Hello, it’s future me.
For the past 10 years, I have written a letter to myself to be received 1 year in the future. The winter of 2005, I learned of an amazing website called FutureMe.org where you could write an email to anyone to be delivered at almost any point in the future. A year out of college, living on my own for the first time ever, being dirt poor and prone to self-reflection, I decided to type out a little note to my future self, telling her about what was going on in my life, asking a few questions, and predicting what her future might look like.
Suffice it to say, this has become the only year-end tradition I follow religiously. Screw New Year’s Resolutions: everyone would write their future self.
today, the transit strike is about to happen. eric’s moving on january 5th. you’re buying a christmas present for your mother, making a key copy, and are stressed about the 30$ cost of all of this. you have 2 cats. you work at DS, and right now can’t stand the new person, donna, and are going to ask for a less admin-job on wednesday.
you are very stressed, terrified, worried about money, and don’t believe you are going to make it with eric, or be able to afford an apartment in may.
i hope, when you read this in a year, you laugh at your fears, your terror.
oh, also, you just got new glasses, and they still make your head hurt. how’d that work out for you?
[My first FutureMe letter, circa 2005]
There’s something very sobering about reading a letter to yourself, from yourself, a decade in the past: it’s a candid and unvarnished look at where you were, what mattered to you, and what worried you. Memory can’t fade reality (or sugar coat it.) That’s me, for better or worse, as a young 20-something.
My first letters were short: the first one I didn’t even save, not realizing how important this little experiment would be in the yearly cycle of my life. FutureMe’s website has a login now, and allows you to save your letters, which is hugely helpful. I also started emailing my gmail domain, which I didn’t have back in 2004: email functionality didn’t really emphasize archives as much as they do today. (That’s yet another weird time capsule side-effect of these letters.)
dear past elizabeth,
well, surprisingly, you forgot that you wrote this to yourself a year ago today. you usually remember things like this. you remembered your time capsule from 6th grade all the way to senior year. but you didn’t remember this. which i think, is good.
i want to give you a huge hug, 2005 elizabeth, and tell you that everything is going to be okay. life doesn’t get easier, but it does get better.
you quit DS, you went to QH, you made great friends: steph, nicole, steve, dan, mark. you and eric did well for a while, and then you didn’t do well, unfortunately. you had a really dark summer, but you got through it. eric ended up having to move back to alabama. but he’s finishing school, and he might get better. you might make it through. he’s coming up, at least, in two days, and you found out he’s taking you to spamalot for christmas and you are very, very excited about that.
about a month ago, you got the best job ever. you work as at a game company now, and you are incredibly happy there. you can’t get over how unreal and amazing your job is, and how happy and successful you have become. you think “i’m 23, how did i get here?” and you know that all that work and pain before was not for nothing, and that now you don’t regret completely falling down on your writing, and that this is a good lifestyle for the next 60 years, and if you keep on it, you won’t feel like a failure.
you still have your money issues, but they are less, and they continue to get less. yeah, you got on anxiety medication because of the summer, but it’s for the best, because you really don’t have that bone-chilling terror i know you felt that week of the transit strike. by-and-large, that is a thing of the past. and, for christmas this year, you ended up getting everyone really amazing presents, and you could afford it, and nothing made you happier in the world. you can’t wait to give them out.
since eric’s gone, your best friend, mikey, has moved in with you. this time last year, he probably didn’t exist, but he’s really a saving grace in your life. and since that’s been only a couple months of huge turnover, from not knowing him, to chatting, to hanging out all the time, to being roommates, god knows what next year will look like.
again. i’m giving you a huge hug, past elizabeth. you were crying, i think, when you wrote that letter to yourself. and now you’re not. you’re doing great. it’s not easy, in fact, it’s very hard, and you still struggle. but it never never be perfect, and if it were perfect, what then?
onwards and upwards. you’ll always overcome.
