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None of the things I told you till now will significantly change the course of your life, but this one thing is different- it will significantly alter how you look at life and how you conduct yourself.


Dear Sixteen Year Old Natasha,

I am your future self, and I am writing to tell you enough to save you a little bit of heartache, without telling you so much that we may end up ripping the fabric of time.

As you prepare diligently for your Board Exams, I know you have your life planned in meticulous detail for the next 10 years. You know exactly which subjects you are going to study in Plus Two and University. You have decided which University/ies you are going to go to for your undergrad, post grad and doctorate. While you have not yet decided where you will do your post-doctoral research, you have a fairly good idea of where that may be. You are well on track to achieve your dreams, and you are willing to put in the effort needed to get to where you want to go.

Do not get into your comfort zone, though

I salute your single-minded dedication; and yet I worry. Not everything is in our control. Plans get derailed. Life throws curveballs at us. Hard work and perseverance may not always get you what you want. Sometimes, what you think you want is not the right thing for you. Be open to re-evaluating your priorities. Be willing to change your plans.

Instead attempting to chart out every detail of your life, set the general direction of where you want to go, and embrace what life throws at you. To paraphrase Douglas Adams, you may not go where you intended to go, but you will end up where you need to be.

[Speaking of Douglas Adams, do read ‘Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy’. His brand of science fiction is not the same as your beloved Issac Asimov’s, but you will certainly enjoy it.]

Change is good; embrace it

Not to give too much away, but do not let yourself become too comfortable doing whatever you are doing. You may convince yourself that you are deliriously happy, and do not want to change, but maybe you are just fearful of trying something new? Change is good- do not shy away from it.

Be open to taking calculated risks. If you wait till you have all the information you need before taking a decision, you may end up missing out on opportunities which let you grow. Trust your intuition. Know that if things don’t work out the way you planned, you can always start afresh.

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But when you walk away, do not look back in regret. Perhaps the failure was meant to teach you something which you will only realise much later. Like they say, the past cannot be undone, but looking back can ruin a perfectly good future.

Make good use of the privilege with which you are born – not many have this

Always be open to learning and growing.

You have good genes. Your grandmother who never studied beyond grade 5 taught herself English and Hindi after marriage, and is, even now, teaching herself to read and write Kannada. Remember how your grandfather asked you to teach him the binary system of nomenclature- it didn’t matter to him that he was a scientist with a sting of academic papers to his name and you a mere 5th grader- you knew something he didn’t know, and he asked you to teach him.

Be like your grandparents- question what you have taken for granted, engage in discussions with people you disagree with, be willing to admit that you were wrong if you are wrong. One day, what will give you greatest pleasure is having your children (yes, you will become a mother someday, though you haven’t planned that far ahead yet) teach you something you never knew.

Understand your introvert nature, and then break the rules

I know you wonder why you aren’t able to make and keep friends like others your age do. While you don’t envy the popular girls, you think there is something wrong with you because you seem incapable of meaningful friendships. You think you are a misfit. A bit of a freak.

You are not!

You are just an introvert in a world designed by extroverts. Understand that you are different, that normal extrovert things are not for you. Understand that what is a joy for others may fill you will dread. You are an introvert who has learnt to fake it so convincingly that even you do not realise that many of the issues you face are simply because introverts and extroverts react differently to situations.

I know you don’t let people get too close to you, because you are worried they may end up hurting you. But that also means you miss out on friendships that may enrich you. Let people into your life. Some of them will end up hurting you, but overall, it will be worth it.

Feminism will make things better, so embrace your inner feminist; don’t diss her!

None of the things I told you till now will significantly change the course of your life- they are things you will learn sooner or later. All that I have done is reduce the heartache you might feel till you come to the decisions that you will eventually come to. But this one thing is different- it will significantly alter how you look at life and how you conduct yourself.

I cannot wait for you to discover this on your own because it will take you more than three decades to get there, and we do not have the luxury of inaction- understand Feminism, and be a Feminist.

As a teenager in the late 1980s, you think it is fashionable to declare that you are not a feminist. You think that feminists are bra-burning militant creatures demanding special rights for women, while you are a person who is believes in claiming her place in the world through hard work. What you do not realise is that you have bought into the myth perpetrated by a patriarchal society.

You live in a society which expects a woman to continue to perform her traditional roles while also working in a job as demanding as a man’s. That is not right- both men and women should shoulder the burdens of caregiving, childcare and housework. Over time you will come to realise that it is not sufficient that you be as good as a man; you need to prove that you are much better than the men. You will face discrimination. You will have hurdles put in your path. The way to overcome them is not by ignoring it and working doubly hard to prove yourself worthy- you must first acknowledge the discrimination and then push for a more equitable system.

As a female professional in a predominantly male profession, you will feel the need to be “one of the boys”. You will try to buy your acceptance by laughing at misogynistic jokes and ignoring the discomfort you may feel with some of the men. Don’t! Call out those jokes. Explain why it is wrong to objectivise women. Demand that all women be treated with respect.

Educate yourself on the gender wage gap. Push for a more equitable work environment. Do not look the other way when you witness sexual harassment. Find allies for the gender equity among your male colleagues and friends.

Feminism is deeply rooted in the ideals of equity and justice. Take pride in calling yourself a feminist.

Above all, smile. Find joy in little things.

And get that dog.

Lots of love,

Your Future Self

PS: That black silk saree of your mother’s that you so love? 35 years later, you will love it just as much!

This August, we have working women writing a deeply personal letter to their younger selves – from the time they were teenagers or college students or young adults just stepping out into a career, and later too when they came up against problems – telling them that they should embrace their #freedomtodream and how this will take them on their journey to get to where they now find themselves.

If you are a working woman and want to write a similar letter to your younger self, log in to your author dashboard or register here as an author, and upload your piece with #FreedomToDream or #FreedomToBeMe in the title. We’d love to hear from you.

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About the Author

Natasha Ramarathnam

Natasha works in the development sector, where most of her experience has been in Education and Livelihoods. She is passionate about working towards gender equity, sustainability and positive climate action. And avid reader and occasional read more...

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