Have you ever written a letter to yourself? A few months ago, while participating in a promotion with several other authors, I was asked to write a letter to my twenty-one-year-old self: an interesting proposition since my own children are now twenty-somethings. The letter:
You certainly have the world by the tail. Over a weekend in June, you earned $25,000 buying freebie coupons from airline passengers and reselling them to Proctor & Gamble in a gambit that landed your mug on the front page of The Houston Post. No one in your family was surprised by your instant fame or the revelation that your partner in crime, another college student, turned out to be a multi-millionaire from California who planned to marry you within the year.
I probably shouldn’t tell you the marriage won’t work—you’ll have ethical reservations about hiring a surrogate to bear your kids and will stick to your guns about adopting. But your doomed relationship with Jim will touch many lives. His short marriage to a barren wife will lead him, many years later, to build a foundation to aid children in developing nations. And on the edge of middle age you’ll visit one of those nations, returning to the U.S. with a sibling group you’ll call your own.
For now, don’t worry about the heartache sure to follow. Few twenty-year-olds from the Midwest land in the rarified world of Palm Springs. I’m proud of how well you’re handing it, sweets. When you find yourself in a desert mansion with twenty well-heeled Jewish kids listening to the Pulitzer Prize-winning Herman Wouk tell a story about how a small group of young people can change the world, you’ll have the sense to understand you’re witnessing greatness. You’ll stand there in your middle class shoes, this Catholic kid from the Cleveland burgs, wondering if you’ll ever learn to tell a story with as much heart and passion. That drive to better your storytelling gifts will serve you well in the decades ahead.
You’ll also instantly relate to Kirk Douglas when he shares his own middle class roots then encourages you to finish your first novel. You’ll stand in awe of his gorgeous wife Anne, and listen spellbound as she retells of working for the French Resistance during WWII. I’m glad you see past the glitz and the fame surrounding one of Hollywood’s most celebrated couples and glimpse instead what makes them truly great—their stunning creativity and desire to share their gifts with the world.
As you vault into this fairytale world, my advice is simple. Burn bright, but don’t burn out. And for Pete’s sake, stop being so hard on yourself. You don’t have to write The Great American Novel by the age of 25. You don’t have to drive yourself so hard. Enjoy the ride, sweetheart. An older, wiser you is waiting to greet you further down the road with open arms.