A Letter To My 22 Year Old Self


Dear Peter,
It’s me, your future self from five years ahead.

Honestly, I’m not sure you should or could make any different decisions than I already did. But, I can at least tell you that it’s okay that you feel so lost right now and tell you what’s coming ahead in the next few years. You’re going to lose your way, but you’ll also find your way back.

I know you’re having a difficult time. You’re living in a big city with few friends. You’re really distraught over graduate school. You never read Aristotle, Augustine, or Aquinas. That’s why you’re having a tough time following your philosophy peers using words like Being and Reason. It’s not your fault. You spent your college years programming and reading the Bhagavad Gita, Dao De Jing, and Lotus Sutra.

You’re going to realize you have no future in a Ph D program. It’s going to hurt. You’re going to lose trust not only in academia and larger institutions but also in yourself, in your emotions, in your decision making.

As a result, you’re going to attempt to become the ideal, self-made man.

Over the next year:
* You’re going to start going to the gym to lift weights. 
* You’re going to read Tim Ferriss’ 4-Hour Workweek and be inspired to become an entrepreneur.
* You’re going to join the pickup community and try to meet beautiful women in the worst locations of night clubs and street corners.
* You’re even going to buy an RV with the idea of traveling and living cross country.

You’re going to keep doing these things for years.

It depends on perspective, it’s not all bad.

But, you’re going to fail repeatedly. Again. Again. And Again.

* You’ll make hundreds of dollar in internet marketing, but you’ll also lose thousands of dollars more.

* You’ll gain a few pounds of muscle before you quit after a few months. Then, you’ll try it again with renewed determination.

* You’ll go on a few dates with girls you met in bars and even on the street. Hell, you’ll even lose your virginity. But, that nagging feeling of inferiority and insecurity will sabotage any potential relationship. Not to mention, you’re looking for girls in all the wrong places.

* You’ll move to Florida where you make some incredible friends and join a meditation community (sangha) for the first time. But, then, you’ll get robbed and leave.

* You’ll discover your first true love in Boulder, Colorado and afterwards spend a year of heartbreak that it couldn’t be.

* You’ll finally drive your RV cross country to Portland. …where you’ll get robbed again. You’ll accept it with an open heart. But, the next day, you’ll discover your transmission is dead. And then you will break down into tears and despair. Not so much because you were in love with that transmission but because it represents jut how broken your dreams and goals were in the first place.

* You’ll lose $300 playing poker in the Bellagio in Las Vegas and hide out in your hotel room for a week programming your first, successful web application.

* This will lead you to believe you could startup a web business. You’ll cold call businesses and knock on doors asking for a hour to chat.

And after all this?

You’ll move to Boston to live with one of your best friends from college along with other best friends in the area.

Initially, you’ll be a broken man without any more goals or delusions.

You know, I just realized that I shouldn’t speak for you so much. Sorry about that, let me just say what happened for me then.

I definitely felt like a broken man. Every goal I set since your age having not come to fruition. I felt cursed like I couldn’t change. That I would always be that poor, skinny, and lonely kid back in high school.

But, at this lowest of moments, in the dark, terrible Boston winter, is when I was ready to find my way back.

Remember, that 21 year old version of us? The one who just came off of a ten day vipassana meditation retreat in Shelburne Falls? His eyes were so bright and clear, he knew the truth but didn’t yet know how to integrate that into his daily life. And that’s why I did all these things, trying to learn how to thrive in this world.

About a year ago, I started going to the Shambhala Center. Early on, I had a talk with Nick, my newest and closest dharma teacher. I told him, "I can’t tell anymore what is my inmost request and what are just my unintelligent, instinctual reactions or social conditioning anymore." I knew at that moment that I had lost my way.

This past spring, I started seeing a holistic therapist. I’ll tell him things I’ve never said to another human being. He keeps telling me to allow the feelings in, to listen to them, and accept them. I start listening and then feeling and eventually accepting myself.

In the past summer, I went to a full week Shambhala retreat in Vermont where I bared my soul to a crowded room about having felt a lifetime of inadequate, inferiority, of not being enough for others. There was so much confusion, pain, and sadness back then.

Now, this past weekend, I did another Shambhala meditation retreat in Shelburne Falls where I had first meditated and found my path all those years ago.

But, this time, I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel so confused or sad. I was mystified at first wondering if I was suppressing an emotion. But, no. There was only compassion and joy. I finished the retreat surprised that unlike previous retreats, I didn’t feel very sad that I was leaving. Nor did I look at my meditation peers hoping we would be best friends afterwards.

I think you’ll get here one day too. I don’t know if there are any shortcuts. I’m tempted to give you advice:
Don’t do internet marketing. Don’t buy that RV. Don’t get involved with those pickup people.
Do exercise with a barbell instead. Do get a regular programming job. Do meditate with a sangha.
But most importantly, do learn to accept and appreciate all the small moments.

But, the truth is, I don’t think you would believe me.

Besides, despite all those failures, it was all good feedback. Now, I’m never ever going to be tempted again with shortcuts. I won’t always be thinking, “maybe if I just ___ then everything will be alright.” I tried that path of pure willpower without emotion. Now, I’m never going to stray from my path because I can feel it right here, right now in my center.

I keep using the word failure. But it’s not like any of those experiences were wrong in themselves. The only failure was that I wasn’t listening to myself, to my emotions, to my experience. I wasn’t trusting myself. Otherwise, they were a lot of adventuresome, great experiences, but they came about from a need to overcompensate and be someone else.

Learn to trust yourself, trust in your center. A lot of your instincts turned out true. Mindfulness is the hottest topic now. Video games are a bigger industry than films. Web development jobs have equal or higher salaries than engineers. You were just ahead of your time.

You don’t need anyone’s permission or have to become special in order to start living a genuine, sincere life right now, right here.

Your Future Self
Peter Park