[My second FutureMe letter, circa 2006]
Surprise, 2006 Elizabeth. Your best friend? You married him. So that whole “god knows what next year will look like” — you were spot on about that.
My letters evolved over the years, but eventually took on a cadence where I recapped the year, reflected on what was important to me in the last letter and what is important now, and then, in those early years, gave myself challenges to accomplish over the next 365 days.
well, this is the third year that you’ve done this. this year, you are very depressed, because nothing changed from the letter you wrote a year before.
your career is excellent, you have great new friends but you really wish you could figure out what to do about your love life. which is probably where you were in 2005, and 2006, and now, 2007.
so what do i ask of you, little girl? i ask you to keep your chin up and keep remembering how much you grow each year to the next. you got out of debt, you love your job, have new friends, and love who you work with. so ride with the romance a while, and don’t sweat it. whether you come out with a boy you already know, or a new one… you’ll be happy. you made the rest happen.
see you next year, doll.
[Excerpts of my third FutureMe letter, circa 2007]
As time passed, I started getting really personal with myself, so much so that I wouldn’t share the full versions of my letters anymore with anyone but myself. If you are going to go on this adventure for yourself, I recommend going this route. Does it hurt to write out the brutal truth — including your failures, your weaknesses? Yes. Does it keep you honest when you look back in order to plan for the future? Yes. And it helps you savor the accomplishments, the good you did, and the obstacles you conquered.
Fourth year doing this. Last year, you always vaguely remembered that a letter was coming. You knew in it you would tell yourself to fix your love life. Luckily, last year’s letter wasn’t that bad. At least, honestly, December 2007 was far fucking better than this December, 2008.
Sorry to be such a bummer about that, but from here, you can only go up.
Your mother died on September 24th of this year. I don’t have to tell you the details of that, of course. Just writing this, you feel like you are about to cry. You actually kind of are.
I think, sadly, that the next 12 months of this will be horrible for you, and I’m sorry.
You haven’t, in all honesty, accepted she’s dead. You keep trying to actually come to terms with that, and you know that it’s still very surreal to you. Even though it’s been three months.
While it got worse in the past 365 days, and you dread the ones moving forward, net, you gained a lot this year. Double it for next year’s letter.
a younger, stupider you.
[FutureMe, circa 2008]
Except for one letter in 2008 I wrote to my ex to say I would love to be friends with him if he was over our breakup (which unfortunately arrived in his inbox a day after my mother died, so your mileage might vary on that gambit) I’ve always written to myself.
The best part of the FutureMe letters? The moment things start looking up.
Let’s see — you’re engaged now. Hope that’s going well!
I also hope you have zero credit card debt unless it pertains to the wedding in a planned fashion. If somehow you do, fucking PUNCH YOURSELF IN THE GODDAMNED FACE.
This letter, blessedly, is pretty banal. It’s asking you to still be happy, be moving towards goals you already know you are moving towards, and be fiscally responsible.
It’s also asking you “what happened this year you didn’t dream would happen?” Kind of like getting engaged to Mike this year, or getting that amazing promotion (Senior Manager, Interactive Marketing.) Kind of like buying a BMW 128i. Kind of like moving into a sweet 2 bedroom. (Jesus, elizabeth, IF YOU MOVED AGAIN PUNCH YOURSELF. I certainly hope that isn’t the second time you’ve punched yourself.)
Can you believe that after all this shit you’ve made it to a place where your letter is so calm and steady and you are just simply happy and secure?
Keep it up. No regrets. Moving forward — with career, with love, with friendship, with family.
See you next year.
[FutureMe, circa 2010]
As we get closer to present day, my excerpts get shorter (this is my life, after all) but the pattern of “here’s where I am right now, here are my predictions for the future, here’s my goals for the next year” formalize.
Two patterns emerge in my last few years: first, I was very uncertain whether I wanted to move back to New York or stay in San Francisco. Second, I wanted to buy a house (and that hasn’t really changed — in this year’s letter, I tell myself to save for a condo.) I also go back and forth on losing weight or getting more into shape (I’ve done more of the latter than the former which, in all honesty, is what we should strive for) and I worry like hell about my family, particularly when I’m living a continent away from them.
