Birthday Letters

This post is part of a series on the various ways I've used pen and paper in my life. To learn more about it, check out the introduction, or view the "ink and paper brain" category for other posts.

The day I turned 20, on a whim, I wrote an email to myself one year in the future. I bemoaned present-day politics, laid out a sketchy set of hopes for my year to come, and scheduled the email for delivery, beginning a tradition I still keep today.

I went analog after the first one, but the idea is otherwise unchanged: each year on my birthday, I read past years’ letters to my future selves, then write one for the year to come, inevitably cracking at least one joke in the process about the grammatical difficulties of writing to oneself in the future. Then I seal it up and stow it away for another 365 days (give or take).

Although I record big events and milestones in my personal journal, these annual letters have grown to serve an important role for me. Each year, I get to reflect not only on the past year, but the years before it as well, and see how I’ve grown. At the same time, I record a snapshot of the present and consider my future. It’s a tradition of mindfulness that I deeply treasure.

Writing to myself has also helped me remember to treat myself with love, and it does so precisely because of the form of the letter. In my journal entries, I am telling stories or expressing myself for an empty audience—I’m not talking to anyone, not even myself. But letters are, by their very nature, social. When I write a letter to myself, I have to think of myself as I would any other person—I use the pronoun “you”, for instance. This structure curbs any impulse I might have to be excessively self-critical or mean, because I would never write such things in a friendly letter to another person.

I have to treat my (future) self with the dignity and respect I’d show any other friend I wrote to, and over five years, that has helped me immensely to build a loving relationship with myself.

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