Categories
Coming-of-Age

A Letter to my Younger Self

At 19, I drove from Michigan to Alabama to begin my second year of college. I wish my older self could have somehow transported a letter through time and left it on top of my enormous booklet of CDs which sat in the passenger seat. My future self would know to place it there; He’d know that I would not get on the road without having at least three CDs ready at arm’s length. This was so that was I able to safely grab the next one without taking my eyes off the road. I imagine getting in the car, noticing the piece of paper, picking it up, and it reads…

Dear 19:

This world has no place for you. This world is big, unforgiving, crude and unconcerned with your ideas and plans. There is nothing and no one awaiting your arrival — no seat at the table, no authorization to enter the room in which the table resides, no permission to use the the elevator which will take you to the floor in question, and certainly no access to the building which houses the entire construct.

All that you need will require your labor and sacrifice, and all that you desire will require much more than that. There are horrors in this world that once revealed, will force you to question all that you believe, all that you love as well as the very nature of your reality. You will discover the worst this world has to offer and you will feel defeated. You will cry, give up, give in, make way, make due, resist, fight, struggle, battle your inner demons and wage war on the universe. But the universe will not fight back. It will march forward, unbothered, unforgiving and unconcerned with your pain and frustration. The fabric of space and time will never yield to your whims. Everyone you trust will let you down and you will let them down. Your dreams will falter and you will be lost. You will lose yourself in the vastness of reality and you will feel small. You will be lonely even when you are not alone.

You are on a collision course with regret, disdain, humiliation and disappointment. The career you envision for yourself will never come to pass. You will love a few women, and some will not love you back. And the ones that do love you, will be pushed away. At times you will not be the victim, but the offender. You will break hearts and promises, betray trusts and alliances and forget someone whose thoughts linger on you. You will isolate yourself when you’re frustrated — you won’t like for people to see you that way. Many of the relationships you currently hold dear will drift into the distance like a voice in the abyss. Your hero will perish long before his time and you will feel the guilt of not reaching out more. Some in your family will place their hopes and dreams upon your shoulders and it will weigh heavily on you. Heed my warning, Johnny — this world will bring you to your knees.

But…

Rise! For there is beauty in this world! Your dreams will plunder, but I say to you, you are dreaming too small! There is a life available to you that is more fulfilling than anything you’ve imagined. You have no place in this world only because you have not yet made a place for yourself. It is yours for the taking and you are responsible for claiming it. You will have to fight for it, but that doesn’t mean it is not yours. There are many things in this world for which you will have to fight. But through your struggles, you will amass amazing strength — strength of character and wisdom. When those you trust let you down, you will need this strength to forgive them. When you let them down, you’ll need this strength to forgive yourself. When the world is on fire, you will need this strength to carry others to safety so that they may breathe.

New people will come into your life — blossoming like spring flowers—and they will love you and care for you. You will find the strength to carry your own burdens and the hopes of others you may have left behind. You will come to view the transporting of others’ hopes not as a chore, but as a privilege. You will be entrusted with precious cargo—as fragile as glass, yet as strong and as lasting as diamonds.

Your curiosity will lead you on an intellectual journey which will equip you with the tools necessary for self-evaluation and examination. It is through this process that you will unearth your prejudice and misogynistic views—uprooting them like weeds in a garden. You will come to question all that you believe. Like a storm setting over still waters, you will violently disturb those beliefs. And when the storm clears, the sun will shine, and you will smile and bask in its warmth. You won’t see all that there is, but you will see your part of the world with a clarity which can only be described as sublime.

You will love your work so much you will struggle to not be consumed by it. It will emit its own gravity — constantly pulling you towards it. You will construct a rocket fueled by love to take you into orbit so that you may stay close to your work while remaining ready to venture off—exploring the vastness of the galaxy. Your work will transcend your job. You will work to find ways to reach back and bring others along—the forgotten, the shunned, the blind. You will push against your introverted nature to find ways to be heard when you cannot speak and to speak when you have something to say. You will come to understand that your own labor and sacrifice is necessary, but not sufficient for the fulfillment of your dreams. You will need help and not ask for it, but help will come anyway. You will ask for help and not receive it, but you will be triumphant. For even through failure, no, especially through failure, are you able to learn and reach for redemption. It is because of this you will not allow the possibility of failure to dismay you. That is not to say you will be without fear. Your fear will reside in the knowledge of your own mortality and the thought that when your time has passed, you will have contributed nothing to this world.

You will reinvent yourself several times over. Many will exclaim you’ve “changed on me” and you will agree. A life void of growth and transformation is a life wasted. In the deepest part of your heart you will want to help them understand, but you will not bother because you will not know how to proceed and you will feel guilty for it.

I offer no specifics of life events because I want you to experience it all. Every encounter, every mistake, every decision — no matter how small — will ultimately bring you to the place where I currently reside: my corner of the universe. It has everything I need. Here I smile, laugh, cry tears of joy, study my surroundings, think my thoughts and ride the tide of space and time. I do not sit still, I’m moving outward at the speed of love. By the time you arrive, I will be gone — 14 love years ahead of you. Or maybe I will have met my demise by then. If that is the case, I hope I leave something beautiful for the world.

Love,
32

By Johnny Austin

Johnny is an experienced engineering leader with an interest in everything from user experience to distributed systems architecture. He is an active member of the open source community, contributing to projects such as Node.js. As Technology Director at iStrategyLabs, Johnny has led the development of various projects for clients such as Facebook, Kroger, Volkswagen and more. He serves as an IT advisory board member for the National Academy Foundation and as a technology advisor for Black Girls Code.

Currently, Johnny is helping grow and lead the engineering team as Senior Engineering Manager at Social Tables in Washington, DC