According to Hugh Everett, a physicist who formulated the Many Worlds Interpretation in 1957, anything that could have happened in our past actually did happen in some other universe ... so all of those alternate decisions and choices you could have made are still playing themselves out in other worlds ...
Yeah. Ok. I got that dramatic interpretation of Hugh Everett's concept from ABC's "Flash Forward", but it's certainly a notion that has been pondered by thousands well before Everett published it. To wonder about how our lives would be different - in the past, right now or in the future - if we had made alternative decisions or done certain things differently. But it's also an idea that you have to let remain fleeting. "What ifs" have a way of consuming you with regret if you don't.
Inspired by a Marie Claire sweepstakes contest in 2008, I wrote a letter to my younger self, which - without realizing it at the time - revolved slightly around the Many Worlds Interpretation ... or a version of it that would later be dramatized for primetime television. I never submitted my letter to the magazine, but I shared it with family and friends, and now I share it again with you:
Dear Younger Self,
You won’t have what you thought you'd have by your late-20s. But you’ll be happy. You’ll have a 350-square foot apartment in Manhattan. A MetroCard. A job as an executive assistant surrounded by amazing women. You’ll have great friends, New York, phone calls from mom, dirty martinis (with gin), Lox cream cheese and bagels.
You’ll realize something new about yourself often. You won't seek to constantly reinvent yourself, yet you might not ever really know everything about you because different parts of you will change – sometimes frequently. This should probably bother you, but it won’t.
You’ll wish you were wittier, and you’ll be a sucker for a sense of humor. You won’t fall in love easily, you won’t get attached easily, and you’ll have to be both of those things if you’re going to get jealous easily; you’ll be able to thank a military-brat upbringing for that. You will be nominated for the "Most Friendly" Senior Superlative at your second high school, and you’ll be a "relatively nice" New Yorker 10 years later. But you’ll have a dark side, and you generally won’t trust those who don't. You’ll like to step back and absorb certain moments so that you can remember the details; you’ll do that most often when your friends are laughing.
You’ll crave cliché “Sex and the City” moments because it’s how you once pictured your life – minus, of course, the Manolo Blahniks, Upper East Side brownstones, and voluminous consumption of Magnolia Bakery cupcakes without gaining a pound. Your narrative thoughts and meaningful conversations won’t be set to background music, but you’ll have the fantasy in syndication and the real thing right outside your window. You won’t worry that your life is becoming a cliché because there will be a reason that you are not the first to live life the way you’ll choose to live it. And you’ll want to be Melanie Griffith at the end of Working Girl when she calls her best friend and says, "Guess where I am right now."
Good and bad things will happen. And you'll have regrets. A few will stay with you always. So embrace varying levels of disappointment so that you’ll recognize rapturous joy. Floss your teeth regularly. Take chances. Don't settle for what’s easy; seek what’s worth it. Take random walks in this city. Look for sights you can't believe, listen for sounds that tug at your heart strings, savor the feelings that take your breath away. Eat more fruits and vegetables; drink more water. Allow yourself to be swept off your feet regularly. Save money and spend wisely. Live like Anthony Hopkins in Meet Joe Black so that you can wake up one morning and say, "I don't want anything more."
When you write this letter, you still won’t know who you are exactly, but you’ll realize it and be ok with it. And you’ll see that the only thing that matters for any of us in the end is that we once existed. So laugh more, love more, live more. Simply because you can.
Your 28-Year Old Self
P.S. And when you're 30, you'll cycle across North America [2010 revision].
I've been 30 years old for one month now. And two years after writing the letter to my younger self, I have let go of the melodramatic need to figure out who I am and am, instead, enjoying the many complex parts that make me and change me every day. And if Hugh Everett is right, I hope that most of my regrets are playing out in alternative universes and most of my joys are right here in my reality.