Dear 25-Year-Old Me,

I am writing to you amidst a happily comfortable scene. From the top down -a messy bun, an oversized shirt I stained with cleaning supplies, hand-me-down running shorts, and calf length Frida Kahlo socks slipped into teal blue Birkenstocks that could really use a wash.

To maybe no one’s surprise- I was attempting to study for an exam when I suddenly fell into a deep thought vacuum and realized there was something imminent I had to say to you. I’m afraid I won’t have this mindset forever so I’m determined to keep it in writing for when the time is right- for when you must read.

I was studying for one of those ‘life’ exams; one that you pay half of a mortgage just to take; one that makes you realize ‘Oh, I’m actually doing this’. I’m actually doing what I have been telling my friends, my family and myself I would do. Now it’s happening. To do it right, I will be busy. I will be hardworking, and I will be uncompromising in my dedication to what is not just a career but, for me, what is actually a journey.

I know now. I know I place a premium on the role that health, education, knowledge and access play into the lives of too many underserved and overwhelmed populations. I realize that, in order to be effective in evoking change, I need to be good. I actually need to be the best. I need to work the hardest I have ever worked before, strive to achieve the highest level of character I can, and never lose sight of what I believe is truly important.

Like I said, I will be busy. My reality check tells me I will wake up one day and be 25 with a masters degree still pending somewhere in my future and a lifetime’s worth of steps to climb before I can even see the view I am after- if it is even there.

What I want to tell you, when I become you, is not to worry.

You will have friends who are married, friends who have already gotten to where they were called to go, friends who have accomplished worlds more than you have, and you might be nervous. Let yourself feel whatever you are feeling, but please stop before you redefine your criteria of you to fit what everyone else may be.

If you have not met someone that you -from the bottom of your heart to the tip of your toes- love, do not convince yourself otherwise. Do you enjoy the mundane with this person? Do you feel so comfortable with them that you go on autopilot without even realizing it? Do you genuinely admire who they are and do they return the admiration for you? Realize that love is not the opposite of emptiness. You are not in a ‘race against the clock’ to find a partner. Love is a gift, and if you find someone you want to give it to, give it to them; but know that you are not any less or any more for doing so.

In your professional or academic field, do not get down if you have a long way to the top. Hard work, even unrewarded, will always serve you well. For as long as your passion is still burning, have faith in yourself. When you were 21 you believed in this with stars in your eyes and fire in your belly. Don’t let yourself give up.

Dear 25-year-old me. I’m so excited to meet you, and I hope you will feel the same about me.

Until then, with love, uncertainty, and cautionary optimism,

Damicela Grace Calhoun

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