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Dear J,

I want to be real with you. But sometimes real means sad or angry or confused. In real life you go through good and bad and sometimes it might be bad for a while. Still, even when life is ugly and tough to handle there’s something beautiful about it. It’s not the glamorous life we’re taught to praise and lust after full of laughs and friends, but I don’t want that with you because the good times are only half of a real and full life. I want a real life, and I want it with you.

When things are bad, I want you to be there to comfort me or be upset too or talk it out just like I want you there smiling next to me when things are good. Life can’t be just one way; I can’t be just one way. If you want everything, and that’s what you deserve, if you want true intimacy and connection, we have to be there for each other through anything, whether we can fully understand what the other person is going through or not. I won’t abandon you. But most importantly, I won’t expect you to be just one way. You will change, in good ways and in bad, but I will accept you through it all. At your worst and at your best, my feelings and my support won’t waver. Of course, when I’m at my worst it won’t be easy to see, but my love is still there.

In many ways we are taught that the best relationships are always full of high-spirited and care-free laughter, but people that connect in a way so permanent, so indivisible, that you become a part of each other, stand together to face every aspect of life. That’s what it is to truly share this experience. And life’s that way too. The best lives tell a story of hope and triumph, but also have chapters of downfall and doubt. Without hardship, there would be no trial, beautifully and heroically overcome. There would be no pheonix, stronger than ever before, rising from the ashes. Our lives, our life together, will test us as people and as a pair, but if we turn to each other, rather than away, in times of trouble, we will rise. We will become stronger. Don’t fear the dark nights to come for, let’s be real, they will only make us burn brighter.

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Dear J,

This time I’m writing you, not with something you need to hear, but with something I need to say…to someone.

Sometimes it’s easy to be happy. It’s easy to ignore the bad things, the imperfections and just enjoy the beautiful things. But sometimes it’s really hard to forget the sad things, the difficult things, the thing they said or the thing you lost. It’s much easier to be sad. In fact, it feels like you have to be, like it’s the only option. In your mind you know it’s not. But in your heart it feels like it is.

I’m not asking you to help me, to make this feeling go away, because maybe it’s not wrong to feel this way sometimes. Maybe it’s necessary in order to appreciate those other moments. It scares me but sometimes I feel like it’s right to be sad and to appreciate bad moments for their power over us, as long as we don’t let them defeat us. I’m compelled to give anger and sadness some respect but I don’t want to spread them to the world around me, to you. For me though, I think I might need to accept the unpleasant feelings and experience them to let them go. This world isn’t always black and white but there’s definitely some black and there’s definitely some white. There’s terrible realities and there’s unbelievable beauty and triumph too. Sometimes one takes hold of you, and that’s a part of this human life. I’m not sure I have any real idea why things have to be this way but I’m resolved to accept it because for me that’s the only way I can begin to control how I feel. I just hope that I never forget to appreciate every beautiful moment and most importantly practice creating my own beauty and happiness for myself and those who cross my path. Thanks for being there for me, in good times and bad.

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Dear S,

I know it can seem like your life is limited right now. How you spend your time is based mostly on obligations assigned to you by someone else. Your path up till now has been determined by chance; this is the life you were given. Any free time you do have feels seriously limited to interests and hobbies that are decidedly popular, that is if you’re interested in experiencing acceptance and connection from the people you see every day. Worse than your time being limited, your circumstances make you feel limited. Your capabilities, rights, and choices are defined by your parents, your peers, even your mentors. It almost seems like there is one correct path and not choosing it…well that’s not even an option. How could I know such personal things about you that maybe you hadn’t even realized before? Because I’m pretty sure this is how everyone feels at some point, at least I did. But as someone who is able to say did, as in past tense, as in no longer do I feel this way, I can tell you that there’s more for you here in this life. It’s not waiting for you in 5, 10, 50 years, it’s here now. And if you don’t at least consider that you could do things other than what’s expected of you, things that could be bigger, better, or just different, well that’s a shame. Because if you aren’t willing to try things that you never thought were possible for you, you’ll never really discover exactly who you are and maybe you’ll never feel any different than you do now: limited.

I’ll admit, it’s really tough to talk about these things in a letter. Well to talk about them at all really. It’s tough to condense it all, to make any sense from it. Most confusingly, I’m finding it hard to accept that these things I’m saying could really be true…and hard to accept that maybe they’re not true. But I never promised to only tell you the truth, I promised to be honest with you. And these are the things I’ve decided to believe. And since to me they mean so much, I want to try and explain them to you. I don’t need you to believe everything I say but I would really like it if you would consider these thoughts and see if any of it rings true to you. Or if any of it enlightens for you a different truth that’s just your own. I’m sharing because I care and because I believe that your life will be better for you when you start working to understand it and yourself.

