Whenever my birthday rolls around, I always struggle with whether to do a blog post. I typically do a new year’s post and always decide that is enough. But last year I saw this letter to her 18-year-old self-reflecting on the last 10 years, by Design Darling, and knew that it was something I really wanted to do for myself. She says, “it’s a fascinating exercise to recall memories from so many years ago and see which ones feel like they could have happened yesterday, and which ones seem like they happened to a totally different person.” After doing this for myself, I wholeheartedly agree.
At 18, you are getting ready to your senior homecoming dance in a green dress that makes your hair look redder than you care for at the time (but learn to love later). When your acceptance letter to Kansas State University comes in a few weeks, you start to daydream about what college and living so far away from home might be like. You tell everyone that you are “still deciding” because you are scared, but when you visited campus in December you knew deep down that you would be back to stay. It is a fun last year of childhood in the dusty sagebrush town you grew up in and you celebrate graduation with your two best friends with a trip to Hawaii. Your lives all go three very different directions but 10 years later they are still an important part of your life. You experience your first taste of heartbreak over FFA state officer dreams that did not pan out and a boy that you met a little too late. But you will remember him for years to come and always be thankful that he showed you early on what a good guy should be.
At 19, you are two months into your first semester at K-State and while you have been more homesick than you expected, you are finally starting to carve out a new chapter. The scholarship house you are living in is already keeping you busy with activities and new friends. There is one girl who talks more than you and laughs just as loud, and after bonding over goldfish crackers and studying for an animal science exam, she becomes your “person” and a part of almost every story you have worth telling. The two of you are still inseparable to this very day. You are relieved that those ideas you had about what a career in agriculture and communications could look like since you were 10 years old are a possibility and you never look in any other direction. You attend an agriculture leaders conference you randomly saw advertised in an email and are recommended for a job in the grain science department. These two experiences will help shape the path to where your career is now. Also, years later you are going to wish you had listened to Mom and taken care of that broken finger properly. Always listen to your Mom.
At 20, you are so excited to be back at K-State for your sophomore year and it is a year full of lots of fun memories, which include spending almost every weekend cheering on your sports teams and falling in love with red dirt music while two-stepping at Longhorns. You are selected to be on a national leadership team for the student ag leader’s organization that you were introduced to last year. Later you will look back and see this as the most meaningful experience of your college career. Your network is still full of people you met back then, and you are still involved at the alumni level. You take a summer internship that is a great experience, but it teaches you exactly what you do not want to do for the rest of your life and you are grateful for that.
At 21, you are headed into a roller coaster year. You moved out of the scholarship house into a house with your best friends, added a few new ones and probably have a little too much fun – too often – exploring Aggieville. Your first semester on the student ag magazine hones your storytelling and creative skills in a new way that makes you so excited for your career path and you take a summer internship that pushes you outside your comfort zone in a good way. On the other hand, you also doubt yourself a lot this year. There are some conflicts, over-committing and growing pains that test your character. After failing your second class of college, you are put on academic probation and are forced to have a serious talk with yourself and your mentors about turning things around. This is also the year you get bangs and then spend years wondering why you thought they ever looked good. Like I said, this year was a roller coaster, but I promise, you get through it.
At 22, adulthood is rushing at you fast, but you are ready to work hard and finish senior year strong. Some of your best memories all these years later are from living with your two best friends (two of you will stand as co-maids of honor in the third’s wedding someday). Attending K-State was the best decision your 18-year-old self could have ever made and you are forever grateful for the experiences and “K-State Family” it gave you. You decide that the Midwest feels like home now and the day after Christmas you accept your first job as the Director of Communications at the Kansas Pork Association, an entire semester before you officially graduate.
At 23, you are a few months into your “big kid job” in the real world. You quickly realize that working for a farmer-led organization gives you a newfound sense of purpose. Hold on to this feeling for the bad days — it will remind you why you love what you do. There is a lot to learn, but you have a supportive boss and a co-worker who is a pioneer when it comes to modern agriculture and communications, and she teaches you how to hustle. You moved into your own apartment, but you are still living in your college town, so you are learning how to navigate being a young professional while still enjoying time with your college friends. You are a part of three weddings for your closest friends – all in the span of a month. These are women you have shared plenty of tears and laughs with and you know you will want by your side someday, so celebrating them is the highlight of your year.
