A Letter to My 21-Year-Old Self


Musings, Reads / Saturday, May 9th, 2020

An afternoon of sieving through, deleting and filing over 20,000 personal emails from 2013 to 2020 has inspired me to write the following letter to my 21-year-old self, at an age when I was on the cusp of adulthood, brimming with hope and naivety.

The process of whittling down my email inbox to about 200 emails was highly cathartic, as is writing this letter to myself. I hope that reading this may help you in some way too.

Dear Pearlynn,

It’s me, from the future.

Relax. You will survive law school and make many new, wonderful friends from university for whom you are tremendously grateful for.

You celebrated your 21st birthday with a nauseatingly pink theme (which, to your mind, is beautiful) and dragged your poor family and friends to also reluctantly don pink for the party. You will soon regret imposing the pink theme on your friends and family and the excess spent on the decor. You will wonder why 21st birthdays are milestones when truly, the people that should be celebrated on that day are your parents, who have raised you. You will not throw such elaborate birthday parties again and instead cherish quiet but no less special birthdays with your close-knit circle of friends.

You will soon meet a guy that excites you and ticks all the boxes – intelligent, witty, ambitious and tall – you will spend hours fantasising about his last name and the children you will have.

Sayang, he will break your heart. I suggest you cancel that date now and make other plans. For yourself.

You will quickly realise that in your eagerness to enter into a relationship, you have placed him on a pedestal, viewing him as better than he truly is, and overlooked all the pink and red flags that will become patently obvious with hindsight. For example, you have not considered whether he is kind to his mother, his friends, and to you, whether he makes you feel safe, and whether he has shown, with his ACTIONS, that he has earned your trust and respect in becoming your life partner. Honey, he can promise you the moon and the stars over text, words are free for anyone to use, but how he feels will be clear with his actions, or lack thereof.

In your fruitless bid to win his commitment, which will not be forthcoming, you will hold back from voicing out your needs and deign yourself to be treated as an afterthought.

You are not a second option. You deserve to be cherished, loved and treated as a priority, not taken for granted.

This is intrinsically tied to how much you love yourself. It is precisely because you do not yet know how to fully love yourself that you look outside of yourself, in all the wrong places, for love. As you still rely on external sources for validation and happiness, you will also painfully recognise that you have placed a highly onerous burden on him to make you happy. No one, save for God, can truly and unfailingly make you happy.

Instead, and at the expense of sounding like Mama, you should REFOCUS your energy on yourself, and in particular, your studies.

I understand – you are stressed, anxious, unable to sleep and fret about your grades. You feel inadequate, often wondering whether you were admitted to law school by some serendipitous fluke. Unfortunately, this insecurity will follow you for many years (I do not yet have the answers for dealing with this, but I believe that I have made headway and am excited to share my thoughts with you).

Albeit with the full knowledge that you are by no stretch of the imagination the sharpest knife in the drawer, I am ASSURING you NOW that things will work themselves out. Rather than be obsessed with the final grade that you will receive, instead, take MORE time to carefully read the (starred) cases on the reading list and deeply ponder over the judgments. Do not be afraid to be MORE proactive in consulting your Professors. If a concept is too confusing for you, DO NOT SIMPLY pray that it will not be tested during the exam. Chances are, some of your classmates might be struggling with it too.

As insurmountable as law school will seem to be as of now, understanding these concepts will come in VERY HANDY in practice. More importantly, you will need to master the analytical skills to (1) learn about a new area of the law as comprehensively as you possibly can within the time constraints and (2) provide feasible and commercial solutions to your clients.

You will find joy, not only in relishing the “Eureka!” moments when you finally understand a certain concept, but in also appreciating how judges arrive at certain decisions, and how the law relates to, responds to and is a reflection of the society you live in and its prevailing values.

Quick tip for essay writing – leave the descriptive language for rambling letters such as these. Yes, you love flowery writing, but this is law, not literature. Strive for analysis in every sentence, as much as possible.

Don’t fret about the boys and enjoy law school.

You will soon also painfully accept that you’re not a very good Latin dancer. Sure, you may have spent many hours training and refining your technique, to the best that you can, while juggling law school. However, as much as dancing brings you immense joy, you are inadequate on competition grounds at more advanced levels. Continuing to compete will only cause a wedge between your sanity and your grades and an even deeper hole in your student wallet. The irony will eventually dawn on you – that the activity that brings you joy is also the source of your growing frustration with yourself.

Dance for yourself, as a hobby, to stay fit, but not to compete. You will compete vicariously through your friends, and as much as not being able to compete or perform will, for lack of a more polite word, suck right now, you will soon sincerely cheer for your friends as well. Just as football fans spectate and yet still feel one with the football team, you can cheer your friends on and feel as though you are the one on the dance floor.

You will fall in love with another form of dance that is equally vigorous, demanding, and most importantly, requires no man. You will wish you had discovered this form of art sooner. I suggest you start working on your strength and flexibility now. Forget about those dance partners; it will be futile.

Stop berating yourself when you overeat or when your clothes feel tighter on you. You are not fat. Stop thinking that way; it is getting on my nerves. REGARDLESS of what your dance instructors, dance partners or trolls on the internet say to you or others about you, I am ASSURING YOU, as future Pearlynn, that you look lovely.

Please also refrain from comparing yourself against other dancers and girls on the Internet. You may not appreciate this now, but beauty truly comes in many different shapes, sizes and colours. While the prevailing conventional standards for beauty may be tall and slim, and while that is reinforced during dance practice, in the media and online, you will learn to love and appreciate the extra curves that you have.

You are not unattractive. You are uniquely designed and equally beautiful.

Separately, spend more quality, phone-free time with Mama and Papa. Bite your tongue when you want to rebut them. They may not always be right, they will irritate you and say the most hurtful or ignorant things. But you will do well to spend more quality time with them. I say no more on this.

