Oh, if only I could prepare you for what you're about to endure over the next several years.
You will laugh, you will cry, and you will experience some of the worst pain in your heart that you will ever feel in this life. If I could stop time and somehow get a message to you before you (I? We? Us? How do monologue style essays go?) head into your emotional, yet exhilarating 20s, this is what I would say:
Your body is beautiful.
You will be surrounded by thousands of bodies as you go throughout college and beyond. None will look like yours. Some will be slimmer, some will be larger, but they are not yours. Your hormones will be fluctuating and regulating as you become the adult you are—some days you will feel a little puffier, and other days you will feel on top of the world. This is normal—you are a woman. It comes with the territory, and you are beautiful anyway. You are your own body, heart and soul, and it is lovely. The world will tell you to look a certain way, and it will give you dangerous tools to try and get you there. Diuretics, laxatives, fat burners, and starving yourself may bring you down a size or two, but it will come with a mountain of issues that will nearly kill you. My heart aches for you as I watch you look at other women around you and wish you had a smaller waist, leaner thighs and a butt that doesn't nearly knock over the glass of the next table over as you try to squeeze in that booth to meet your friends for dinner. Your ethnic genes will be working against you as you fight to look like the girl on page seven of Cosmopolitan magazine. I wish you wouldn't spend hours trying the newest, latest fad workout, hoping it will lessen the number the scale. Oh, how I wish you wouldn't put your napkin on your plate after eating three bites and say, "I'm full." My heart will drop as you step on the scale three times a day. You are beautiful, you are sexy, you are a woman—and therefore, a work of art.
Guard your heart.
My darling, your heart is so big and wants to love and be accepted by anyone who will give you the time of day. As you get older, you will learn the D-word. Discernment. You will learn to filter through who has good intentions and who is just passing by, looking to quell a craving for companionship and some warm flesh at night. At some point, young Hope, you will be so desperate for a man's love you will be willing to look past harsh words that drag you down and make you feel smaller than an ant, and lower than dirt. You will be called damaged and broken, and he will say the phrase that will numb your heart: "You are complicated and so hard to love. You're lucky to have someone like me." That will be his free pass to do and say whatever he wants to you. You will take these many forms of abuse until someone, one day, who is a bit better, passes by and makes you feel happy and full of sunshine. He will play a part that you needed him to fill as you shut the door that led you down a very dark road. He will rescue you, and he will build you up. He will show you that it is possible for you to love. He will slow dance with you in your bedroom and make you laugh until your stomach hurts. He will write love letters and accept you where you are. He will never utter a word about your illnesses, both physically and mentally. He will make you forget your past. He will make you feel beautiful again. But, my darling, I am so sorry ... He was not meant to stay. You will mourn his goodbye as if someone has died. You will feel a gaping hole that nothing can fill. You will try to soothe this pain and mask this wound, but it will not heal for a very, very long time. Ah, I wish I could tell you who will be there at the end of this road to dry your tears and walk through the rest of your life with, but you need to learn to be alone first. You need to learn to love yourself. A man does not hold your value in the palm of his hand. You must learn your worth. Once you learn this pertinent lesson, there is a man—not a boy—who is ready to greet you with open arms.
They don't matter.
You have been a social butterfly since you were a little girl, and it has led you to choose a career that is defined and depicted by what the world says and reacts to everything you speak, write and do. You will go on to be a leader and own a company whose goal is to paint people and companies in the best light so that society accepts and loves them. If you do not do this, and if you do not succeed, you will fail at your job. You're good at marketing and publicity, but you will sell your soul and work unhealthy hours to make your mark and feel like a success. How I wish you knew your value and that you do not need to prove anything to the world to matter—you already matter. They don't matter, though. The world's opinion may matter at work, but their views do not matter when it comes to you. You will find it a true, and nearly a decade-long challenge to siphon this out as you work on yourself and find out who you are. You will learn that comments are just comments, reviews are relative, chart rankings are just numbers, and opinions are just that—opinions. These opinions are that of another flawed human being, just like yourself, who are trying to find their way in the world just as you are. Do not take these words to heart. They do not matter. Tune out the white noise, and learn that your value comes from within.
You know what to do.
You are entering a decade where technology will advance us in medicine, science, communication and education—in that same vein, it will stifle, ruin and kill relationships, including the one with yourself. You are among a generation that will forget how to eat a meal without staring at their phones or hold a friendly conversation. You will be surrounded by idle chatter of notifications, sounds, chirps, reminders, likes, retweets and DMs of those who either don't matter or think that they know best. Feeds of photos upon photos will plague your devices, and you will soon forget what life was like before the highlight reel of your peers and the opinions of those around you. You will become so used to this, and for awhile, you will forget what you stand for and who you are. You will seek approval from those online and off-line, but never within. You will become dissatisfied and discontent with the sound of silence. You will forget that it is OK to be alone. You'll feel uneasy about any decision you make. Sit quietly. Turn your phone off. Sit quietly, sit patiently. Breathe in and breathe out. You know what to do. You do not need to look at others lives or ask others to figure out what the right thing is to do. You need to learn to trust yourself, your intuition and your gut instinct—you know what to do, you know who to be, you know what you want. You just have been too busy being wrapped up in watching others' lives and forgetting to live your own. You were given an innate, individual voice within, and you need to learn to listen to it. It's the drop of your stomach when something feels wrong; it's the exhilarating energy that arises when a choice is the best for you; it's the peace that comes from within when you've taken a turn on this trail of life that tells you it is the right one. You know yourself better than anyone on this earth, so stop seeking outside influences and opinions. Trust yourself. Trust your gut.
You will learn some of the most important lessons of your life in your 20s, and you will be made better for it.
All my love,
Hope Alcocer is Chicago born, Michigan raised, turned New Yorker (and moving back to the Midwest next month!). She released her second book, ''30 Things Before 30", this past March, on her 30th birthday. Hope is the owner of Wonder Woman Media, a marketing and PR firm that services small businesses and indie music artists around the world. In her spare time, Hope can be found spending time with her over-the-top Armenian family, speaking at women's events, traveling, checking out the closet punk rock concert, drinking way too much champagne with her girlfriends, or attending a fitness class with a gluten-free smoothie in hand. Learn more about Hope and follow her on Instagram.
Photo Courtesy of Ghost Code Studios.