At 24, you truly love your job, but finally admit to yourself that you are in a rut and know deep down you need to move on to something else, but you are not sure if that means moving home to the Pacific Northwest or somewhere else in Kansas. Then one day you see a post on Facebook about an open position just outside of Washington DC. You go back multiple times throughout the day to read the description and by that night you are calling your parents to tell them that you have a gut feeling that this job was meant just for you. Nine weeks later you have accepted the position, moved to the East Coast and started a new job working for an organization that does export market development for the U.S. wheat industry. Everything about your life changed quickly and the learning curve at the new job is high, but you love the challenge and spend the rest of this year adjusting to your new way of life and exploring your new city.
At 25, you have settled into your job and life in DC and are proud of yourself for being able to trust your gut feeling and being brave enough to follow through on it. (Also, a big shout out to the people in your life that continue to cheer you on.) But you also face some growing pains this year and make some not so great decisions. Living in DC introduces you to so many new experiences, diverse types of people and new ideas, that both challenge your way of thinking and refine who you are at the core. DC has so much to offer, but the harsher reality is making friends in a status-climbing, agenda-driven city is hard, and you struggle to figure out where you fit in. You also start to think seriously about dating (which is even harder in this city!) and decide to try online dating. You have quite a few funny stories and conversations to screenshot and share with your best friends, but none of your dates really amount to much. But keep your head up and have a little faith. You move to a new apartment that is a bit quirky but the perfect space for you and finally find a young adults small group that fits you. Your life will slowly get back into a rhythm that feels more natural.
At 26, you will be closer to 30 than you are 21 and are totally OK with that and looking forward to the next season of life. After 23 years, you and your sister finally get a baby Ego cousin and are absolutely smitten with Sawyer June. You are taking on more responsibilities at work and are recognized with a promotion part way through the year. You travel to Thailand and the Philippines for both work and a vacation and realize you have missed out on not traveling more internationally and promise yourself to make that a priority. Then, just as you decide that online dating might not be for you, a quiet, scruffy guy with soft eyes from Maryland messages you and soon you are spending all your free time together. He thinks it is cute when you ramble on and brings you three different types of mac and cheese when you are sick. You love his work ethic, arguing about Lebron vs. Steph, how easy it is to laugh with him and are empowered by how he makes you see yourself. You fall in love for the very first time and start talking about taking him home with you for Christmas.
At 27, the guy you wanted to introduce to your family decides that the timing just is not right, and you make the heartbreaking decision to part ways. This is the hardest thing you have ever been through and you struggle for longer than you want anyone to realize. You have never been more grateful for the small band of people who saw right through that and held you up and reminded you of who you were until you could see it for yourself again. Early on, you practically force yourself to join a Pure Barre studio out of need for a healthy distraction but are be surprised by how much you love it and how quickly it makes a difference in more ways than one. At work, your industry is in for quite a year of uncertainty on the trade front and you take on the challenge of leading a project for developing a new website. You throw everything you have into this project, and while completely exhausted, you successfully make it to launch day and are proud of what you did. Looking back on this year, you will always think of it as a hard one, but it also had a lot of high highs. You made good on your promise to travel more internationally and take a fun girls trip to London and an incredible family trip to Italy.
Now at 28, you are sincerely surprised at how quickly the past year went by, let alone 10 years since that green dress. You have lived so much in that time, finished growing up and took some big risks. You made some mistakes and got lost a few times but are thankful for a lot of grace. You set and carried out some big goals, started to build a career that gives you purpose, made it through growing pains, saw beautiful sites, experienced falling in love and being heartbroken and found people and places that mean the world to you. You are ready for what is next, with just a few more freckles, and tips and tricks in tow.
But Mandy, before I end this rambling nostalgic saga, I want you to know that the best is always yet to come. Hold on to that. I want you to know that it is OK for others to not understand your goals and decisions, and it is OK for you to change your mind about what you want. I want you to know that you should always strive for humility, but you should never compromise yourself or your values for others’ ideals. I want you to know that you have a one-of-a-kind family and you will be reminded often that others are not so lucky. Nothing is more important than family. I want you to know that a small group of people who inspire you and invest in you are a million times more worth your time than a large group of occasional friends. Invest in meaningful relationships and always show up for the people who show up for you. I want you to keep writing on this blog. Do not worry about what people think, that it does not fit into a certain niche or that you need to take a few breaks. This little space is all yours and it makes you happy. I want you to know that you will never regret hustling for what you want. I want you to know that the world is sometimes cruel and discouraging, but I want you to continue to believe fiercely that it is full of kindness and beauty. And yes, it is OK to believe in cheesy Taylor Swift songs. I want to remind you to stop and be still every now and then, and to not fear feeling things that are not happiness. There is a time and place for everything. I want you to know that you are beautiful, smart, thoughtful, creative, funny and surrounded by people who will tell you so.
Keep searching for good stories to tell. You have got this. I love you.