Dear Girl: A Letter to My Younger Self as I Look at 50

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Dear Girl: A Letter to My Younger Self as I Look at 50In a mere 10 days, I will celebrate my 50th birthday.

Back when I thought I knew everything, I believed I’d never shy away from my age or sharing it with others. But now? Mostly because of how our culture thinks of women of a certain age…I’m pretty sure my LFD has come and gone in society’s eyes. Coming up to this big number birthday has challenged every belief about age I’ve ever had, in good and more difficult ways, but it has definitely left me thinking a lot about young me and how very little she knew and all the lessons that awaited her — pain, joy, hopes abandoned, regret. She couldn’t see any of that coming and I wish I could prepare her, gird her up, and soften the blows. If I could, I’d love to sit 30-year-old Dawn down for a heart-to-heart. In lieu of time-traveling and screwing up several timelines, I’ve written a letter to that now gone version of myself…

Dear Girl,

Hey…wow! You feel so excited right now. You turn 30 in a few days and everything seems golden right now. You’ll celebrate with Courtney, your best friend forever. Guess what? Y’all are still best friends and you still call each other Freakshow, although now it’s less frequent and done from afar because that’s how grown-up life is. When you’re together, y’all are going to laugh about how old you are…still 11 months older than her. It’s just jokes…you don’t really feel old. Life feels kind of amazing right now, in fact. You’ve got a great job and you travel for work. You don’t know it yet, but at the end of the year, your boss leaves the company and you get promoted to her job as Director of Marketing! You get a big bump in pay and you’ll be making more money than your mom ever did her entire career. Enjoy it! And don’t spend it all. Of course, you also get married this year. Hope and possibility abound.

You don’t feel entirely happy though. You know your husband-to-be loves you, but he’d probably love you more if you were skinnier. You want to lose 20 lbs. so you can reach your college weight of 110. Honey, anorexia is not a good look. You have no idea how great you look already. In fact, you have no idea about anything! How could you? Your life hasn’t been easy, but it hasn’t broken you yet. But, oh sweet girl! You will break. And there’s a part of me that so wishes I could shield you from the pain. I also know you need that pain. Without it, you’ll never know just what you’re capable of. Still, if I could tell you these things and soften the blows or prepare you, I absolutely would.

First off, you need to know that marriage won’t save you or fulfill you.

You long to feel loved completely and unconditionally. I hate to tell you that marriage doesn’t offer that. Neither does having kids. Oh…your kids will love you and you’ve never loved as intensely as you’ll love those boys of yours. Being a wife and mother, unfortunately, doesn’t close old wounds and fill you up the way you think it will. I’m sorry. You’re going to spend a lot of the next 20 years trying to figure out what does fulfill you. I can tell you – spoilers! – that work, creative work with meaning, work that benefits others, really seems to be something you need. You’ll end up channeling some of that energy into blogging (I know, what the heck is that?) in the hope you can help other women facing similar challenges just for a taste of meaning.

Next, I need you to know that you lose yourself.

For a while. Don’t feel bad. A lot of women do that when they marry and have kids. Because of your people-pleasing nature, you just take it a little too far. You know how you always felt like you had to take care of your mom and keep her happy or she’d stop loving you? Yeah…that…you carried that fear and need into your marriage and parenthood and every other relationship until you forgot to take care of yourself or even who you were, what you liked, or needed.

By giving so much of yourself to others and trying so hard to be what they needed and wanted you to be, you set yourself up for an impossible task and completely neglected to care for yourself. You narrowly miss being hospitalized when your mind and body rebel and you have the flu, walking pneumonia, and lose hearing in one ear for six weeks on top of having post-partum depression. If I could stop you, warn you, teach you to love yourself as much as you love everyone else, Girl, I would! I would tell you that you deserve sleep and your husband can get up and change a diaper or give a bottle once in a while. I’d tell you to hire a housekeeper and to go on that beach trip with your girlfriends. I’d definitely tell you to sleep more, a lot more, and to ask for what you need instead of just being angry that no one around you knows what you need. I’d say make yourself happy instead of worrying about everyone else’s happiness. 

Know this, though…you do find yourself again. It’s a journey and at you are so different. Kind of like the Bionic Woman…new, different, better than before, I think. But, before you get there, Girl, you know so much pain, both your own and the shared pain of friends and loved ones. The term “adulting” hasn’t been coined yet, but you have no idea how hard adulting really is.

