Dear 19-year-old Isobel,
You are currently in Fiji having the time of your life volunteering, meeting new people, making special connections, and learning lessons that you won’t ever obtain from a textbook. What fun! This is a special time for you, because you have ventured out of your comfort zone, you are experiencing a new level of maturity and capability, and you are seeing life through the lens of a very different culture. I am proud of you, but I always am. This opportunity is teaching you to be reflective, to love more fearlessly, and to reassess some long-held assumptions about life. This is an adventure. An adventure that requires all of your attention. So, please don’t worry too much about what you will do when you return, because I promise you, that will all pan out rather well. Sit in the moment, soak up the present, and go with the flow. As soon as you are home you will wish you weren’t, so just enjoy the precious time you have left in this beautiful place.
In a couple of months, you will return home to Australia, to your family, to your friends, and to a way of life that is causing you a bit of reverse culture shock. This will inspire you to reminisce on your time spent away. Additionally, it will bring about some anxiety pertaining to who you are now and how you have changed. Time spent away from home will uncover and reinforce new interests and passions, thereby, you will possess an incessant need to understand everything around you and the ways of this world. What? Why? Who? When? And how? You continue to be as inquisitive now, as you are today. Never lose your appetite for inquiry. Curiosity is such a wonderful attribute to hold. Your curious eyes will take you far, keep life interesting, and help you to navigate the ebbs and flows of a life yet to make itself known to you.
Anxiety will rear its head from time to time. Therefore, continue to expand on your understandings of this sensation. Talk about it with those you trust and don’t keep fobbing it off as something that doesn’t matter. Nurture it please. It will not ‘just go away’. It’s one of those things you must learn to live with, however, it is not purely a depressing and frustrating inconvenience. Though it’s difficult to imagine now, but one day, you will learn to love yourself in spite of your anxiety and all that comes with it. Anxiety can be beautiful. It has its strengths too.
Your tertiary studies are bringing you joy and you are naturally forming a greater awareness for what you like and dislike. You still don’t know what you want to do, but you love learning, particularly about people, places, cultures, human behaviour, environmental history and science, and ecological and social sustainability. You are beginning to realise that a career working primarily with the natural environment is more your cup of tea than one in foreign affairs and politics. This realisation will continue to evolve, as most ideas do, and morph into something unexpected. Indecision, particularly career indecision, will plague you for a while to come. I can confidently tell you now, that you are still wrestling with this beast at twenty-four, but you are young and human, it is okay. Perhaps, try not to think of it as indecision. Indecision can wear negative connotations, and in this context, I don’t think such connotations are appropriate, particularly at such a young age when new experiences are just that, new, and there is so much to discover for the first time. You shouldn’t feel insecure about being young, curious, and open to change. You are simply learning, and you always will be, even after you find what you think you know you want to do with your five days a week (or maybe four! #4DayWorkWeek). In time, you will learn to be more patient with yourself and trusting of your journey. Rome wasn’t built in a day, as they say.
Don’t get too caught up on having a single purpose. This is a very toxic and frankly, rather futile pursuit, much like the pursuit of happiness. There is no ‘single’ thing you are destined to do or life you ‘should’ lead. You are a complex person. You are multiple things. You feel multiple things. You do multiple things. This personal complexity is unique to every human on Earth. You will slowly learn to not only perceive the world more holistically, but yourself too. Your family give you purpose, your friends give you purpose, daydreaming gives you purpose, volunteering gives you purpose, learning gives you purpose, your dogs give you purpose. You get the idea. I know that you see other people choosing pathways that have already been stamped out by those before them. Ones that are widely understood by most people, have identifiable and obvious outcomes, and promise job security. I know that you feel lost and overwhelmed by your interests sometimes, and despite the fact that you are content, you wonder whether life might be easier if you just did something more traditional. I mean, it could be, but you wouldn’t be living honestly with yourself. You wouldn’t be honouring your unique ways of being, seeing, feeling, and doing. You would be unhappy, uninspired, and frustrated, with only yourself to blame for pertinent regrets. Where’s the integrity in that? Or the pleasure?! So, whilst I am well-aware that self-comparison can be a shrew, please stay focused on your pathway, emphasis on the ‘your’. Things will make sense later. Self-comparison never did anyone much good. If we all lived the same lives, we wouldn’t know much of what we experience today. Human systems are much like any natural system, they thrive on diversity. So, allow yourself to contribute to this wonderful diversity with confidence.
This brings me to my last nugget of wisdom. Practice lowering your expectations or even better, have none at all. Since, when does life ever truly look like what you imagined? Almost, never. I’m not advocating that you don’t have ambitions, because these are important, or that you forget about that trip to Western Australia, because it will always be there. I just want you to still feel okay if plans don’t go according to plan or don’t go ahead at all. Getting comfy with uncertainty can be scary and overwhelming, but it can also be a wonderful opportunity to strengthen your creative muscle, practice resilience, be spontaneous, and live more presently. And trust me, you will encounter uncertainty frequently throughout life, and perhaps more so in your twenties as you wobble around blindfolded navigating all these new experiences. Learn to breathe through it, to sit in silences that find you, to talk about your uncertainties, even if they make you feel insecure, better yet, talk about feeling insecure about being uncertain, and then you will gradually start to get the hang of being comfortable with the bitter sweet nature of uncertainty. It’s like I said, in time you will learn to practice better patience with yourself and trust your journey.
As corny as it sounds, life truly is a journey. If you had it all figured out now, the rest of your life would be somewhat anti-climactic. As much as I would love to keep writing to you, I should probably let you get back to living your life. So, my final words are these. Nurture your mind, body, and soul (hot tip: look after your gut, it will make sense soon enough!), focus on what is in front of you, be fair on yourself, keep being Isobel, and most importantly, enjoy the ride!
I love you 19-year-old Isobel.
Love always, 24-year-old Isobel xoxo
Letter to 19-year-old Isobel
Dear 19-year-old Isobel,