You’re sort of hard to talk to, with all your pent up anger and newly opened eyes. At 20, you’re tasting the bitter bits of life for the first time. Every one of your stable male relationships have begun to crack and crumble. Rage runs through you and dictates all of your reactions.Your heart is hardening, your sun is dark, and you’re just damn angry. But, if I could get a hold of you, if I could get through to your heart of hearts, I’d only tell you one thing.
Whitney is going to die next year. You’ll find out on Tumblr, and it will hurt like she raised you herself. You’ll spend hours on the internet, face glued to her music videos, staring at her photos, combing through old interviews. One video will stop you mid-scroll. Whitney Houston, on a couch, using the most sincere celebrity voice you’d ever heard, advising her daughter: “To thine own self be true, Babygirl.” Her squint, her focus, and the honey-buttered sincerity with which she spoke, will elevate her words from a mere platitude, to a personal message directly from Nippy The Voice Houston. And it’s not that notion that I wish you knew at 20. You already know to be true to yourself. What I wish I knew at 20, was how.
Let me tell you now, sweet little one, it is not just about doing the big chop. Being true to yourself is presenting your most authentic self, putting your needs, opinions, and desires before other people’s feelings. It means not letting just anyone traipse through your temple during your vulnerable hour. During your 20’s, you’ll miss the mark on this over and over again. You’ll go from your predominantly white institution to a predominantly white occupation, where you’ll literally be afraid to let your hair down. You’ll miss a chance to make a new friend because you were scared into silence. You’ll nod through bullshit sailing stories and pretend you know and care who the hell Jimmy Buffet is. You’ll run yourself ragged answering call after call, after call and saving no energy for yourself. You’ll add new lovers and friends to your life just because there’s room. And you’ll waste so much of your precious, God-given time and energy.
So, hear me out. Start refusing hugs now. Start correcting people out loud. Don’t waste another laugh on a corny joke. Sing without regard for the correct note. Stay in the practice of doing activities that make you feel like the human experience is worth something. Disagree, and do it loudly. Be a know-it-all. Mentally punch anyone who shames you for it.
There were many things you’ll need to know this decade. Like Daddy can’t always do your taxes and it really was a crime to shave those eyebrows. But if I could come back to 2011, if I could lay my hands on your shoulders and look you in the eye, I’d tell you to start presenting your truest self now. Your life turns out great, trust me. It’s so much better with the true you.