This is the first year you have written your FutureMe after the new year — chalk it up to being busy, but really, I think it’s because you are happy. I think, like your journals of your childhood, you don’t NEED this as much as you used to since things aren’t quite so hard anymore.
For home life, you are married now — if you are in SF, you’re probably still living on Balboa Street — and if you are, redo the apartment. Get grown up furniture in the bedroom and a nice couch — get rid of the gaming stuff on the walls. And get the damned router off the wall! Seriously! SERIOUSLY!
How is he?
Even writing that makes you want to cry. I’m sorry for whatever happened his year — and I want you to know that you shouldn’t regret not seeing him, because at this point in time you don’t want to. You don’t want to see him sad and senile — you think he called you Carol when you called him (or Sher?) and that makes you miserable. It makes you think how it will be to lose your father. Just know he lived a really fucking good life, and it’s okay.
The wedding — how did it go? I bet great. You know you have a nagging fear you’ll forget the rings and I think that’s hilarious, particularly since you never told anyone. Did you cry? Was it awful? I hope you didn’t cry. I hope Hawaii was fucking AWESOME because right now, that’s where I want to be.
So this year, here’s what I want from you: Figure out your job situation if you haven’t. Move where you want to be. Save — save for a house, even though you don’t want one, and open a brokerage account if you haven’t. And get a damned Roth IRA — you keep putting that off. Pay down your credit cards again (you always don’t want a balance and always have one —you have no excuse. Seriously.)
Don’t forget to keep creating goals: The job, but also the family part of life — the fun part of life. Plan a vacation to Europe. Figure out a hobby (yoga, honestly, or biking, you’d like those.) Figure out something that doesn’t tie you to a place, or a job, or a company that makes you feel worthless if you don’t pull something off.
Now, I have to go — because I have a dance lesson (woot wedding responsibilities.) I love you — and keep your chin up.
PS: What loot did you get for your wedding?!
[FutureMe, circa 2011]
It’s clear to see when I go from being a very young 20-something to a somewhat-less-stupid 30-something. Work has stabilized. Money has stabilized. Family has stabilized. I’ve seen some shit. I’ve made it through said shit. I’ve figured out priorities, and I’m holding true to them.
FutureMe helps like that. You can’t lose your direction and forget what’s important to you when you get a letter on Christmas morning literally telling you what’s important.
So, it’s 2013. The year is beginning for me and ending for you. Right now, you are sitting in Trion Worlds offices as the Director of Community, NA. You’ve just been through two rounds of layoffs. So far, you have learned a shitton about politics and management in this job. You’ve fired a guy. You’ve laid off a guy. And as of yesterday, a dude quit on you.
Mike and you: How was Hawaii? You went, right? Did you move out of Balboa St? (You fucking better now if you haven’t. Surely you have saved enough money!)
This year, you thought that these FutureMe letters were getting less “important” to you — which is probably why this one is shorter. You are happy. You are secure. You have achieved the big goals you want. What you want now is to gain experience, bring this company to a successful place, and figure out your next move. You are thinking in 2–4 years that’s actually outside of gaming but still in tech. Outside of work, you want to buy a house. Where is still TBD since your entire family is still moving around. I don’t want to say “start thinking about a house” because I don’t think we’re ready for that, but I hope someday you are. It would be rad to rebuild a kitchen.
What I want to say is: go get yourself in shape. Take vacations. Be with your family. Save your money. Run. Don’t stress.
You are doing really, really well, Elizabeth. You don’t need to be running ragged anymore. There will always be uncertainty and fear. And if you stumble, you have family and friends who love you and savings to catch you. It’s going to be okay. So take this year and enjoy it. Grow. Don’t feel like I’m breathing down your neck demanding a goal to be accomplished. I’m not. I’m giving you a big fucking high five for everything you’ve done at work, saving money, hitting every milestone you set for yourself before you wanted to hit it (and generally just being awesome.)
