I reread this part over and over. I put the letter down and then came back to the same paragraph five minutes later. At first, I couldn’t figure out why it bothered me. I mean, in a way I didn’t even know who this girl was, didn’t connect with the letter at all. These were the decade-old musings of a child too young to vote!
But I kept seeing that word please. And I could hear my own voice saying it over and over, louder and louder, as though I were begging. And then it struck me: My problem was not that my guy turned out to be married, or that my apartment was a disaster, or that my snobby client had pointed out the extra pounds I was carrying on my midsection.

It was that, in the 10 years after I’d begged myself to learn to treat myself with respect, I still hadn’t done it. When my date told me about his wife, I nodded and thanked him (thanked him!) for his honesty, when I probably should have kicked him in the balls. Sort of like how I should have told my client to mind her own business and focus on improving her own body, not mine. My 17-year-old self suddenly seemed so much wiser than the self I was at 27, and I felt ashamed that after a whole decade I still hadn’t figured out how to stand up for myself.

As soon as I had this thought, my next impulse was to prove that I was more self-assured—that I had changed. Well, to be honest, my very next impulse was to call my date and tell him how stupid he was, how amazing I was and exactly where to shove it. But I stopped myself: Years of dating had taught me the difference between getting revenge and seeming pathetic. Maybe I had changed a little.
Instead, I spent hours staring at the open letter from the other side of the room, thinking about all the times I’d felt unworthy and beaten myself up instead of forgiving myself. I stood in front of the mirror, trying to cry. But the crazy thing was that as each hour passed, with memories of self-loathing blasting through my mind, as much as I tried to feel bad for myself, I couldn’t. The tears wouldn’t come.

Slowly, it became clear that even though the letter was only a few feet away, the space between us was really 10 years of a life that, like my cursive writing, was messy and unkempt but wholeheartedly mine. No, I wasn’t where I thought I’d be when I wrote to myself at 17: I lived alone, single and childless (and not in a mansion); I was financially unstable; and I’d probably had too much to drink. But I knew that this was where I was meant to be: just as I am, with 10 years of perfectly imperfect moments behind me. Like dinner parties with my best girlfriends, lit by candles so you couldn’t see the stains on the tablecloth, and finding holes in the seat of my yoga pants after a day of showing clients how to transform their bodies—while showing them my underwear.

And that night, the imperfect—OK, far from perfect—moments came with a lesson, one of those hit-you-over-the-head-write-it-down-and-send-it-to-yourself-10-years-from-now-so-you-don’t-forget kind of lessons. The lesson that 10 years is an arbitrary number, and to have expectations about where you should be in your life at any particular time is soul suicide. That certain fears—of being alone or unsuccessful—might never go away, and that’s OK, because they can be the very things that drive you forward. That happiness might be found quietly resting in a tiny shoebox of an apartment, where you realize that even though life might not be quite what you expected, it’s still pretty great.