The Ineffable Joy of Receiving Emails from My Past Self

I’ve been writing emails to my future self since July 2006 and I got the first email from my past self in July 2007.

If you don’t know, there’s a website that allows you to send emails to yourself and, instead of getting the email instantly, you can set a date in the future when you will receive it. (Disclosure: This is not an ad.)

My first email to my future self was titled “Can I ask about my future?” because I was 12 and had no idea how the internet (or time) worked — wait, why was I on the internet at 12?

Anyway, the second email didn’t come until 2011 when I was 17 and moving from Vietnam to London, starting a brand new chapter of life.

Since then, I’ve been writing and receiving emails from myself every year without fail — mostly around New Year and on my birthday. It has been 9 years and 57 emails received in total.

Writing emails to my future self is not much different from writing a journal, except that I have to wait for months or even years to re-read those “diary entries” when I have long moved on from the detailed experiences.

This wait definitely influences the way I write.

First, because my words become inaccessible the moment I finish the email and hit send, I don’t have to dwell on them much — if not at all. It’s like releasing all your feelings and thoughts on a piece of paper and having it burnt afterward — it’s freeing.

But, in this instance, my words aren’t really burnt, which leads me to the second and more important point: my words will be read by me at a different point in time, and so I always have to be mindful of how those words might affect my future self as I would then be reminded of painful memories.

Being able to think of myself as a separate person helps me build a better relationship with myself.

The content of my emails often varies:

  • I reflect on what happened to me and reach my own closure;

  • I’m brutally honest that I’m still struggling to process a difficult experience and try to figure out “why” through the writing process;

  • I give myself no-bullshit advice;

  • I make a goal list;

  • or I simply tell myself that it’s okay to be me and better things will come.

Regardless, all of these emails have one thing in common: they’re loving and affirmative.

“It’s a random letter but I just want to remind you that you’re all right, you’re going the right way, you’re strong, you’re loved by me so so so much and by many other people.”

— Sent 1 year to the future from March 14th, 2019 to March 14th, 2020

For a long time, being half the world away from home and growing up with an emotionally unavailable father, I had lived my life out of fear and insecurity. I’d latched onto all the wrong things to find an anchor and it only stopped when the pain became too much and I decided that I must do better.

I started being there for me instead of hiding and seeking distractions. Writing emails to my future self was also part of that process.

Talking to myself as though I was my own friend, I have picked up the habit of being kind to myself.

I use “we” and “us” to refer to my past self, my present self, and my future self altogether.

Gradually, through these “we” and “us” statements, I understand that I’m not alone. I have me. I have “us”. I’ve become my own cheerleader and the parent I’d always wished I had. I validate my own experiences. I’m my anchor.

In 2019, when I was climbing out of my personal rock bottom, I wrote many of such emails to my 2020 self.

“This year hasn’t been easy but, honestly, we’ve made tons of positive changes. We focus too much on the pain that we don’t give ourselves credits for all our improvements. We’ve got a new job, we travel, we play sports, we learn swimming, we’re more social, we spend more time with family and close friends, we cut dating apps, we’ve drawn boundaries. It’s amazing. There are many things I want to do. I want to write more. I want to build a business. I want to know more about the world. I want to travel and create memories with the people who love me.”

— Sent 1 year to the future from September 16th, 2019 to September 16th, 2020

When I received those emails this year, I didn’t remember any of the content. In fact, I never do — it always comes as a pleasant surprise as though I was reading the emails for the very first time.

What I did remember, though, was having been in a lot of pain and felt nauseatingly uncertain about the future. But those emails gave none of such impressions. They were full of strength and love and faith, which moved me deeply.

Once again, I saw my past self as a separate person. I knew what she had gone through and, despite that, she could still send such loving words to me — I wanted to embrace her, protect her, give her everything I have now, and let her know she was not alone.

She was never alone.

“You’re so loved, so cared for, so respected. I forgive you. I embrace you. I love you, love you, love you and love you.

I like you.”

— Sent 1 year to the future from July 14th, 2019 to July 14th, 2020

I manifested a better life for myself.

I hope this article doesn’t come across as being self-absorbed or, worse, narcissism.

My intention is the opposite — I want to address the importance of having empathy and compassion towards oneself.

Personally, it’s been a long and difficult journey of finding myself and building a life I no longer want to escape.

My life now and my life in all the previous years are drastically different (not to mention the existence of a pandemic). I’ve never been happier, healthier, more secure, and more stable, and for the most part, it’s because I just decided so. It’s that simple.

I saw the evidence of this simple-yet-life-altering decision in those emails I received from my past self.

“What if I tell you, you will get what you want and more?

You won’t have to have any shitty feeling any longer.

It has been enough. I promise. I hope that the previous year (as in from the point of me writing this till you reading this) has shown this.

I accept all the defeat so far and, from now on, I mean right here, we will turn our life around. We will claim our space. We will stand firm, head held high, and portray our quality consistently. We will protect ourselves and our feelings. We will be careful who we let in. We will create value. We will be successful.”

— Sent 1 year to the future from July 14th, 2019 to July 14th, 2020

Everything I have right now is a manifestation of what I wrote back then — if you can believe it.

I figure it’s because the moment I became clear of what I wanted and wrote it down as affirmative statements, I gamed my subconsciousness into focusing on it and eventually creating a better life for myself — think of that quote by Paulo Coelho in The Alchemist“And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” It’s pretty extraordinary.

It was also a self-reminder to think big and not get sidetracked by instant gratifications. It was my effort to internalise the message that I deserve my dreams and I’m going to have them.

In 2019, I kept writing to myself — either in published articles or in the emails to my future self — that “this can’t be it” and I was right. It wasn’t it. It was far from it. And even now, living my best life thus far, I do believe that it’s only the beginning.

How to write to yourself that will lead to positive life changes

If you’re interested in changing your life and improving your relationship with yourself by journaling or sending emails to your future self, here’s the format you might want to try:

  • Acknowledge everything that happens to you, no matter how embarrassing, painful, or humiliating — give yourself the validation you need.

  • Express your feelings and thoughts about those experiences freely, authentically. Make sure you address all the insecure and anxious ones — the moment you write them down, you will feel instantly better.

  • Reassure yourself that it’s okay and you’re not alone.

  • Make plans to improve your situation using cause and effect statements (E.g. “I’m going to do X and Y so that my future self will have the benefits of A and B”)

  • Make affirmative statements about yourself and your future (E.g. “I’m a great person and my life will be amazing!”)

  • Tell yourself everything you would say to someone you love so damn much.

You deserve it.

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