we must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us - Joseph Campbell quote

Normally I don’t do this many personal posts in a row, but this week I was inspired by Jesse’s post, so I thought I would join in writing my own letter to my former myself a decade or so in the past.

we must be willing to let go of the life we have planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us - Joseph Campbell quote


Dear Katherine (since you don’t call yourself Kate yet),

Hello from the future!  I know that you are excited about your life ahead and in a hurry to grow up (and when haven’t you been).  I also know that you are lonely and unhappy.  However, don’t let the world get you down.  There are exciting adventures and things won’t always be the way there are today.

First there are a few things you are thinking about yourself, that well, are totally wrong.  Start questioning each of these so you can find the path that will make you happy.  And start believing in yourself.  Hard work will get you a long way, but success will only come when you learn to be you.  Here are some tips to help you along:

  1. You are a great engineer and programmer, but you are even better leader.  I know you want to grow into a senior or principal engineer role, but truth be told there are other paths that are a much better fit.  Now you may be aware you are very good at debugging thorny issues others have trouble with, and this is because you have a knack for seeing the big picture.  So on those long nights ahead, when you are faced with large tasks and green field development, know that you are procrastinating for a reason – your strengths really lie elsewhere.  When someone suggests you should consider a different path, be open to it and don’t assume you will hate being a manager just because you hate meetings (and you will probably always hate meetings, but this just means you will innovate better ways of communicating that suit you better).
  2. Being a great technologist does not make you great at business.  At some point in your career you will join a startup with other great programmers and product people, and you will think that just because you are smart and tenacious you can figure out marketing and sales.  You can’t and build/launch a product.  Find people that are amazing in their fields and enlist their help and don’t assume you can (or should) do anything.  Reading a few marketing books does not make you good or even competent at marketing and the best marketers you meet will blow you away until you realize how little you really know about marketing.  And let’s just say that even though you have interviewed, hired and worked with sales people, you still don’t understand sales people.
  3. Negotiate your salary – you are worth it.  I know you are so grateful to have a job, but what all your coworkers didn’t tell you is that they didn’t just accept the first salary offered to them.  If someone wants to hire you, they are expecting you to negotiate, so don’t hesitate to ask for more.  They will still want to hire you after you ask, so just be polite and courteous in your requests.  Trust me, you are worth it because you will work harder the majority of your peers, and you will care be devoted to any project or initiative thrown in your direction.
  4. Be nice to others and stop trying to always be right.  You are smart, but you are lonely and work on projects by yourself for a reason (and not because of the lies you tell yourself involving excuses like “not needing help”) – you haven’t made an effort to ne nice to others, and then you take every chance to show how smart you are to those around you.  No one likes a know-it-all so stop being such a brat and actually treat others the way you want to be treated.  These people will end up being your future colleagues and friends and help you personally and professionally.  Go out of your way to treat others well, and forget winning arguments – being right isn’t worth hurting a potential friendship or connection.  You never know how those people know, or may become in the years ahead.
  5. The world is not a utopia, and people do judge.  Stop thinking that you can wear boyish clothes and messy hair and think that the perfect guy will come along and find you attractive.  No matter how great your book is on the inner pages, don’t neglect the cover.  A great cover, or first impression, will help you get your foot in the door with a chance to show how amazing you can be.
  6. Peanut butter M&Ms and Mountain Dew will make you fat – so lay off the treats.  At some point soon you will realize that somehow you gained a lot weight – and your doctor will tell you that you have an obesity problem and that your health ailments are a result of your food choices and sedentary lifestyle.   After surgery, hundreds of chicken breasts (go Atkins’ diet and low carb eating), a personal trainer, and countless hours at the gym you will lose the weight.  And coupled with a great hair stylist, the women at the makeup counters in Nordstrom, and a subscription to some fashion magazines you will actually be considered pretty hot.  So stop eating the whole box of Klondike bars in one sitting – those calories will eventually need to come off.
  7. Be authentic.  Right now you are trying to fit in by going to parties and hanging out with groups of people after work everyday.  You think that if you act like an extrovert it will eventually get easier, but the reality is that you are very much an introvert and so it is no surprising you find these social situations both awkward and exhausting.  You will learn more about who you are and become comfortable in your own skin.  You won’t feel the need or desire to impress people the way you do now, and you will be comfortable admitting that you are flawed, you make mistakes, and that you are trying.  Everyone wants to be loved, and the only way you can do that is by being yourself.
  8. The ride will be amazing, enjoy the journey.  There will be times when you may question your path and wonder if you chose the right education, the right career, and the right partner.   And these choices may bother you at times, but they shouldn’t.

In time, everything will be put into perspective. In fact things will turn out differently, but so much better, than you could have planned or expected.  When the man you want to marry, breaks up with you to move out of the country, you will find a new partner who opens up the world to you in a way you never thought possible.  And even though you think you are a cat person, you will adopt 2 puppies that become adorable furry balls of joy and convert you into a dog person.  You will meet amazing people, that become your friends, and that will love you for you – and they will help you see all the great qualities that make you wonderful, if a bit quirky.  You are very lucky in the future, but in many ways you worked hard to make that luck.

You will find happiness, success, and optimism (hard to believe since you are quite the cynic and pessimist) – and you won’t dread each day, but instead you will wake up excited and proud of the person you have become.  So don’t give up, keep up the hard work, and if you can try to invent twitter.

You were born shine – keep your sparkle.



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