You’ll spend a week in bed sobbing after a miscarriage. You’ll lose your mom and be surprised that you miss her even though she never made amends. And you have absolutely no idea how hard marriage can be or that most people lie about how hard marriage can be. You’ll feel alone, and isolated, and like you’re the only one struggling with any of it. You’ll have two beautiful, amazing sons, but you’ll question every parenting decision for a while and you’ll have to confront your expectations of what you thought parenting would be like versus reality. 

On the flip side of that, you’ll meet and form evergreen friendships with amazing women whom you meet because of your kids. And, you’ll learn that love is action, a choice to keep showing up even in the hard moments, every day. 

You’re going to have a constant voice in your head for a while I’m afraid…a lingering ghost telling you you’re not enough – not young enough; not skinny enough; not smart enough or pretty enough or funny enough or put together or organized enough or successful enough. You will compare yourself to others and it will eat you up. I so want to scream at you to stop listening to that voice, to stop comparing yourself and your life to others. And I want to strangle the people around you who feed that voice with their own negativity. This is your darkest moment. You will feel inadequate, ashamed, alone, and hurt. All of that pain and shame looks like anger and judgment and I hate to tell you, but you lose some friends because all your pain and rage scare them. But get this…one day…one day you realize you’re letting your pain consume you and you realize how tired you are of carrying all that pain and anger and you just put it down. And you decide to try on compassion and you start to wonder what kind of pain someone must carry for them to hurt you. Instead of doubling-down on the mean voice in your head that says you’re fat and old and a failure, you start to think about how someone else must have made that inner critic of yours feel really terrible about herself and maybe, you can be a loving voice instead. And so, it builds. Sometimes, it’s one step forward, two steps back. And honestly, sometimes that ugly voice still sneaks in. But, hear this…all of this pain and the challenges, but also the people, the friends and mentors and therapists and people you’ve never actually met who stick by you and love you in and out of the mess, that will transform you.

As you choose gratitude and joy and kindness and a million other positive choices, here you are.

Kinder. More hopeful. Different. In love with life, imperfections and all. Following a path of learning, growth, and openness you can’t imagine yet. Free from a lot of your hangups and insecurities while confronting new ones, including insecurity about your age. But, hang on, young Dawn because we’re not done yet. And I’m going to leave you with the lyrics to a song that brought you out of the dark a few years ago. I wish I could imprint it on your heart and mind and save you from the pain, but I can’t…and I wouldn’t be here now, stronger, more capable and more whole than I’ve ever been if you didn’t bear all of that. So, here you go. I wish I could imprint this on your heart to help you remember who you are and let you know it’s all going to be okay…

You were the girl with the blazing heart on fire
Free, as a dress in the breeze
Hanging on a laundry line, in the sunshine

You had the eyes, saw the beauty in the mess
Love in the moment, on the fly
And you figured out the rest
You were fearless

Who threw the punch that you couldn’t handle?
What came along, blew out your candle?
Love, gotta light it back up

Maybe it’s just yourself that you’re fighting
Keeping the shine in, your star from rising up
Gotta light it back up

Won’t let you sink, like a stone to the bottom, bottom
Let me remind you of the you you’ve forgotten
It’s just a road, it’s just the wave that you’re riding

I know it’s rough, gotta get back up
Light it back up

Who threw the punch that you couldn’t handle?
What came along, blew out your candle?
Love, gotta light it back up

Maybe it’s just yourself that you’re fighting
Keeping the shine in, your star from rising up
Gotta light it back up

Won’t let you sink, like a stone to the bottom, bottom
Let me remind you of the you you’ve forgotten
It’s just a road, It’s just the wave that you’re riding

I know it’s rough, gotta get back up
Light it back up

You were the girl with the blazing heart on fire

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Hey, y’all! I’m Dawn – a native Tennessean who could not wait to escape the small town for the big city. After attending a women’s college in Atlanta, I took root there and stayed. One marriage, two homes, two kids, and 25 years later, here I am, back in Tennessee. My husband moved here in January of 2016 to start a new job while our two boys, Brendan (born 2003) and Beckett (born 2006), and I stayed behind to finish the school year and sell our house. We arrived in July 2016 and have been working to make a happy new home here since then. We love living on the North Shore and I am enjoying finding unexpected beauty and little joys throughout our new city. I am also mama to fur babies, Josie the Rhodesian Ridgeback/Lab mix, and Miller, a sweet orange and white tabby cat. I'm into art, movies, music, TV, pop culture, nerdy stuff like Doctor Who and Game of Thrones and I know more than my share about the DC Universe, Pokemon, Minecraft, Battlefield, and all things LEGO thanks to having two boys.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Dawn,
    I felt like you were speaking to me instead of yourself. You are beautiful inside and outside. Love you And Thanks for sharing.

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