We only have one life and we don’t know how long it will be. Should we spend it pleasing others, pleasing ourselves, making the world better, kinder, freer? I’m afraid to tell you the wrong thing because I can’t positively answer that question. But I think it’s worth it to talk about it, even to decide a belief to live by. I’m finding it a much better way to live my life, with intention, than following without question those who walked before me. I think we should know why we do what we do. We can’t and shouldn’t walk confidently into the future without questioning if this is the right road, the right choice, the only choice. It’s up to us to determine the future, just as it’s up to us to determine what we do right now in this moment.

All of your potential and all of your opportunities are only made possible or limited by the mindset you choose. What you achieve will reflect what you believe. If you want something more that what you have now, if you want to be something more than what you are now, open up your imagination and stop limiting yourself and this world. Believe that things can be better. If you step outside of what you see everyday you can discover a world that changes and breaks expectations. There’s music, books, blogs, fashion, movements, that doesn’t conform to the pressures you’re feeling in your small corner of this world. If you decide you can be anything, that you choose who you want to be and who you are, expectations cannot hold you. There is a larger world that can bring you acceptance, where you can find connection. Become a part of it now rather than later.

We are connected to millions of other lives with the majority barely resembling our own at first glance. This is a beautiful and freeing thing. Some people look at diversity as frightening because it questions, and threatens, our own way of life. But seeing, even experiencing, other walks of life, other ways of thinking, can free you from the hold of a few people’s judgment and can show you ways in which your society can be bettered. The best of us have had to fight the hate and criticism and, most difficultly, the potential acceptance of others to make change where change is needed. You can do the same. Just remember that judgment of others can be difficult to fight, but our own judgment of ourselves is the most powerful and the most motivating. Choose to look at yourself as powerful, as free, as beautiful. Accept your flaws and improve upon your strengths. Most importantly, never bring yourself down to less than you should be or put yourself into a box or a single label.

Never chose to be unhappy and defeated. That mindset stops us from contributing to the world in the ways that only we can. If you find out who you really want to be, how you can make yourself proud, you have to fight every battle with yourself and with others to get there. No one can hold you back besides yourself, and, if you have confidence in yourself, your abilities become limitless. Stop defining yourself as you are now. Realize that your abilities will always grow and exceed even your own expectations. You can always learn new things and open new doors. You will be the voice and the inspiration that expands your life and you will make it more beautiful. Start first by finding in this world inspiration, amazement, and admiration. Then, use the energy and motivation they give you to act and to become for others something inspirational, amazing, and admirable.

Dear M,

You’ve been the best friend. Not just to me but to everyone you let in. But all that love can’t be given away. Some you have to keep for yourself.

You can’t just seek love from us. We aren’t good enough for you. We can’t give you everything you need or everything you deserve – the affirmation, the attention, the support. Not to mention, we can never know what you need in the same way that you can, if you just pay attention and get to know yourself. You deserve that. You deserve someone who can be there all the time. And no one can always be there…except you.

You can do this on you own. Get through the hard times, make the big decisions, celebrate accomplishments. You’re right, you shouldn’t always have to, but you can. You’re strong. And sharing some of your love with yourself will only make you stronger. Be there for yourself in the way you’re always there for everyone else. You deserve the time and effort.

Dear S,

We’ve been friends for so long and through so many changes. Every time we see each other, no matter how long it has been, we reconnect and our bond feels unchanged. At least until recently. It breaks my heart that where I once saw acceptance, I now see judgment. The comfort I have always found in your presence can’t be found anymore. Maybe this is my fault. I’ve never been great at opening up but opening up to you never scared me in the past. For the first time I have to be conscious of how I act and what I share. My words, my clothes, even my body feels judged. My career choices, relationship choices are weighed and ranked among others. Other “friends” of yours.

This isn’t what scares me the most though. It isn’t why I have been writing and rewriting this letter, in my head and on paper. You aren’t just judging and ranking me; you’re judging yourself just as harshly. I see that you’ve accomplished so much in these last few years. You’ve followed your plan to a T. But friend, you have abandoned your heart in the name of success. In many ways I am so proud of who you have become, of the determination that has brought you success in the eyes of many. But I can’t forget the openness, the honesty, that those around you were once compelled by, easily opening up and sharing everything with you. You’ve pushed yourself so hard and the world can see your success, your entirely perfect record. But this society leaves some things off the score-card. The acceptance that defined our friendship has been neglected on the path to perfect grades, the perfect career, style, and beauty.  You shine in these regards but you no longer embody the freedom I once heard in your laugh.