Pearlynn, I know you are worried about many things. Hard as it might be to accept, I am ASSURING you, as your future self, that you WILL BE ALL RIGHT. In any event, you KNOW that despite your best efforts to do everything within your capacity to achieve desired outcomes, many things in life are BEYOND YOUR CONTROL. What is important is that you respond to life with joy, gratitude, and an open mind. Be resilient, be adaptable and (begrudgingly) listen to your Mama.

Hope and work hard for what you want, but remain detached from the desired outcome and open to the other possibilities that present themselves.

You don’t yet know how to love yourself. Because you do well with clear instructions, let me tell you this – whenever a self-sabotaging thought crosses your mind, such as “Why are you so stupid?”, “How could you have overlooked that?”, “Why are you so gluttony”, or “Why are you so lazy?”, PAUSE, take a DEEP BREATH and think, instead, along the lines of “How can I learn from this?” and “It’s OK to give yourself an off day“.

Reframe your perspective. Be kinder to yourself. This does not mean to compromise your values or your standards, but to forgive yourself when you trip and to develop a more welcoming, positive mindset of learning from your misadventures. ๐Ÿ™‚

I love you, Pearlynn, and I am proud of you. You may not have found the cure for cancer or made it to space. Your achievements are very typical. You are not a special snowflake. But I am proud of you – for showing up to class when you want to lie in, for pushing yourself to stay in the library and away from distractions, from picking yourself up after heartbreak, from training for hours at the dance studio in spite of the acknowledgement that you are pretty average. Because, apart from being there for your family, your friends, you are there for yourself.

One day, you may meet a partner for the rest of your life (yes, this implies that future Pearlynn has not met someone, yet). But the most important person whom you need to cultivate a lifelong relationship with, apart from God, is yourself. You will never break up with yourself, you will never abandon or give up on yourself.

A piece of fantastic news to look forward to, Pearlynn – a four-legged, wet-nosed, adorably fluffy and derpy creature will feature significantly in your life, in no small part thanks to your brother. She will be your panacea to almost all of your woes.

Sit tight – the next few years will be a beautiful, tragic and defining rollercoaster.

Love you,

Pearlynn from the future

(since this is a letter to my younger self) P.S. You may wish to look into investing in select video conferencing and social media companies. =p

Photos in this post were taken by Dorothy Yip.

6 Replies to “A Letter to My 21-Year-Old Self”

  1. Hi Pearlynn! You don’t know me, but I’ve been a long-time reader of your blog and I usually wouldn’t comment, but this letter really spoke to me and I felt it on a deep level. I’m going through a really bad heartbreak and I would love for you to write about yours (only if you’re comfortable with it, of course). It’s just that you write extremely well and I teared up just reading this post. Whatever you decide, I hope you keep writing.

    Stay beautiful and intelligent!

    1. Hi lovely! Thank you for your encouraging comment. I hope that my blog will help those who read it as much as writing these posts have helped me to process my emotions – be it happiness, sadness, disappointment or anger.

      I have written about heartbreak several times, but have not published any of my drafts, because heartbreak, universal as it might be, is also a deeply personal subject. That said, there is something on the pipeline, so I will keep you posted! In the meantime, here is a review of one of my all-time favourite rom-coms, which was my proxy for writing about heartbreak then – https://bellapearlynn.com/2018/02/08/scrotal-recall-lovesick/.

      I cannot imagine how much you must be hurting right now. Heartbreaks can be devastating. What I can assure you about is this – time will heal all wounds. Please feel free to write to me at my email address or reach out on any other platforms. Take care and love yourself!

  2. Hi Pearlyn!

    I’m your senior back in secondary school. We haven’t been close but i have been following your social media since then and I just want to say you are doing great and there is absolutely no need to put additional pressure on yourself. You’re a great dancer and sometimes i also feel that its more fun for hobbies to stay as hobbies instead of being competitive about it. Sending you lots of love and stay safe in London!

    1. Hi! Ah, secondary school! Those were fun times. Yes, I agree with you that it is better to see dancing as a hobby – takes the pressure off performance and allows you to enjoy dancing for what it is. Thank you for your kind wishes. I wish the same for you and your family!

  3. Hi Pearlynn!

    We met in law school, but unfortunately didn’t really become anything more than acquaintances. I guess I didn’t really try to befriend you, but having read your blog, I do think that you are a person that truly reflects and seek personal improvement, and I admire that about you. You always seemed glamorous, smart, and I guess I felt that even though you seemed like a nice friend to have, I was not worthy to try to befriend you?

    Sometimes I wonder how things would be if I had made the effort to be more brave to reach out to more people I respected and tried to make more friends.

    Alas, I did not do so, and we remain mere acquaintances.

    Regardless, I would like to encourage you to continue being positive, and that it is only normal for people to have self-doubts. I had more than my fair share of self doubts, and reading your blog made me aware that even deans listers such as yourself had some as well back then.

    “Reframe your perspective. Be kinder to yourself. This does not mean to compromise your values or your standards, but to forgive yourself when you trip and to develop a more welcoming, positive mindset of learning from your misadventures. ” Wise words to remind ourselves ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Hi M! Thank you for taking the time to share your kind thoughts, I truly appreciate it. I write because it is therapeutic for me. It allows me to process my (often incoherent) emotions and reflect on the situation that I am dealing with. It warms my heart if and when my writing also helps others who might be going through something similar.

    Everyone has insecurities. It is just a matter of degree, aspect in life, whether they show or mask these insecurities and how they cope with it.

    Also, it is never too late to make new friends. You know where to reach me. I welcome positive friendships in my life with open arms. I wish you and your family good health!

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