Letter to my 23-year-old self


In her lead up to the close of Design*Sponge, Grace Bonney has been posting a series of essays looking back on what she’s learned in the past 15 years of running the site. Inspired by a reader question she wrote a letter to her 23 year old self and invited others to do the same. Here is mine.

Dear 23-year old Anne,

I know you've seen the world—and literally traveled around it— already. Keep in mind that's not something everyone does. You may not feel it but it comes with a certain privilege, so keep telling your stories like you do to help make the world a little smaller. And most importantly, keep your curiosity—it will serve you well!

I know you will always think of yourself as "the quiet one" from elementary school who didn't talk much, and the new girl who ate alone at lunch in middle school and high school for far too long, but you are so much more than your appearances let on. As mom will later say, "you were the quiet observer taking it all in." Your independence is a strength, but at the same time don't be afraid to ask for help, or to let others into your life. Just because you can do it alone, doesn't mean you have to.

I know you don't think your parents are as young, hip, or cool as other parents, and already warmed up to this and gone beyond the surface. Rest assured your parents and grandparents have fascinating stories when you're ready to dig deeper. Just don't wait too long! Life moves fast and comes with its own curveballs. Your parents have prepared you well, but that doesn't make anything on the road ahead easy.

You've always had a certain inherent level of motivation which has served you well, but don’t let it be a crutch. I see how you're more focused on figuring out what you don't want to do, rather than what you want to do. There's a whole world out there, and it's great to be open to possibilities you never knew existed. You may be out of school now, but don't be afraid to "geek out" about subjects that interest you. It will give you more clarity on next steps.

I know you said you have desire to go back to school to get a Masters, and have never considered being an entrepreneur. I know you know you’ve got a stubborn side too. Take note of these realizations because they're always interesting to look back on. I will say life is not a straight line. As someone who has never been one to take the typical or traditional path, it may get messy sometimes. But embrace the journey. Trust your gut! It's a good one. (As mom says, you have "your own special gyroscope.")

Whatever path you take never stop learning. You probably think learning is what you do in school, but it happens in so many ways. Surround yourself with people you can learn from, and don't be afraid to reach out to people who can be your mentors (teachers, working professionals, people you respect). I know this concept is newer to you, but you can learn a lot from the experience of others. In college I know you'd reach out to professors from time to time, but don't be afraid to build and foster these relationships so they're when/if you need them down the line. I have faith that you'll still carve your own path it's just a reminder as a strong, fiercely independent woman you don't have to do it alone. You have amazing friends who are there for you too. (I know, I know, I’ve already said this and I know you’re getting annoyed.)

You already embody the super power of listening. As you get older you'll be amazed (appalled) at how bad so many people are at doing this! Don’t take it for granted. Your other super power is asking questions. I know you're rolling your eyes at me now, but hear me out. People often think they have it all figured out—they may even make you question yourself—but not everyone is working towards the right problem, or with the right priorities. Many people are trying to be who they're supposed to be, rather than who they want to be. From your studies in anthropology, semester in Paris, and semester around the world on Semester at Sea, you are primed for asking questions and seeing things differently, so don't be afraid to use it. It will also help guide you on your own journey.

I know waking up at 5:30am in college and telling the crew guys what to do before sunrise is your normal, but it’s not everyone else’s. Remember that. Keep taking the world in. You have a gift that not everyone has. Embrace and use it. Not everyone will understand what you do in life, but that’s OK. This is your life, not theirs.

The world around you moves fast, but that doesn't mean you have to get stuck in the hustle where “busy is a badge of honor.” Take it at your own pace, as you always have. You do you.

There are a lot of distractions out there. If you're ever feeling lost, return to what you know and what brings you joy. Life’s an adventure, so you may as well have fun along the way!

38-year old Anne

{Still trying to dig up a picture of my ~23 year old self.}

After 15 years Design*Sponge is closing its doors. I was the first DesignSponge intern, turned contributing editor for six years. Recently Grace invited me to reflect back on my time on a "Where are they now" post.

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