PS: How was Run For Your Lives?
[FutureMe, circa 2012]
I also appreciate the fact I start giving myself a break. I don’t talk in all-caps anymore and I don’t want to punch my own face (this is serious personal growth, folks.)
I don’t have much more to tell you, or guidance to give you. I can’t give you goals for next year because you seem to be tackling things faster than I would ever have imagined. Really, all I want is for you to save money, buy more grownup furniture, eat less expensive food that wastes your money, and spend all that savings visiting and taking care of your family — because they need you.
Keep your chin up. No matter how you slice it, 2014 isn’t going to be smooth sailing, but you are reading this now which means you made it, and every year has gotten better and better for you in every way. You are making life as you want it, and I’m proud of you for that.
I love you.
- your past e.
[FutureMe, circa 2013]
One thing I love about these letters, beyond the consistencies? Surprising myself. I cared about eating less expensive food that wastes my money? I have no idea what that means, nor do I remember being particularly extravagant with my food budget — but I clearly was. Grownup furniture? I ask for that damn near every year and almost every year I ignore it. I only started listening to myself about that fact last year, and that’s because I moved across the country, so buying new furniture was easier than hauling it long distance.
But the really important stuff, like staying in touch with my best friends when I moved from California to New York? I was worried, last December, that I’d lose touch with them. On Christmas morning, 2015, I read about how I needed to regain contact with Greg and Cailin if I’d drifted apart from them — and it made me laugh. I game with Greg and my friends 5 out of 7 nights of the week, at least, and send multiple texts to a group chat Mike, Greg, Cailin, and I have called “The Waabeys” (yes, that’s what you get when you combine our last names. Everyone should combine names with their best friends. It’s hilarious.)
Okay, so, what do I want from you next year? More time with family and friends. More compassion to people when they piss you off. More focus on your mental health. And go on a vacation to Europe or South America with Sarah in addition to whatever Caribbean thing you and Mike want to do. And try and do Alaska or Caribbean with Greg and Cailin. And if you didn’t buy a new TV console, go do that. You want it, so get it.
Okay, that’s about it. I love you. Keep your chin up.
- past e.
[FutureMe, circa 2014]
I have a standing Sunday brunch date with my family. We’ve kept our car so that we can visit Mike’s and my families whenever we want. Next year, Mike and I are headed to St. John’s for 10 days, and spending 10 days in Iceland with my sister, her husband, and are two amazing friends Kristina and Ted. I visited Cailin and Greg three times last year and we’re planning a trip next New Year’s to Mexico or Hawaii. Yes, I still own a busted IKEA TV console, but I bought a gorgeous kitchen table and am replacing out cheap IKEA desks with grownup tabletops, so I call that a wash.
And the compassion? Yeah, I’m working on that. I’ll never say I’ve finished it, because, much like taking care of your own mental health, compassion is a constant work in progress. Doing well in your career, taking care of those you love, having compassion for the world, and maintaining your health (be it weight, strength, or anything in between) is a lifelong task.
FutureMe keeps me honest on that front. It keeps me centered, and focused. In a private letter, written yearly, I can unpack all the bad and all the good, then send it off into the future where things won’t feel so raw and jagged, so I can have the time and distance I need to examine what actually matters.
In writing, I’ve hugged myself. I’ve punched myself. I’ve taken myself to task for not doing the shit I should be doing, and I’ve cheered everything I’ve actually gotten done. It’s not always a fun process, and I don’t always get a happy letter (or am excited to report back to the next year on what I did or did not do with my previous 12 months.)
But life is precious, and fleeting, and every single day matters. If FutureMe does nothing else, it reminds me of this fact, and it helps me live every day to its fullest, and make the right choices for the things I hold dear in this world.
After all, my next year’s self is counting on me, and I’ve already promised her all the things we’ll do. I can’t let her down.
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