What I Know Now is a compilation of short biographies on women who are very successful in their chosen fields (writers, politicians, musicians, actresses, businesswomen, etc.) and the letters they have written to their younger selves. Editor (and interviewer) Ellyn Spragins takes a page or so to introduce each woman, listing not only her accomplishments but context for the letter that follows. The short letters are, universally, reassurances and advice aimed at times when they really could have used that input. For instance, former Secretary of State Albright starts the book off with a letter to her 44-year-old self, a time when she was devastated by her divorce and on the cusp of starting a new job. Her letter acknowledges the feelings she was experiencing and the difficult road ahead, but stresses that she will persevere and accomplish more than she ever dreamed possible.
Each of the letters resounds with heartfelt truth, and the letters meant to reassure themselves offer the reader the same encouragement. Conceptually I know that we all have the same fears and self doubts, times when we are confused or make bad decisions. Reading theses letters affirms that we all go through this darkness. They also tell me that I have the ability to overcome whatever it is that is holding me back and whoever is telling me that we can’t do it. The insights into what drove these women, what gave them the ability to pick themselves up and push forward, are not only fascinating, they offer wisdom about life, relationships, and what’s really important.
They also make me wonder what I would tell myself, and when.
Would I write a letter to my 23-year-old self, to comfort her just after the suicide of her father, when she tried to be strong and shoulder the weight of her family’s grief? Or would I write 22-year-old me, to tell her how much she should cherish the time she spends with him before it’s too late? Or about-to-graduate-from-college me, who was regretting the decision to major in graphic design because she realized how much she hated the field – should I reassure her that her “useless” degree would lead to the best job ever?
What I Know Now is admittedly a bit dated, as it was published in 2006, and many of the women therein have gone on to accomplish much more. Spragins followed What I Know Now with If I’d Known Then (2008) and What I Know About Success (2010), both of which are now on my reading list.
If you’ve ever felt alone, or thought that no one else had ever experienced the pain you were dealing with; if you ever wondered how other women handled their crisis’ and anxieties and doubts; if you ever wondered what about the path to success, pick up this book. You really won’t regret it.