#3: Letter to my past self

And a meditation on the distant future.

Hi! I'm Kasra. This is where I share reflections about life, mindfulness, reading, knowledge, and more. If you'd like to receive a weekly-ish update from me, subscribe here 👇

💭 Reflection: Letter to my past self

When I was graduating from college, I took part in a tradition of writing a letter to my freshman self. I took this letter as an opportunity to capture the ways I had changed over time and offer words of encouragement to younger peers.

I was nervous when I stumbled across this letter again recently, because I knew I'd been in an Emotionally Difficult place at the time I wrote it. (This also coincides with when I started meditating.) I’ve generally found that when I’m really sad it's harder to see things clearly, so I was worried the letter would come across as bleak and cynical. But I was pleasantly surprised that most of the things I wrote still sound reasonable two years on.

So for the sake of celebrating the transformations we all experience over time, here's 2021 Kasra sharing 2019 Kasra's letter to 2016 Kasra. Some context: I transferred schools, so I'm technically addressing my just-transferred-to-Penn junior self.

Dear Kasra,

I know what you’re thinking. You’re sitting in your dorm room, a day into orientation, wondering whether you made the right decision. Is it too late to go back to U of T? You can still call it quits on all this transfer stuff, go back home, and pretend like it never happened.

You’ll get through the night by heading to your parents’ hotel room in the city. You’ll feel a weight lifted from your shoulders in their company, remembering that the world is always bigger than the small pocket of it that you inhabit. And once they leave, you’ll find other ways to make the time pass, stumbling between classes, club interviews, and awkward exchanges at parties.

There are a few things I want you to keep in mind as you begin this experience. There’s only so much that words on a page can do to help, but I hope that remembering even a small piece of these musings will help you once or twice in the next few years.

i. You are not a monotonically increasing function

You’re heading into Penn with the conviction that you always get better over time. You expect that every year you will grow—that you will finish the year objectively happier, stronger, and more confident than you were at the start. With the passing of time, you expect to have more friends, more lessons learned, and a better ability to handle your emotions.

As you venture further into adulthood, you’ll realize that it’s a bit more complicated than that. Yes, you’ll learn and grow, but you’ll also experience setbacks that really begin to wear you down. You won’t always feel wiser and more mature than you did before. You’ll sometimes look back at yourself a year or two in the past, wondering where your self-esteem and happiness went. You’ll feel increasingly weak in the face of even small rejections and failures.

Rather than expecting to always be better, think of yourself more as a continual process of regeneration. You will find new sources of strength, and unfamiliar points of weakness you hadn’t noticed before. You’ll be broken down time and again, and if you don’t put the effort into rebuilding yourself, it won’t happen on its own. Go exercise, meditate, find small things to be grateful for, and re-establish your belief in yourself. And know that you’ll have to start the process all over again tomorrow.

ii. Be less afraid and more patient

As you start your journey here, you’re burdened by fears of how things will turn out. Will you find your group of friends? Will you be able to manage the pressure without breaking down? Will you regret coming here?

Not to spoil the surprise, but some of your fears will come to fruition. You’ll feel like no one wants to be your friend during Fling and St. Patty’s and any other occasion in which it seems like everyone else is having more fun than you. You’ll spend months of your last year waking up and going to bed consumed by regret over a decision you made. Time and again, you’ll experience anxiety and helplessness that you’re convinced you can no longer endure.

But endure you will. And I want you to know that it’s not just your best friends and family that believe in you. As much as it won’t feel true in the moment, there’s a small source of courage within you that believes you can overcome these things. You don’t need to be afraid that you can’t handle the worst that will come at you.

Through it all, have patience. It will take a year and a half to finally feel at home and find your group of friends. It will take six months to get over what was just supposed to be a small crush. In the moment, every challenge you face will feel like it’s taking way longer than it should; but when it’s over you’ll look back and wonder how it passed so quickly.

iii. You can’t defer decisions forever

One last thing you’ll begin to see as you spend more time here is that you’ll have to make bigger and more consequential decisions than before. They won’t be as simple as the decision to join a club, or as binary as the decision to transfer. At some point, you’ll have to figure out exactly what it is that you want to do, rather than just follow the guidelines set forth by everyone else.

You will try your best to shy away from these decisions. You won’t know how to decide, so you’ll defer, stall for time, and try to keep as many options open for as long as possible. The future seems so bright and open when you haven’t committed yourself to one particular path.

Eventually, you’ll realize that you can’t do this forever. You can’t completely dispel fears of missing out on the path you didn’t take, and you can’t eliminate all possibility of regret. You’ll never know the right answer or be one hundred percent sure of what you want—you’ll just have to take a leap of faith. It’s better for you to take this leap than to let some default decision be made for you (which will happen to you more than once, by the way). Make the best decision you can with the information you have, and be ready to experience both the joy and the suffering that is inherent in our ability to choose.

I’ll leave you with a few practical tips. Always keep a supply of tea, honey, NyQuil, and tissues for when you get sick, because you won’t want to get out of your bed once you have a high fever, let alone make the trek to CVS in the snow. Try to live in a building that has a fitness room so you can strengthen your body, and download a meditation app so you can strengthen your mind. And finally, FaceTime Maman and Baba more often; they think about you every day.

Hope some of my retrospections resonated with you!

🧘‍♀️ Meditation: Everyone in ten years

In every newsletter, I’ll share something that brought me joy, wonder, or clearer awareness. Here’s a mental exercise I enjoyed recently, relating to the future rather than the past.

Think about someone you find inspiring. Take a minute to visualize their face and their presence and all the things that make them awesome. What will that person be like in ten years? You know they'll be doing something incredible, but you have no idea what.

The same applies to all the other wonderful people you know. Think of the best people in your life: the ones who make you smile, who enlighten you with their insight, who always find reasons to love life. Just how much more awesome will all these people be ten years from now?

That day is coming, no doubt. And you'll still be connected to all these people, probably more connected than you are today. You're gonna be able to see that world!

Which of your friends will have moved to a far off town across the ocean? Which of them will have founded some wildly successful startup or nonprofit? Which of them will have gotten married? Which of them will have gotten married to each other?

Which of them will write a book that moves people? Which of them will become a teacher or a professor or a mentor for youth? Which of them will devote their life to service, or to art? Which of them will run for mayor or councilor or governor?

Which of them will climb all the way up the corporate ladder and then say fuck it and meditate in a cave for five years?

What will your friendships with them look like? Which of them will have built a surprisingly deep connection with you, and which of them will have faded away?

Which of your friends will be happy?

There's also all the people you look up to but don't know personally. Your favorite writers, athletes, artists, academics. What sort of groundbreaking work will they have done? What will your new favorite album, novel, or artwork be? Which of these people, if any, will you have had the chance to meet?

And finally, there's yourself. What lives will you have touched, how many places will you have seen, what moments of bliss will have changed your outlook? What struggles and crises will have shown you that you were stronger than you'd ever known?

The date February 21st, 2031 will one day have that little colored dot on your calendar denoting "today". Who do you think will be with you on that day, sitting at a cafe or bar (or virtual reality room), reminiscing about the silly things you all did in the 2020's? Noticing how you had been taking yourselves a little too seriously, had never realized how young you still were back then?

Every now and then, when you find yourself too zoomed in to the present, experiment with this blast from the future. Revel in the possibility of all that has not happened yet. And get back to today with a little more lightness.

See you next time,