How Your Past Connects To Your Life Purpose (A Letter to my 23 Year Old Self)

Dear 23-year-old Dan,

Man. Your hair is way longer right now than you’ll be keeping it in 10 years.

I have a lot to say to you, so get comfortable. You’ll need it, because this might get uncomfortable.

Marry Stacia. That’s the best decision you could ever make. That goes without saying.

That job you’re about to take is almost going to kill you. That’s ok. You’ll survive. And it will teach you something.

The next few years are going to be extremely lonely.

You’re going to make it. But sometimes it’s going to feel like you’re just barely making it.

Go to therapy. Spoiler alert: you’ll decide to go to therapy in a few years, but you should start sooner. I know a guy. I’ll send you his number.

Learn to care for yourself and learn to care for yourself during depression.

Create things. You’re happiest when you’re creating, and people always seem to benefit from what you create.

Don’t just create things, build a creative habit. You make such great things, but you won’t make great things unless you set aside the time to do it. Inspiration will come from time to time, but most great things are made by sitting down and struggling with them.

Don’t worry about not fitting in where you are. Your time is better spent making your own way.

Put what little money you have into stock in Facebook and Apple. In fact, get a loan and put it into stock in Facebook and Apple.

It’s ok that you don’t know what you want to be doing with your life right now. Though your next few years are going to be difficult, they’re teaching you what you need to know to discover your true work and true self.

Nothing is wasted. Even though things will be hard, what you’re about to learn will shape the rest of your life.

Learn boundaries as soon as possible. A lot of people are going to be asking things of you and you’re going to end up spread too thin.

Learn to say no, even when it’s hard.

It’s easy for me to wish that I’d have done things differently. I wish I’d started out on my own at a younger age. I wish I would have embraced my creative side sooner. I wish I would have told off a certain professor before graduating. I wish I would have known everything I know now. But I didn’t. And I couldn’t have. So, younger self, instead I want to say that I’m proud of who you are and who you are becoming.

You’re a fighter. You’re an idealist.

Keep dreaming big dreams.

Take your art seriously. Create in a way that others can see what you make and interact with you around it. (You like to feel seen, but it’s also scary.)

Start writing your thoughts publicly as soon as you can. Building a blog is going to take a long time.

You can make up a job for yourself. That’s ok.

I’m proud of who you are and who you are becoming.

Much love,

-Dan


Learning to be grateful for where you’ve been is a necessary part of finding freedom to move forward. In my one-on-one work, I often have clients write letters like this. It’s a way to help you understand why you may feel stuck or lost in finding your life purpose. It helps bring and understanding that though your past has shaped you but does not own you. It helps you come to terms with your story.

The more open and honest the letter is, the better.

Your challenge, if you choose to accept it: write a letter to a younger version of yourself and post a link in the comments.

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6 Comments

  1. Kate April 3, 2015 at 10:49 am

    This was actually a really fun exercise! I could have easily written a letter to my 15 year old self, 20 year old self, and so on, but chose 25. That year was a fairly big turning point for me and definitely marks a major transition in my life. It was also good to read your letter, Dan, and to see that no one makes perfect decisions, but that life is a purposeful journey toward something greater.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland April 3, 2015 at 11:20 am

      I love this, Kate! Thanks so much for writing and sharing it. What a great letter! You can always come back to the 15-year-old and the 20-year-old versions. It’s always worth while. Way to go!

      Reply
  2. emi April 8, 2015 at 12:05 pm

    Dan, I love this thought provoking post. I admire the graciousness that you show to your younger self. it really puts things in perspective. It’s good to note that your older self has only gotten to the point that you are at because of the decisions your younger self made. You almost have to let your older self let your younger self make those mistakes and learn those lessons. I suppose one can’t be without the other , I suppose that’s obvious though..ha. thanks for your being you . It pushes me in my endeavors as well.

    Reply
    1. Dan April 8, 2015 at 7:02 pm

      Thanks so much Emi. You’re so right: I’m where I am and who I am because of who I was and what I chose. I like how you put it, “You almost have to let your older self let your younger self make those mistakes and learn those lessons.” I think that’s at the heart of finding kindness and grace toward our younger selves.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Emi. You’re the best!

      Reply
  3. Dr.gleb January 3, 2017 at 10:44 pm

    For some people their lives meaning could be living everyday for the ones they love, for others it could be the prospect of fame and fortune but I feel as though finding meaning takes time and that just because one hasn’t found it yet does not automatically mean they rule out the prospect of ever finding their purpose.

    Reply
    1. Dan Cumberland January 4, 2017 at 7:02 am

      Couldn’t agree more. Thanks for sharing Dr. Gleb!

      Reply

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