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Jessica Pan Headshot

All The Women I Have Been

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I once knew a girl who kissed boys in pick-up trucks on the country roads of Texas. Years later, I knew another girl who lived abroad and would only date charming British boys.

Later, I got to know a girl who was a timid intern in an office in New York City, so quiet people probably forgot she was even there. She was so different from another girl I met: a brash TV reporter living in China where foreign journalists run the risk of sudden deportation.

We've all been so many different people at different stages of our lives that I'm sure that you've known -- that you've been -- several completely different kinds of people. As for me? I barely recognize myself in the descriptions above, yet those are some of the lives I've lived.

How many different people have you been that you would barely recognize?

At 29, I've definitely been more than one person. There was Teenage Jess, who lived in a small town in Texas and wanted more than anything to get out of Dodge and go to an Ivy League school. There was Shy College Jess, who finally made it to Brown University, but spent most of the time too timid to come out of her shell and did not date a single guy in four years.

But then, as time went by and I found my footing, there was Sassy Jess, two years out of college, who lived and worked in Beijing as a magazine editor. To be honest, I miss Sassy Jess -- I could really use her feistiness sometimes. Eventually, Sassy Jess gave way to Brazen Jess, who packed up everything and moved to Australia because she was taking a chance on a big love.

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And now, at nearly 30, I wonder if I've finally become Stable Jess, living and working London for the past two years; going to dinner parties and plays -- Stable Jess, but also Brazen and Sassy and Shy and Teenage Jess, all at once.

I struggle to remember exactly what I felt at the moments when I went from one version of my life to another. It does feel like some of my major life events happened to another. What, for example, did I feel when I met an exciting Brazilian during the Summer Olympics in China? Or how did I react when a dashing Englishman broke my heart on a snowy winter day five years ago? What was I thinking when, as a TV reporter, I snuck into an teenage boot camp for a story? When I went skydiving in Australia (something I would never dare do now), was I shaking from fear or excitement -- or both?

Forgetting can be a beautiful thing, but sometimes we live too much in the present. We forget about all the girls and women we have been.

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I recently read through years' worth of correspondence with my best friend for a book we were writing together and realized there were entire crushes that I had forgotten even existed. There were whimsical hopes that I am now saddened to realize have fallen entirely by the wayside. There was the real-time giddiness of discovering the world and growing up, remembering of how it felt to jump into the ocean in Australia for the first time or cycle along a quiet Beijing alleyway at 3 a.m. -- it was all there. More than anything, the letters let me relive those dizzying moments of falling in love.

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I've concluded that, just like cats, we may get as many as nine lives... if we're lucky.

Jessica and Rachel's book, GRADUATES IN WONDERLAND, is an epistolary memoir about their postcollege adventures living in New York, Beijing, Paris and Melbourne. Jennifer Weiner named it one of her Top Ten Beach Reads of this summer. It's out now.