I believe that you found judgment, and sometimes hatred, resentment, and fear, could fuel the hard work and change society was asking of you. Those things can motivate change in us but we will never feel good about it. We will not find pride or happiness there. The purest growth, the growth that feels like blossoming, cannot come from such dark places. It can only come from places of kindness, acceptance, and hope. Ultimately, instead of hating ourselves, we have to believe in ourselves. Self-acceptance, self-love will give you confidence in who you are and who you aim to be. It allows you to embrace your strengths and always do your best. Please do not give fuel to the expectations of society for I can tell you from my own experience that the acceptance of strangers won’t mean as much to your happiness as acceptance from yourself. From here going forward, please continue to succeed and grow, but grow in the areas that matter to you, the areas that will make you a person of whom you can be proud. Most importantly, find the beauty that I have always seen within you. Find motivation from the good things in this world, not the bad.

My friend, if you bring the best of who you are now together with the best of who you once were, you will find not only the love and respect of strangers but that of yourself as well. I know that you have the incredible ability to love yourself and embrace life, growing in ways that you dream and in ways that you never could have imagined. Don’t forget that for your whole life you will have the ability to choose who you are and who you want to be. Speaking as a true friend who will always be there for you, I hope you will use love and hope to succeed in your own image and make this world a more beautiful place.

Dear J,

We came of this trip to get away from it all. At least, to get away from everything except ourselves. We wanted not just to see a new part of this world but to see who we were someplace else, without expectations. Many people say they travel to find themselves, but I’m thinking that few actually have the strength to look internally at the one person who will always be with them. And I don’t blame them. It’s really difficult to get to know who you are, one because there’s so much noise and distraction to block out, and two because a lot of what you might discover and how it might affect your life is difficult to accept. And just like our lives, and unlike many movie characters, we are crazy complicated and always changing. While we’re still young, an internal battle starts; we learn to dislike and even fear our own minds because they can become so out of our control. We want to think a certain way, be a certain person, but our minds have a mind of their own sometimes. Really, I’m beginning to discover, the only way to gain control over what we think and feel and to create peace with the self is by overcoming this fear. We have to accept anything we might learn about ourselves, and the more we learn the more control we have. It is possible to become the person you want to be, to train yourself to act rationally, kindly, whatever, but to get there you have to travel some rough seas. From my brief experience in the area of observing my own mind face to face, I already see that we have to come to terms with many unpleasant realities about how we have lived our lives and what leads to pain for ourselves and others. But also, by discovering these truths, we can learn to accept and eventually move past them. I think this is the only real way to develop a sincere internal peace that can be shared with the world. If we bury pieces of ourselves, they will have the power to dictate our thought and behavior; this is how we lose control. To have full control in our lives, we all need to get to know ourselves better, our weaknesses, our desires, without judgment. But that peace I spoke of, the peace that this hard work can bring, just glimpses of it reveal it’s worth everything for, in the end, we will be able to control how our life is experienced – by ourselves and others. And this journey, though it has pushed me to a breaking point, once, twice, I don’t know how many times, it’s one of my proudest decisions so far.

Dear K,

As I look back on this closing chapter of my life I see the immense change I have undergone. And I am proud of where it has brought me and who I am today. When I think of who I owe for the things I have learned I think less of the teachers and potential mentors but of my peers and friends. And you stand out among them.

You are a sparkling collage of deep insights, explicit humor, and self-less friendship – living proof that people are beautiful complexities. You repeatedly challenge not only my thoughts, but my way of thinking. You have given me the very difficult to find type of relationship that both motivates growth and provides honest acceptance. As I’ve watched you grow and live over the last few years, I have seen an epic balance of care-free fun and hard work – indicative of strong values and self-awareness. Your confidence in who you are today stands together with the intention that defines your actions and that makes them always sincere and true. Though I have seen you make mistakes, you have grown from them each time, not fearing to look back on them but consciously doing so to learn and improve and accept. You are an inspiration, not because you are perfect, but for your unique and admirable approach to every day.

In the coming years, I fully expect you to impress, dazzle, and find exciting new pieces of who you are. Thank you for all your conscious decisions that have allowed you to become part of me.