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DowntownChicagoILatNightI was twelve when I first visited Chicago. My mom was running the Chicago Marathon, and my dad had planned a secret trip for my sister and me to surprise her at the finish line. I was mesmerized by how beautiful the city was. And it was full of wonders: deep-dish pizza, three-story record stores, sidewalks. Then there was the thrill of being in a big city at night: something we rarely experienced in Atlanta, whose downtown was deserted after 5pm. I thought of how wonderful it would be to live in a big, exciting, walkable city.

This past fall, on the morning of the marathon, I watched for a bit from the top floor of a campus building before class… and then it hit me like a smack to the head: I live here now! I had forgotten about how excited and happy my younger self would be to see where I am now.

Since then, I have that realization over and over: my younger self would be ecstatic about so many things that I have–things I routinely take for granted. I make it a game to think, what would she love about this? What problem has been long-since solved? What goal has been long-since achieved? It is one of my favorite perspective-shifters.

When I was ten, I was so excited to have my own room. I loved to decorate the walls with pictures and drawings. Ten-year-old me would have a fit to see my apartment now: a whole home to myself! I used to love to go to Target with my mom and get a Lip Smacker or an Archie comic book. My medicine cabinet would be a treasure trove to this little girl. She would be thrilled to live across the street from a comic book store, and shocked that homes and businesses occupied the same buildings. My drawings would look like masterpieces to her. She would be elated to stay up as late as she wanted, and pick out what she wanted from the grocery store. Her dad had a five-pound car phone the size of a brick; my current phone would make her head explode.

When I was twelve, I had my first week of French. I heard an MC Solaar song, and wished I could understand all the words. One afternoon this fall, when MC Solaar popped up on Pandora, I realized that now these songs make sense! At thirteen, I loved hunting for CDs; Kid Koala and DJ Shadow mesmerized me; I wanted to be DJ Rap when I grew up. Over Christmas, I found a cartoon I had drawn of a DJ girl surrounded by crates of vinyl. I had forgotten until last fall that I dreamed about that as a kid; somehow, I pushed it out of my mind for twelve years! I now practice scratching and mixing four days a week with a group of fantastic DJs.

When I was fifteen, I went to Montreal. I had never been in a city subway, having lived in car-centric Atlanta. It felt like a Super Mario video game, climbing down into pipes and magically popping up in new places. Even now, taking buses and trains around Chicago reminds me of hopping onto a giant caterpillar or jumping into a magic pipe. (I remind myself of this when it’s ten degrees and snowing sideways at the bus stop, or I’m squished up against some sweaty dude.) Zipcar adds to the freedom. I can travel alone safely, day or night.

Fourteen-year-old me heaves a sigh of relief to see my parents well, years after loss and divorce. Eighteen-year-old me is relieved to be free of the rules of Contemporary Christian Courtship. Twenty-one-year-old me is glad those exes are history, man.

Privacy. Technology. Mobility. Freedom. Mastery of skills I longed to have. Relief from former worries. From my younger self’s perspective, current life is an outright triumph, not a project for perfecting, or a suite of anxieties. Younger me is miffed that I haven’t been to Japan yet, and that I’m not a cartoonist. But she is too excited about everything else to make much of a fuss.

Are there things that you’ve attained and accomplished that your younger self would cheer for? Is there progress you’ve made that you’ve overlooked? Problems that have resolved themselves? Even if things are bleak, difficult, and stressful right now, is there something that you haven’t yet fully enjoyed or given yourself credit for?

Looking back,

Was there a place you wanted to visit that you’ve now been to?

Did you live somewhere that didn’t feel right to you? Do you now live somewhere that suits you better?

Was there someone who frightened or harmed you whose influence you are free of?

Did you belong to a religion that made you feel diminished? Have you refined or left your old beliefs?

Did you have an illness, injury, or condition that you have recovered from, or made progress with?

Did you have to be closeted about something that you can now be open with?

Did you feel alone, and do you now find yourself with more friends and like-minds?

Have you learned a skill that once felt out of your reach?

What would your younger self feel the happiest about or most proud of? Can you imagine your future self being happy to have solved a problem you’re facing now?