The 22 moments that changed me (a 30th birthday letter)
Dear younger Megsy,
I just turned 30, so congratulations to you on being alive! On your road to today, many amazing people will share their stories with you and you’ll laugh and cry, finding them uplifting and inspiring. I want to be vulnerable and share some stories with you — there’s a lot you learn along the way, it’s not all smooth but it built character. Here are some moments that taught you something significant.
1987: 朝阳区, Beijing, China and then Cardiff, Wales, UK, CF4
You move to Cardiff in Wales, when you’re five. When you live in Beijing, you think it’s the greatest city, so tall and so big and so old. You’re so disappointed initially with the UK and its squat buildings and irregular roads. When you move later to San Francisco, its lack of grandeur and smallness. Then came New York with the grit and dirt. You end up falling deeply in love with all the cities you live in. You become less judgmental and begin to understand that everywhere (and everyone) has beauty and something to teach you.
Your family moves in above a Chinese restaurant, because the rent is really cheap. You wear second hand clothing and don’t speak great English, so the kids call you names and make slitty-eye gestures. Unfortunately, the kids will continue to be mean. This teaches you to work very hard, because you believe this will stop them from being so mean to you in future. It will take another few years before you stop giving a damn what the kids think. More importantly, you learn that working very hard is actually for yourself.
1998: Reading, Berkshire, UK, RG2
Your first kiss is under a willow tree. Remember that moment when you kiss someone for the first time, they’re so new and unfamiliar. Don’t ever lose that wonder. There will be many first kisses to come.
You spend a lot of time on the internet, before people really went on the internet. You were on IRC a lot, made a lot of websites (we call this front-end development in the future) and woke your parents up with the dial up modem’s beeps and trills at 4am. Don’t give it up when you’re 15 because you’re nervous it’s uncool and the kids at school are bullying you. You’re still friends today with those kids you met on the ‘net back then and it’s really important to do what you love.
In high school, you buy a 1980s Yves Saint Laurent smoking jacket on eBay. The listing was misspelt, so you incredulously win it at a fraction of its real value, then become an eBay PowerSeller focusing on 1930s-80s vintage cocktail dresses and designer fashion. For your Textiles GCSE, you sew a triple-lined corset boned in sixteen places. You explore the transformative power of fashion in self-expression and storytelling. The passion that ignites here leads you many years later to work at the intersection of fashion and technology and even later, start an e-commerce brand.
2005: Merton College, Oxford, UK, OX1
Your college friends burn CDs full of bands you’ve never heard of. You’re embarrassed that your pop culture knowledge is basically zero and spend a lot of time on Wikipedia to compensate (but how do you pronounce Sigur Rós and Sufjan anyway?) Your eyes are suddenly opened to new worlds of music…and art and design and literature and neuroscience, it goes on. You read tirelessly, always curious.
At college, you are sometimes stressed and sad to the point of exhaustion. You worked so hard for so many years to get here…only to stay in bed crying, and consider dropping out. It will take many years, but amazingly, you figure it out — it takes rigor and routine and you find the importance of self-care and balance. Be patient because today, finally, you’re happier than you’ve ever been.
You don’t get the chance to travel until college. When wanderlust does come, it hits hard and your travels take you to over 85 countries. Your mother freaks out the first time you travel solo (Helsinki is pretty scary, y’know), so you decide to take your parents travelling once a year to challenge their perspectives. This is a great decision; you have now had Chinese food in Iceland, Cuba and South Africa.
2008: Clerkenwell, London, UK, EC1
You buy many pairs of Louboutins, because you work in investment banking. As you buy more pairs, a strange thing happens: you start to care less about the red soles. At 21, you learn you can’t buy yourself happiness. This helps you focus on what actually makes you happy: living life and its experiences.
When a headhunter asks if you know anything about technology, you remember all those years spent on the internet as a teenager. On your first day in venture capital, your boss comments how you’re much more of a geek than he expected. This makes you feel weirdly proud and also happy that your secret geek status is out in the open. You discover how important it is to do things that make your heart beat faster. You spend almost all of your time on video chats with startups in the Bay Area and think it’s probably more efficient to just move there.
