Don’t Worry, Be Happy by
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Brandeis graduation photo, 1974

Dear 21 Year Old Betsy,

You pride yourself on high achievement. That is fine and working hard will serve you well throughout your life, but I assure you, life will have its twists and turns. You will not have a career in the arts, but will find enjoyment through them. Go with the flow. Learn to be less timid. You are strong. You will survive and grow (no; not any taller). Don’t be too hard on yourself.

You have made many wonderful friendships through these formative years. You are good at nurturing them and they will nurture you throughout your whole life. Learn from your friends, lean on them. Even though some may lapse, you will be pleased to find how strong the bonds will remain and flourish again at later dates, even in surprising ways.

You have a natural warmth. Let it shine through. People are drawn to it. You just don’t realize it yet. You are not afraid to “let it all hang out”; you speak your mind. Your openness is awesome, but it leaves you vulnerable to being hurt. Realize this, don’t protect against it. It is a strength.

At some point, you get over your innate shyness and become comfortable with all kinds of people. That is marvelous. Your natural curiosity will serve you well.

A sense of humor is SO important. Learn to laugh more, at yourself and with others. It helps to maintain balance, humility and gets you through difficult times. You ooze empathy. Others sense that about you. You will be constantly surprised by people’s response to you. Learn to own it.

Take exercise and healthy eating more seriously at an early age. Forget the sweet tooth. That great metabolism won’t keep going forever. There seems to be longevity in your family. Take care of yourself, as you will be a caretaker for others. Above all else, remember to keep smiling.

Selfie from virtual 50th high school reunion, 10/9/20

Love you girl,

68 Year Old Betsy


Profile photo of Betsy Pfau Betsy Pfau
Retired from software sales long ago, two grown children. Theater major in college. Singer still, arts lover, involved in art museums locally (Greater Boston area). Originally from Detroit area.

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. John Shutkin says:

    Just a great letter, Betsy. Not surprisingly, you show enormous insight into both your former and current selves,, and your advice is both wise and warm and clearly comes from a life well-lived, even if (like for most of us) not exactly as planned.

    Young Betsy is lucky to have received such advice and to have such a great role model.

    Also, a brilliant front-and-back selfie — clearly no coincidence!

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      Thanks, John. I am a fairly self-reflective person, am honest with myself, and know myself well. I am under no delusions. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wish I knew then what I know now, but I do think I’ve grown better with age.

      The current photo (the only one I have since COVID struck) is the only way I know to take selfies. Not brilliant; practical.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    This is a wonderful letter, Betsy. From one shy girl to another, it was worth pushing beyond that natural inclination to become the woman you are today. Great values.

  3. Thanx for sharing such good advice Betsy!
    Indeed your warmth captivated me the first time we met, stay just the way you are!

  4. Marian says:

    Profound letter, Betsy, and such wonderful advice for your younger self and for us all! Thank you for sharing it.

  5. I love pondering the photo of you at the earlier age and the current age! The stance is the same and the overall look is the same, although the earlier one is more up-close. I think you were implying to your younger self not to be so focused on “achievement?” And to stop eating so many sweets? Do you think you would have followed that advice if you received it at the time?

    • Betsy Pfau says:

      The college photo wasn’t taken by me, Dale. and my arms and legs are in a different position. We didn’t have “selfies” back in 1974. I was telling younger me to lighten up a bit, that things have a way of working out. It’s OK to work hard and be proud of achievements, but that’s not the only thing. The sweets is a throw-away line, just one bit of advice about eating healthy (which I’ve focused on for more than 8 years now). I didn’t know a lot about nutrition then, but was always slim. It just gets harder the older we get.

  6. Betsy, I love what you said about your vulnerability being a strength, not something to be guarded.

  7. Suzy says:

    Wonderful advice, Betsy. And I love your Brandeis graduation photo!

  8. Beautiful advice to self, and much hard-won empathy. Why is it that empaths often have a hard time feeling for themselves. But I think you’ve won, Betsy!

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