Lesson 49: Look back to see how far you’ve come.

Image“I’m going to be depressed after this,” I warned my mom before heading down the fluorescent-lit stairs to their cavernous basement below. 

While home for the holidays this year, I spent an entire evening down there. It is filled to the ceiling with boxes from the last 30-plus years of our lives, and more than a few of them are mine. I’d promised my mom I’d go through them and let her know what she could get rid of, but not before diving deep into each one.

Letters, report cards, invitations, unfinished sewing and needlepoint projects, my old Shaun Cassidy albums (oh yes), and tons of random photos.

Going through those boxes was literally like reliving my life. Every event, major or minor, was there. Graduation from 6th grade with my amazing music teacher, Ms. Hammer. My Sweet 16 birthday when the football team “crashed’ the party. Photos recovered from from my psychotic Kent State roommate’s bedroom, each one with my face scratched out. 

There were also more than a few surprises, like how skinny I was! And how many friends I had – even the “popular” kids were at my parties. I honestly didn’t remember that.

And then there were the shoeboxes from each boy or man I’ve loved over the years: love notes, pressed roses, New Years Eve photos, my Mexican wedding favors, custom thank you notes and of course the postponement announcements when I ultimately called the whole thing off – not a moment too soon.

As I flipped through the pages of an old journal, words I could have written today jumped off the page.

“Why can’t I just let go?”

Why indeed?

At first, I really wondered – have I grown at all? I mean, here I am after all these years, and all those men (ok, there have really only been 5 or 6), have moved on to families of their own. All of them. I’m still home alone for the holidays. Just me and my two (albeit incredibly sweet) cats, Peanut and Pumpkin. But no boyfriend, husband, or kids of my own. What does that mean, if anything? Is there something wrong with me?

But I was also touched by the countless letters, cards and notes from friends back then – all echoing the same sentiment: how my friendship had made a difference in their lives. How grateful they felt that I was there for them.

I was honestly shocked at the number of letters I had received from friends after graduating college. Long before texting or even email was an option – people actually wrote long letters. How special I feel, even today, that they took the time.


I remember living alone in my first studio apartment in Chicago, no friends or job for the first couple of months. It was hard, and very lonely. Letters from friends back home or at school must have felt like a lifeline to civilization. Why don’t we still do that? Somehow, email doesn’t quite have the same effect. 

Reading those, and finding other relics from that time, made me proud of myself. For taking the chance to follow my dreams, as hard as they’ve been. Moving to the “big city” to become a copywriter, with no portfolio or job prospects in sight. 

I found my old portfolio notebook in those boxes, with months and months of ideas in them as I worked towards the spec portfolio that would get me my first job at Ogilvy & Mather. Letters from old friends expressing their support, and the Dean of The Ohio State University Journalism school telling me to keep in touch. “You can be a role model,” she said. Sadly, the advertising program doesn’t seem to exist anymore at my alma mater. Even more reason I’m proud of what I accomplished, mostly on my own.

As 2013 draws to a close, I realize that while I might not have everything I desire, I have indeed come a long way. Anyone who knows me knows the amount of soul searching and internal work I’ve done. But externally, those boxes helped me realize that I’ve come pretty damn far in my life. Even if I’m still doing it on my own. Which is even more reason to be proud.

Whatever comes next, I plan on keeping a record of it. There’s nothing like looking back to see how far you’ve traveled. I only hope my next trip down memory lane has another set or two of footprints along with mine. Everything is better when it is shared. That is my wish for 2014.



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