doing at the time you are doing it. There is time for everything. One step at a time. Have a little more faith in your choices. Cut yourself some slack.

Stop being afraid!  There is nothing to fear. You may not always be able to control what happens to you but you are always able to choose how you will react to it. Know that you will face whatever comes your way and you will handle it with grace and dignity. You will make the most of everything life hands you. You have always exhibited resilience in the face of adversity and you will continue to do so. Believe in yourself and what you stand for. Stay true to yourself and your message. Don't let the naysayers and adversaries bring you down. Listen to whatever criticism you can use to improve and grow and let go of the rest. Align yourself with people who will mentor and support you. Friends and teachers are all around you.  Ask for help and you shall receive it. It all comes together when it is supposed to. Remember that "o fim sempre da certo"--everything always works out in the end.  It is only a matter of seeing it as so, remembering that there is a lesson to be learned, learning it and moving on. You've always been good at seeing and learning and incorporating new information. Keep the faith.

The cool thing about being 62 is that it is much easier now to internalize these concepts and be at peace with myself. At 42, although you know intellectually that I speak true, you still struggle to stay in the moment. You have to keep practicing patience, tolerance and compassion as well as loving and forgiving yourself and others; but trust me, you are well on your way. Be happy knowing that you will be everything you want to be when the time is right. You know how you wish you were smarter, wiser, and more Zen-like? You know how you wish you had 20 more years of experience? I'm happy to report that age provides for this. You got it. It's just that time takes time.

So please enjoy your 40s and stop second-guessing yourself. This is a beautiful time for you. Appreciate it. Also, your instincts are great. They have never steered you wrong. I know you can't see the future from where you are, but I can promise you it will be a bright one. Everything is as it should be. I should know, right? Now you know this: I am proud of the woman that you are right now as well as the woman you are becoming. And the best is indeed yet to come, so relax and hang in there, Sister. I'm rooting for you.
Much love, Brooke (age 62)

Friday, December 2, 2011

Letters to Myself

What if we really could travel in time and visit our older or younger selves? What wisdom could we share? What comfort could we provide? What advice would we give? First I thought it would be fun to travel back twenty years to December 1991 where I am 22 years old and a graduate assistant at the University of Florida's Center for Latin American Studies. This is an exciting time for me as I am waiting to embark on a year of scholarship and travel in South America, first with a Fulbright fellowship program in Belo Horizonte, Brazil and then as a Rotary International Ambassadorial Scholar of Good Will in Buenos Aires, Argentina:

Dear Brooke (age 22):
Greetings from 2011! I smile as I think about you. The world is literally at your feet. As a Latin American Studies and Spanish major at the University of Virginia, you were bitten hard by the travel bug and you are taking it as far as you can go. Although the economy is terrible, you have brilliantly found a way to continue to travel and study culture and languages without having to get a real job. You are old enough to enjoy all the perks and freedoms of adulthood and young enough to not yet know the burdens of taxes and mortgages and other grown-up responsibilities. Hurray!

At this point you are still the Golden Girl. Everything always works out for you. Nothing bad ever happens to you. You are still in your age of innocence. You have yet to know real pain and suffering. Life is easy and happy, although you still manage to fret over things like your weight, boyfriends and that one professor you got assigned to work with because nobody else wanted to deal with her insanity, and you are the low woman on the totem poll. You can handle it.

Just soak it up, Baby! Enjoy the bliss of the innocent. You are having experiences, visiting places and making friends you will carry with you for the rest of your life. You love who you are and so far your life is everything you hoped it would be. Travel. Explore. Learn. Live. Things are going to continue to go your way, for the most part. You are young and beautiful and educated and free. You don't have to worry about anything yet, and why should you? 1992 will be your most amazing year yet.

Maybe I shouldn't tell you this, but these are the days that will shore you up when the Tragedy happens. This makes no sense to you now, but in another year or two you will finally know grief and loss. Your eyes will be opened. You will understand for the first time true pain and suffering. You think you already know these things but you don't. The shell around your soul will break open and you will have a greater awakening about the Universe. But don't worry, you will be okay. In fact, this will prove to be the pivotal experience that makes you a deeper, wiser, more empathic and spiritual person. After experiencing this true loss and grief, you will learn more about yourself and how to pick up the pieces when life falls apart and how to keep moving on.  This will prove to be an inspiration to others. You will reclaim your happiness and continue on in your journey of this wonderful gift that is your life. When you are in your deepest pain, try to remember your life as it is now in 1991 and 1992. Remember that who you are right now is your true self.

And don't worry, even with the Tragedy in 1993, you still have a few more years of travel and study and adventure. You will fall in and out of love several times yet. More of your dreams will come true. You will make it into and graduate from Harvard Law School, where you will meet more amazing people and do more amazing things. In fact, until your graduation from law school in 1996, these are the times you will look back on wistfully when your obligations and priorities change first to making money and then to being married and raising your children.

Actually, despite your dreams and intentions of creating world peace and building infrastructure in developing countries, you are actually going to go the corporate route. Despite your world travels, Corporate America is going to be the biggest culture shock of your princess life. You will get your butt kicked. You will question and doubt yourself, lose sight of the Golden Girl that you are and feel a lot less interesting and brilliant than your former self. But this all serves a purpose. Another great awakening. The real world can't wait forever and learning doesn't stop just because you graduate from school. Besides, your dreams and goals will change and you will decide to forgo that international trajectory for staying close to home, marrying the all-American boy next door, having 2.3 kids and a house and yard with a white picket fence. So don't cry too long over the boys who will break your heart and stop fretting over things like your weight and whether or not you will ever meet Mr. Right. You will, you will. Just go and do and be. Have your travels and adventures.

Writing to you from 2011, I can tell you that the economy is the pits again, and your wanderlust is in check because your kids aren't old enough to appreciate exotic places yet, and even if they were, you and your husband are too busy putting all that money towards their college education and a mortgage payment to feel like you can spend the money anyhow. So enjoy your 20-something freedom and do not fret, even though you will eventually face some great life-altering challenges. Your life force is very strong and will continue to be so despite what comes. So, keep making wonderful memories to squirrel away for those middle-aged years when you have to be more responsible. Do I make it sound boring? Not at all. Marriage and motherhood are their own special adventure you will not want to miss. You think you are having a good time now? Believe me, nothing you will ever do will be as awesome is being a mom. You'll see.

But for right now, you have so much to look forward to. You will never be this young again. I'm really excited for you and your bright future. Always appreciate it, for you are truly blessed.
Oh, and when you and Laura are on that bus in Bolivia don't just stop at Lake Titicaca, go all the way into Peru and climb Machu Picchu while you still can. Despite my best intentions, it's 2011 and I still haven't made it back. Perhaps there is still time. Maybe I'll take the family.
Love, Brooke (age 42)