Earlier this week I went to my parents’ house to clean out some old remnants of stuff I’d left behind when I moved out. There was a ton of old paperwork; they’d saved all my report cards, even my first grade ones with Mrs. Lathrop. There were old letters strewn in there too, old notebooks filled with writing and drawings I’d done, and, perhaps best of all, old school pictures. The school pictures were the kind that you wish you could scrub from your memory, the kind that make you feel awkward for the kid in it. Mostly though there were boxes and boxes and boxes of my old photography prints, from high school to college. My senior thesis was in there too – a 20 ton box of square color prints on big chunks of plexi.

My mom and I sat up in my brother’s old bedroom (a closet now) for hours (my dad too, when he wasn’t chasing Sebastian around) and we laughed at all the ridiculousness that was there, we reminisced too as we read through old papers – some of which were my brother’s (don’t worry Jon, we saved those for you). It was like a trip down memory lane and a trip into my most intimate moments all rolled up into one. While I was driving home, my 2yr old in tow, I thought back on the girl I was. The girl who wrote those desperate poems, the girl who drew all those images, the young woman who struggled to find her voice through crazy self-portraits in empty hotels. Where did she go? It felt as if she’d vanished, or maybe she’d just been eaten up by a life in constant forward motion.

As I shuffle through those same pictures now, I want so much to reach into them, to grab the girl inside and shake her. I want to tell her so much. So I’m going to try now:

Dear Kate,

You cannot possibly begin to understand the life you have before you: the promise you hold, the potential, and the limitless opportunities. You don’t see it yet because you’re too wrapped up in trying to be something to everyone. You believe that you are what people think of you. You work so diligently to keep quiet, to be steady and non-disruptive. You strive to gain the respect of those around you, but don’t demand that they require yours in return. I know. You may not think anyone does, but I do. I know you struggle. I know you laugh too, and I know how you shine – but not too much, can’t shine too much. I know you wonder if you’re ever going to find your voice and if you’re going to have the courage to use it when you do. I know all your quiet heartbreaks and your amazing mistakes.

I want to tell you something: I see you. You may feel alone, but you are not. You will step out into the world and against the advice of people you respect and love, you will find work that will lead you to a position of leadership and though you may hate it at the time, it will make you the money and give you the time you need to chase the life you want – the one you only think about when your head is on your pillow late at night. You will marry a man who loves you – the whole messy package – and he will be the support you need when things get tough, and believe me, they will. You’ll have a baby! Two, in fact. You’ll have the courage to leave the security of a good job to take care of your son and pursue your passions. Through hard work and love you will be successful.

When the time comes, you’ll have the courage to once again leave what is comfortable to forge ahead into a better future, not just for you, but for the family you love so much. You will once again work to realize a dream you’ve kept quiet in your heart. Hold on tight, because it’ll be a bumpy ride. This time however, hard work and love will not be enough and you will watch your dream fall apart and everything else around you will start to slip. You may think it is the death of everything you’ve worked so hard to create, but it is just a reorganization of the way things are meant to flow. This is a conclusion that will take time to sink in, so be patient. Ask for help because you’ll need it. Take all the hugs that are offered, cry into the shoulders of the people you love and then strap on those work boots and get back to it.

You are capable of great things. You are a wonder to behold. You are stronger than you ever imagined. You are enough. I wish I could reach out to you, give you a hug and tell you that over and over again: you are enough. I can’t wait for the day when you realize it for yourself.

I know I threw some spoilers in here, sorry! Just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You’re on the right path so have courage. You’ll make some ridiculous decisions – try to laugh them off when you realize the scope of the ridiculousness. You’ll make some great ones too, so stop second guessing yourself. Have faith in your intelligence (I read those report cards!) and you will end up right where you should be.

Oh, and let loose a little every now and again, the world won’t fall apart if you do, but you may if you don’t.

Ever yours,