by Lakshmi Sadhu

An open letter of advice to my 18-year-old self

Dearest Lakshmi,

First of all, calm down.

Seriously.

You’re lucky you didn’t get a heart attack from all your worrying about the future.

Secondly, I know you’re kind of weirded out about being called “Lakshmi”. There was this mess-up at the passport office. You should suspect dad, even though he insists it was the officer’s mistake. Anyway, now everyone calls you Lakshmi. Don’t worry about it, because your close friends will still use your real name. By the way, I regret to inform you that you are not going to magically wake up one day, and start having “grown-up thoughts”, whatever those are. Turns out those don’t exist. And even if they do, you sure as hell don’t have them. People don’t ever really grow up, they mostly just grow old.

Don’t spend the summer after your high school graduation in such despair. I know you’re anxiously awaiting the results of your 12th grade board exams, and I know that those results have the power to effectively make or break your entire future, but you’re NOT going to fail them! You will also get accepted to a top-tier university, so don’t waste time worrying about this either.

While you still can, spend as much time as possible with your high school friends. University will change you (and them), and two years from now you will all be too different to be able to really relate to each other again. This will both surprise and sadden you. It’s okay. Spend as much time as you can with your brother. I know he doesn’t outright express his emotions, but it’s going to be very hard on him when you leave.

Please take up an interest in fitness effective immediately; learn a new sport, go for yoga classes, or hit the gym, instead of spending your summer lounging on your bed watching East Asian TV shows. You’ll understand why when you turn 19. Also, stop stuffing your face with all that junk; enjoy ma’s home-cooking instead. You’re going to miss her food like crazy when you first go to Canada, especially mudda pappu and rasam.

Move-in day at your dorm will be a nerve-racking experience. Everything will look scarily unfamiliar – the people, the culture, and the environment. But you’re going to fit right in, don’t be scared. You and your first roommate are not going to be best friends, but you are going to get along perfectly well, and that’s more than enough. The friends you make in the first year of university will not be the same friends you’ll have in the second year of university, let alone the last year of university. And that’s totally okay! Friends come and go, and you need to learn how to let them go when they go. Most importantly, you don’t need to run after someone who doesn’t know your worth.

Don’t laugh at something if it’s not funny. Don’t blindly agree with someone just to get along with them. I can’t stress how important it is to be true to your feelings, ideals, opinions. People don’t realise that every time they dance to the tunes of someone else, even if they don’t want to, a small part of them dies a permanent death inside.

First year of university is the easiest academically, so don’t do your assignments last-minute. Seriously, don’t. You’ll regret your first year’s GPA when you’re older. You really haven’t the slightest clue just what a special place university is. I know it’s hard to enjoy your courses when you’re so busy trying to pass them, but please, please, try your best to relish every moment. Slow down. The amount of knowledge you have access to is incredible; it’s just waiting for you to pay attention to it. Talk as much as you can with your professors – don’t feel shy – because those conversations can change your life. There’s so much to learn, so much freedom to let your intellectual powers loose, to engage and be engaged – you may not ever get this kind of freedom again. You’ll realise just how much you love philosophy when you’re my age and wish you could do all your courses again, but this time with tender reverence for the beautiful art that philosophy really is.

In your second year of university, you will move out of your dorm and live alone for the first time in your life. It will be the most painfully challenging two years of your entire life, emotionally. Your quarter-life crisis combined with an existential crisis will be at an all-time peak, and you will struggle with the sudden independence and burden of living alone, of learning how to care for yourself without any solid support structure. Don’t push people away when this happens, that’s counter-intuitive to coping with loneliness, depression, and anxiety. Stress is in your mind, not out in the world. Some of the hardest times you go through will be the ones you give yourself. You will gain a few emotional scars during this whole ordeal, but you’ll make it through, I promise. You’ll be stronger and wiser than you’ve ever been.

You need to know that you are fiercely resilient. You always have been. Trust yourself.

You’ll also meet a boy during this challenging time in your life. He’ll be smitten by you. Don’t turn him away so quickly. He’s a good guy. When inebriation allows him to muster up enough courage to ask you out for a movie on Valentine’s Day, say yes. Give him a chance. You’ll still think about him sometimes when you’re older, and wonder what could have been with him.

Also, stop worrying so much about your future; you’re going to be ecstatic to find out that you’ll get accepted to another top-tier graduate university for journalism! Yup, you read that right. Journalism, not law. You’re going to do an internship at this firm, which will bore you straight into a grave. It’s okay. Dad’s not going to be too excited about your decision to stop pursuing law at first, but he’ll warm up to it soon enough. You don’t need to feel pressured when your family, or anyone, asks you what you want to pursue as a career. Tell them you don’t know. Tell them you’ll think about it when the time comes. It’s okay not to know. Take your time.

Don’t feel like you’re a failure just because you didn’t graduate in four years, because your fifth year of university will play a pivotal role in helping you get into graduate school. Everyone’s path is different, and you don’t need to follow the herd (of course, you’ve always been far too bull-headed for that).

Your personal life will take a turn for the worse in fifth year. You need to be kind when that happens, kinder than you think you’re capable of being. Everyone’s just trying their best, so cut your family some slack. Listen better. You don’t need to change anything, in fact you can’t change anything. Just be as loving and grateful as possible for what you have. If you only spend your time lamenting what you’ve lost, what you don’t have, you’re going to miss out on all the ways you’re blessed. And you are incredibly blessed, much more than you think.

Life very rarely is predictable. When you least expect it, it will snatch the rug right out from under you, leaving you to face-plant on the floor. You don’t need to live in fear for when those moments arrive, though, because when they do, you can trust your courage and adaptability to keep you from losing your footing for more than a moment.

Colour your hair weird colours. University is the only time you can actually get away with that. Get a piercing. Get a small tattoo somewhere. It’s not a big deal. I know you want to. Stop thinking yourself out of all the fun things you want to do. Get out of your bubble of fear. You know all those things that make you feel confident and alive? All those are outside your comfort zone. Get uncomfortable daily; magical things happen when you do.

Stop worrying about awkwardness. Awkwardness is relative, temporary, and useful. It’ll show you where your insecurities are. Lean into it, instead of leaning away from it. Only then can you transcend your vulnerabilities, and become stronger, better, and braver. Explore more. Don’t be attached to your self-image, it’s an illusion. You can break and mould yourself however you want. Don’t ever be worried about putting yourself out there – it’s not going to kill you. There are so many things you want to do, but you constantly question yourself. There are no such things as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ decisions! There are only decisions.

As Carlos Castaneda said: “In a world where death is the hunter, my friend, there is no time for regrets or doubts. There is only time for decisions.”

Pray more. Meditate more. Love more. Exercise more. Be grateful some more. Nothing is going to be the same ever again.

But you’re going to be just fine, kiddo.

Love always,

Your 22-year-old self.