2011: Stanford, CA 94305
You go to your first yoga class, because you now live in California. You’re amused by everyone on campus because they’re constantly running / biking / doing yoga / taking off shirts to reveal 8 pack abs. To your surprise, you actually quite enjoy the yoga class, even though 24 hours later, you Google “why do my muscles hurt?” Then came yoga teacher training, a road bike, a humerus fracture falling off the road bike, rock climbing, bouldering, more injuries, Equinox, trail running, hiking, marathons and a lot more Googling. Don’t wait until you’re 23 to explore this incredible connection between mind and body.
Make the time to take someone on a mentorship (t/w)alk once a week. Not just for them, but for your own happiness and to pay it forward.
Both your parents are diagnosed with cancer six months apart. You’re devastated. You quit your job at a fast-growing Bay Area startup without hesitation to move to London and care for them, because “terminal.” Chemotherapy, steroids, surgery, stem cell transplant, painkillers, drugs drugs drugs. You’re an only child and your full-time role is driving back and forth to hospital. You are very uncomfortably unemployed and re-establish your relationship with your much diminished ego. This period leads to so much growth, re-defining what it means to you to be a great daughter. And beating all odds, post-surgery and post-stem cell transplant, both parents are currently stable.
2014: Islington, London, UK, N1
Moving to London creates new possibilities and you spend increasingly more time with an ex-colleague, who becomes your co-founder. You start a company together. You think building a business will be tough, but not so impossible (they taught you all that stuff at business school, right?) Then came the no, no, no and no rejections. You toughen up, work very hard some more, make many mistakes and learn a lot from every little one. It is a humbling experience, because you’re not used to being wrong or hearing “no”. Eventually, there is a yes. And later, hearing your first employee say this is her dream job is more satisfying than every work achievement to date.
You can build really profound relationships later in life. As a kid, you watched the other girls in the playground with their BFFs and you were alone, confused, sad. You’ll meet your BFF on the phone when you’re 27 and then discover what it means to have a best friend — she even crafts you both matching BFF necklaces, the ones you coveted as a kid. She’s amazing, she inspires you each day and is every bit so worth waiting for.
2015: Lower East Side, New York, NY 10002
Not drinking alcohol or caffeine is one of the best decisions you make. Even though it occasionally still makes you feel awkward in social gatherings.
As a kid, you give up playing the piano because the other kids are so much better than you. Ditto violin because your father (professional standard) is much better than you could ever be, so you adopt a defeatist attitude. After a ten year break, you now have a digital upright piano in your fifth floor walk up and play Chopin Nocturnes before bed. You realise you love playing and you no longer feel frustrated because you can only start where you are.
A small dog is abandoned on a construction site in the Bronx. His name is Forest, named by the shelter after the Forest housing projects where he is found. You decide to get a dog because you have a lot of love to give. You add an extra “r” when you adopt him to give him more personality (he really doesn’t need it). Forrest is stubborn, fluffy, anxious, so smart and teaches you much about loving unconditionally.
It takes you much longer than you’d like to admit to learn that men, who are three weeks out of a five year relationship or an eight year marriage, are not the best candidates for a serious relationship. Trust me, you need this reminder and some things will just take you longer to learn.
You bleach, tone and cut your hair in the bathroom. With a pair of kitchen scissors and a tub of Flash Lift Maximum Power Lightening Powder, you go from dark, long and Asian to white-blonde, pixie and ethnically ambiguous. The process is far more complex than suggested by YouTube. It’s one of your best decisions because you no longer have fear of failure and you feel more empowered than ever before.
You promise yourself to try almost everything once, especially the things you’re skeptical about. The list includes a brujo in Red Hook, acupuncture, Burning Man, float tanks, keto, ice climbing, meditation, nootropics, Phish, singing lessons, sound meditation, therapy, weight lifting…and the chicken blood soup that your mother made, after she slaughtered the chicken in the backyard. Some of these things will teach you about introspection, kindness and how to be a better human than you ever dreamed. You’ve learnt to relish feeling uncomfortable. It helps you do your best work every day.
Less is (almost always) more.
You’re going to be just great. Remember to enjoy the ride.