Seeing as how my birthday is approaching (Sunday!), this is it.
Dear 18-year-old Shonali,
Right now, you’re wondering if your life is over, now that you’re almost out of your teens. As your 40-something self, I can tell you that it’s not… in fact, in terms of experience, you haven’t even been born yet. So listen up.
Embrace your difference
What you want most of all right now is to be like everyone else. Tough. It’s not going to happen.
You’re always going to be” different.” You’re going to be taller, darker, weirder … you name it, you’ll be it.
It feels horrid, because you want so much to be one of the gang. But one day, that “difference” in you is going to click and you will come into your own. It will take about 12 years, but it will happen.
You will still have to deal with, and fight against, favoritism, condescension, even racism. You’ll still be hurt by the assumptions people make about you. But your “difference” is going to make you who you are… and bring you to the wonderful man you’ll marry.
Speaking of men
You’re going to meet a lot of them. They will find you attractive, and they will let you know that. And, as a result, you will let them walk all over you.
Your heart is going to be broken many, many times. And when you least expect it, you will “meet” one (I’m keeping that bit a surprise, because right now, you couldn’t imagine how things will unfold in a million years) and he will be just right for you.
And you will learn that men don’t validate you; only you can validate yourself. It will take a while, and it’s going to hurt while it does. But you’ll finally get it.
You’ve been brought up to be a “good” girl. For the most part, this is a good thing. But it is also a bad thing, because you draw back when you should stand up for yourself, and give in when you know better.
Learn to listen to your gut. It is rarely wrong. Scratch that. It is never wrong. And you have a very talkative gut.
Learn to work hard
Most things come easily to you. As a result, you put in the minimal effort you need to. This will get you by for a while, but in about two years, you’re going to find it doesn’t. And you’ll have to work your butt off. And it will be tough.
And it will be good. Because nothing worth having comes easily. Trust me on this one.
Mother of none, mother of hundreds
Many years from now, you will be diagnosed with severe endometriosis. As a result, you will never bear children. This is going to hurt you, and you will cry and mourn the children you never had.
Grieve. Mourn. Weep.
And then open your eyes and look at all the children you never bore, but had; all the children you helped mould and grow to be fine young men and women. They will be the children you taught in primary school, through acting workshops, and yes, even graduate students.
In a way, you will be “mother” to them all. Isn’t that something?
Many years from now
You’ll be coloring your grey hairs with red highlights. You won’t be as thin as you are now. You’ll have to learn how to live in a fast-changing world… so much faster than you can imagine.
There will be this thing called “Twitter” that will, at first, confound you. It will be frustrating, frightening, and lonely at times.
And you’ll be just fine.
P.S. One more thing. Never stop dancing.
What would you say to your younger self? I’d so love to know.