I stand at a crossroads where a million and one roads intersect. Behind me lies a single winding path that bears the marks of the treads of the soles of my aching and aging feet. “How did I get here?” I can’t ask myself that pressing question enough. The culmination of a million and one decisions, I suppose. Decisions made with both too much and not enough contemplation. Some choices simple, straightforward, like deciding who to talk to first at a party, which led to much more complicated questions and decisions as a result, like which job I should choose or where I was going to school, what I was studying, what I wanted to be when I grew up, and who I wanted to become. I’ve always wanted to leave a legacy. Of that I am certain. But I never would have guessed that I would someday be left with only that to be sure of.

When I was 17, I told everyone I was going to change the world. I was learning Arabic as my fifth language. I visited the Capitol three times my senior year of high school just to get a head start on the layout of the building and the tunnel ways underground. A career in politics was where I was headed, and it was going to equip me to solve world hunger, find the cure for AIDS, and put an end to human trafficking once and for all. I wasn’t sure how I was going to do these things, I just knew I was going to do them. Apparently all within the remaining thirty to eighty years of my life. You could say I was a dreamer, and it’d probably be the understatement of the century.

I believed in myself. Probably much more than the average 17-year-old girl typically does. I was smart. I was clever. I was pretty. And I knew how to get things done my way. Looking back, it’s no surprise that I ended up embarking on an entrepreneurial path. I was used to paving my own way. When I decided on something, there was no changing my mind, and there was definitely no stopping what I was positive I would see to fruition.

Yet… I was young. Somehow I overlooked the values of security and safety and unknowingly sacrificed them for the sake of chasing what I had convinced myself was the ultimate form of freedom. “Do what you love and everything else will take care of itself” was my life motto. I pitied those who sat in a 4 by 4 foot cubicle staring at a wall calendar that pictured a palm tree swaying in the breeze on some exotic tropical island. “What a sad life,” I would think to myself. Pathetic.

Not them. Me. 

Believing that happiness is an impossibility when you’re not “paving your own way” – THAT is the saddest life one can live. Work is not meant to be your life. Work. Is not meant. To be your life. Work is a necessary means of building the life you want to live. Whatever that may look like. Whether that’s living in a 5 bedroom house or sharing a cozy apartment with your family of 5. Priorities. That is the answer to my question. “How did I get here?” Priorities, my friend. You chose to put X above Y and chose Path Z because of it. You put yourself first. Before money, before friends, before your family… you put what you wanted above all of it. All for the sake of “paving your own way” because you were too good to take the road most commonly traveled.

Where are you now? What do you have because of it? What can you honestly say you’re proud of? Are you thankful for the time spent away from everyone you love? How many memories did you make this year with your friends? Your friends who don’t even bother to invite you to anything anymore because they already know you won’t be attending…? How’s that road less traveled working out for ya?

This is an open letter to a girl who had all the best intentions. A girl who was going to change the world… but somehow lost herself in the fray of status quo, busyness, popularity, and “success.” A girl who gained it all but lost almost everything because of it, including her innermost self.

I want to say to that girl: It’s time to move on. Let it go. This isn’t what’s important. This isn’t what matters. You know that emptiness you’re feeling – like you’ve missed out on something wonderful –  when you look back at this year? Imagine that feeling at the end of your life. After thirty, forty, fifty years of this same routine. It’s not worth it. It is not worth it. People! People are what matters. Relationships. Your family and your friends and spending time with them. That’s the only thing that’s going to matter at the end of this short, fleeting life you live. And you need to make that happen. You NEED to make that happen. It’s not an option, not a bonus, not the “cherry on top” of an already fulfilled life. Your work will never fulfill you. Sharing a life with the people you love… that’s your only hope at happiness on this Earth. It’s attainable. But not without the temptation to chase everything else that the world promises will fulfill you instead. Say no. Just say no. Decide what you want and stick to it. If that’s spending evenings and weekends with the love of your life… oh what a beautiful life that would be. The best decision you can make is always the one that is going to help you leave your world better than you found it. Whether that world is as vast as the globe or as small as the children at your feet or as close as the person laying by your side when you fall asleep at night. Commit to them. Do it and do it well, whatever “it” is. Decide for yourself what you want to have left at the end of this life and then make it happen. You can do it. I know you can. Never lose sight of what’s important, of who is important. And never forget that by loving just one person, you have already changed the world. 

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Photo by Meredith Sledge

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