STEM grad student and autistic advocate Laura Gilmour shares a letter to her younger self about focusing on the journey and appreciating the good things in her life. Share, laugh, and enjoy in the present moment. College transition is just one part of your life.
To myself in 2008,
You are a young person who is excited to progress in life and eager for success. In some ways, you dream of the person you will be someday and that you will do great things. Remember, you are somebody today and that somebody is important now. You are not just a student and you play many other roles. You are a family member, friend, colleague, and many more things.
You want to succeed in your career someday and make a difference in your field. You envision going to graduate school and the type of research you will do and speaking at international conferences. You excitedly tell your loved ones about your plans. They listen, but they also remind you not to spend all of your time on this focus of “someday” and to acknowledge the person you are currently—to take the time to enjoy the things in your academic and personal life that are good today.
If I gave you a glimpse into 2019, things are still good and you have advanced in your career. You have presented at conferences several times, now, and are known in the community for your guest lectures. Your professional work is starting to bring in a small amount of income.
However, there are some things you can never get back that you had in 2008. Some loved ones that were there then are no longer here. Some phases in your life have passed. You have less free time to pursue non-academic interests than the days when you were in high school or a bachelor’s program.
Sometimes, you wish you were still in the past, when things were simpler, and that you wouldn’t have rushed things. At other moments, you wish it were a few years ahead and that you would know whether you will be able to earn enough in this struggling economy. You feel a little sad and tense, but you also take time to take in the beauty of the forest, play video games, go shopping, go to lunch, and share laughs and memories with the people who are present. You know a little better than you did that moments are fleeting, and it’s best to hold onto them and take them in, rather than always looking to the past or the future.
Yes, you will do great things someday, but you do great things now and you have a lot going for you. Your academic journey may take some time, maybe even lots more time. Do your best and enjoy the ride, and don’t judge your self-worth by the length of time it takes to complete a degree, the grades you earn, or the salary you make. You are somebody today, regardless of what letters are after your name or whether you made the dean’s list. You were always somebody, and always will be, but, as your academic journey progresses, your personal life will also change. Some changes will be for the better, and some will be precious memories and times you can never get back.
See you in the future, but please take your time in the present first.
What would you write to your former self? Consider checking out another of our contributor letters here: Letter to a Younger Me: You’re Passionate, More Passionate Than Most People Can Imagine.
If you’d like to hear more from Laura, check out some of her videos: Safe Sexuality on Campus for Adults on the Spectrum: Recognizing the Unique Challenges, Autistic Self-Advocacy and STEM: A College Journey, and An Autistic Student’s Positive Transition from High School to STEM Collegiate Path.