Four Page Letter: How Writing To Your Past & Future Self Can Change Your Present3/03/2014
by Bee Quammie When you need a shoulder to lean on, who do you turn to? A significant other? A be...
by Bee Quammie
When you need a shoulder to lean on, who do you turn to? A significant other? A best friend? A close family member? Have you ever thought to lean on yourself? I’ll tell you how I do it - with self-addressed letters. Allow me to explain.
I’ll never forget the first day of tenth grade. “Pull out your pens and paper,” my English teacher said. “For the next 30 minutes, I want you to write a letter to yourself.”
The entire class gave him a blank stare.
“Write a letter to the you that will finish this school year in June. What is life like for you now? What do you hope to have experienced or accomplished by June? What goals do you have? Write it all down, seal it in this envelope, and give it to me. On the last day of class, I’ll hand them back for you to read.”
It was one of the strangest yet most stimulating things I’ve ever done. Writing a letter to my future self helped me to step out of today and look forward to tomorrow, and made me excited for things I hadn’t allowed myself time to contemplate.
When that last day of English class came around and we received our letters, the moment I read mine was poignant. I felt like such a different person from the one who penned it. I laughed at the concerns I held back then, patted myself on the back for achieving most of my desired goals, and reflected on the things that occurred that I would have never imagined in September.
Since that fateful English class, I’ve practiced the art of writing future-dated letters to myself. Some, I scribble down and stick in a drawer - not set for any specific future date, but just there to be found serendipitously. Others, I write and keep for a special time - New Year’s Eve or my birthday are common.
With technological developments, sites like Future Me allow you to type a letter to yourself and set the date for when you’d like it to be emailed. So, whether you go old school or new school - what’s stopping you? Writing a letter to the future you can be a bit uncomfortable at first, but once you get in the groove, you’ll see the benefit. Future letters are great ways to document the passing of time, to realign yourself, and to bring suppressed hopes and dreams to the forefront. Reading them back to yourself on the appointed delivery date (or whenever you happen to find one) can be an extremely powerful moment. No one knows you better than yourself, and it’s never more apparent than when you read something written for you, by you.
The only other activity that compares to writing a letter to your future self is writing to your past. Do you remember this moment at the 2011 Black Girls Rock! show where Tatyana Ali read a letter to her younger self? I took that as an opportunity to do the same.
While the letter to my future self was motivating, the one to my past self was nothing short of therapeutic. Thinking of the younger me - the things she endured, the things she didn’t think she would survive, the things that molded her into the woman holding the pen at that moment - I felt proud, protective, and pensive all at once. I apologized to her. I encouraged her. I told her about life as it currently was in hopes that she’d be pleased and know that things may get tough, but she’s tougher.
Similar to the goals I suppressed before writing my “future self” letter, I found that writing one to my past self brought out a lot of memories - good and bad - that I thought had faded away. I laughed at certain memories and cried at others. Felt anger rise at one moment, then surprised myself with my growth when I was able to let it dissipate.
Writing a letter to your younger self is no easy feat. Whether your earlier years were traumatic or not, we naturally have a way of moving on and not looking back. This activity forces you to do that very thing - and the results are as varied as our personal experiences. Treat yourself with care, but don’t be afraid to grab that pen and paper and delve deep into a missive to the younger you.
Both of these actions - writing letters to the future and past - have been little therapy sessions for me, and are some preferred methods of centering myself. It’s a bit comforting to know that even if it feels like I have no one else, I have the younger me to look back on, and the future one to look forward to. Sometimes, that’s more than enough.