How do you even start a letter like this? You know? The kind of letter that’s written to a younger version of myself. While I might not know how to start this letter, I will say that writing one today makes sense.
Today, you turn 22. You purposefully set your alarm to be “22” by Taylor Swift. How fitting? It’s the first Saturday following your fall semester of finals. The fall semester of your senior year. You’ve heard back from some grad schools and you’ve also just sent out a few more applications. You never know who will say “yes”, but for the first time in your life you’re not actually certain of what you want to do.
Because of finals week, there wasn’t much time to celebrate your birthday since you had long nights of studying and writing papers. You also had long nights full of laughter, crying, and late night food runs with your friends. It was to ease the stress of it all. I can see you though in the backseat of the car beating yourself up because you know that stuff needs to get checked off your “To-Do” list. I promise though that the times not studying and writing were worth it. You’re gonna be thankful years down the road for those friends because in the hardest moments that follow you from college they were there. They helped you become the person that this world needed.
Just sit in that, dude. Sit in those sweet moments of release and hold onto them.
While you’re at it, take a moment to forgive yourself in those moments when you’re upset with not being where you want to be. For not having it figured out. Just go with it. Say yes to more adventures. Repeat that song one more time. Stay up way too late.
But through it all - be bold. Be wild, and adventurous, and love yourself along the way. Stay this way as long as you can.
Like I said, there’s a reason this letter is being written. It’s 2012 and you just turned 22. You just drove home from Portland for Christmas break. You also received the package you mailed to your parents’ house. It’s a camera. It’s your camera. While you’ve never entertained the thought of making photography into a career, you chose to invest in it with the hopes of bringing in some extra money on the side. And boy was it worth it.
In the years that come you’ll grow “Baleros Photography” (later Iron & Rye) into something you never thought of. Right now though you’re not sure what you’re going to do, what you’ll shoot, but in a way you know that you want to tell and share stories with your photos. That’s what matters to you.
Never lose that. Seek after those stories. Seek after those people.
Photographs have always meant something to you. The negatives. The polaroids. The prints. They’ve brought you home when you’ve lost your way. Your photographs will be a reminder that your life wasn’t meant to be ordinary. They’ll be reminders that you need to be crazy enough to dream big.
Keep running, dude. I promise you that you’ll run hard enough that they won’t be dreams anymore. Don’t be afraid to create. Don’t hold yourself back. You want this and you’re going to get this. You’ve got a creative eye, and in the next six years you’re going to learn how to refine and train it to continue to see the beautiful things in life. Go and create. Embrace the mistakes. Hell, create even when things get hard. Just do it as much as you can.
You’ll love your work and you’ll hate your work. It’s gonna take time to develop something that is both beautiful and tells the story of life at its finest moments. When life knocks the wind out of you, get up. Get back up even when it hurts. Trust me that when you take that first breath – after that heartbreak at 23 – is when you’ll realize being alive is worth it. It’s worth it because you’re worth it and I’m going to say that over and over again in this letter because you need to know that. You don’t hear it enough and you don’t believe it, but please know that you’re worth it.
Life is complex. Some days you’ll have it figured out and others you’ll be lost in the crowd. That doesn’t mean you can forget that you are meant to be bold, wild, and adventurous. Just don’t. You’re gonna make some mistakes and you’ll hurt some people along the way, but don’t hate the person you see before you in those moments. Let him grow. Grow from him. Love who you are right now because in your mess you’re still a masterpiece. You’re still worth it. You still matter, dude.
Soon enough you’ll see that photography is no longer a hobby. You’ve made a career out of it. It’s because you chose to work hard. It’s because you chose to invest every ounce of yourself into it. You’re going to log in a lot of hours making yourself better. You’ll meet other photographers who will challenge you to be better for the sake of yourself. My dude, you’ll even fall in love for the first time and it’s gonna hurt because it won’t work out. Nonetheless, forgive gracefully. Say yes to moments where you will be pushed to work harder than yesterday. Don’t take the easy way out. Your mama raised you better than that. She didn’t raise a cheater. So don’t start being one. Live with integrity because in the years to come you’ll be faced with people who lack it. Stay above them.
The hard truth is this: you don’t deserve anything. Nothing is just given to you. When things go your way though – stay humble, be thankful, and most of all stay faithful. When things don’t go your way – stay humble, be thankful, and most of all stay faithful. Steward what God has given you. Take care of your little and you will see more come. When more comes, don’t make it about the numbers. Don’t make it about the money. Create for the sake of creation. Come back to the fact that it’s about the people and their stories. Their stories are their voices. They want to be heard just as badly as you do. Be their platform that reminds them that they matter. Just like you matter. I told you that I’d say it as often as I can. You matter, dude. You always have and it won’t change in the years to come.
I’ve said it already, but you’ll hit some hard spots down the road. Life isn’t going to go your way and you’ll feel it. But in that darkness, keep your spirit of joy. Keep that spirit of light in you. The world needs to see that there is something that can overcome darkness. The people in your life need to see your hope for their better tomorrows.
It won’t be your weight to carry, but you’ll learn that there will be people who need you to be their safe person. That people will need you to feel heard. People will need you to know that they matter. And leave it at that. Be there because that’s all you were created for.
I’m writing to you from six years out. Oh, the stupid things you’ll do and say. The people you’ll meet. The people you’ll hurt. The moments of wanting to throw the towel in. It’ll all happen. You’re gonna fall in love. He’s gonna hurt you. Someone will remind you that you can be loved. It won’t work out, but in the end he’ll love you the best he could and that’s all that matters. This is the adulting that school never prepared us for.
Your depression and anxiety will strip you of everything you have. You’ll be at rock bottom. They’re gonna rob you of experiences. They're gonna save you from more heartache. But in the end, depression will gift you a life where you stand stronger than you’ve ever stood.
You’re gonna move back to Portland. It’s not gonna be easy, but it’ll be worth it. You will run 5&10k’s because you’re stupid like that. You’re gonna travel to some cool places because of photography. You will often sit down and ask yourself, “How is this my life?” The answer is this: it’s the life you designed. It started here. It started in that moment that you decided to put those books down during finals week. It started when you decided that you weren’t meant to live an ordinary life. It started when you chose to make it about the people. It started here.
Stay humble. Say yes to adventures. Fall in love again. Move mountains for him. Find yourself and love him. Pray with expectancy. Walk into the waters because you were made for the depths. Don’t half-ass anything you do. Be present. Fall on your face, let grace lift you up, and then brush the dust off. And when you do, be proud of yourself. You’re living a not-so-ordinary life.
I am so damn proud of you. You are worth it. You matter.
ps. happy birthday to us.