A few years ago, while packing up my garage to prepare for moving to a new house, I ran across a relic from my past. It was tucked in a forgotten box in the garage, between some obsolete computer cables and a pair of cowboy boots I’d worn exactly once.
Flopping down in a plastic chair, I brushed the dust off its red cover to read the word “Journal” in shining gold foil. Then, for the first time in decades, I opened this storehouse of secrets from my teen and college years.
I read stories of my desperate search for a girlfriend. I read my adventures working in churches with my best friends. I followed the details of my first serious relationship, from the first date all the way through engagement.
Rereading my journal reminded me how it felt to be Teenage Me. Teenage Me couldn’t wait to shed his skin and become Future Me. Teenage Me was sure that Future Me would be awesome and confident, secure in his identity and manhood, successful in his career and marriage. People would like Future Me. Future Me had zero worries.
Now that I am Future Me, I sometimes wish I could talk to Teenage Me. If someone were to invent, say, a Chronophone — a communication device that could bridge the gap of four decades — and then give me two minutes to call Teenage Me, 40 years in the past, I’d have a few select things to say to myself.
Hey Ken, it’s me — I mean you — I mean, the you from the future you’ve been waiting for. We don’t have much time, so listen up.
Look, I know you think there’s some magical future where every problem is solved, and every bad feeling disappears. But here’s the truth: it doesn’t exist. You simply cannot create a plan that guarantees a perfect outcome.
Like it or not, when you grow up, you’ll still feel insecure. You’ll still struggle to speak up for yourself. You’ll still be terrified of what people think of you. Even in your fifties, you’ll still feel like a helpless kid sometimes. You’ll still get angry. Sometimes when you least expect it, your father’s voice will leap out of your throat and surprise the hell out of you. It’ll scare you, but it’ll terrify your kids.
Oh yeah, and you’ll still get zits.
But listen, before you go kill yourself and end it for both of us, there’s good news. For one, you’re smart. You always have been. It’ll get you far in life. And you’re funny (just watch the sarcasm because you tend to overdo it). And get this: in the future, people will call you handsome. Crazy, right? But it’s true, so stop telling yourself you’re ugly.
But if you forget everything else, remember this. You’ll face a shit-ton of emotions in your life. They’ll throw you for a loop and make you wish you were dead. But they’re just emotions. They’re not the real you. The key is learning to recognize emotions for what they are and let them pass. Once you learn to do that, the real you, deep inside, will emerge.
And speaking of emotions, there’s an important one to pay attention to. It’s called awe. Look it up.
Okay, we’re almost out of time. There’s a bunch of other stuff I could tell you, but I don’t want to spoil it for you. Trust me, you’ll want to be surprised. But I’ll tell you one thing: It’s miraculous. Every…single…fucking…moment of it.
Okay, I gotta go. I’ll see you later, man. I love you.
That younger version of myself had a simple belief: When everything finally conforms to his desires, then he’ll be happy. But he had it backwards. Teenage Me spent so much time planning for what should be, he couldn’t see what actually was.
Now that I’ve become Future Me, I can look back and see all the things I learned (mostly the hard way). I’ve come a long way, and the journey’s barely half over. I’m no longer the person I used to be, but I’m also not the one I’m going to become. And I feel pretty good about my chances of continuing to improve.
The destination is the journey itself — the daily experience of living in the now, of recognizing the oneness in all things, of continually learning to give and receive love. These aren’t future rewards that only appear in some mysterious future. The only time they can actually be experienced is right here, right now.
So, until someone invents a Chronophone, I’ll have to settle for using this forum to send my message to Teenage Me. Something tells me he’ll get it, eventually. Maybe he already has.