03/24/2014 09:54 pm ET Updated May 24, 2014

Letters to Our Former Selves

I am 23 years old and, to my knowledge, I have not made any significant, life-altering decisions in my time here on this planet. Of course every choice I make has an effect on what happens to me, but I am talking about something bigger. I mean that fork in the road, that time when you zigged when you could have zagged, when you look back and say to yourself, "that was what changed it all for me." Maybe it has already happened for me, but I have no way of knowing. I want to be ready.

Thirty years ago, if you told someone the capacity to connect with one another that we have today, there's a good chance they would not have believed you. The world is at our fingertips, and the vast majority of our time and energy is wasted consuming the ultimately meaningless information that constantly floods our screens. To steal a phrase from cryptology, we cannot sift the signal from the noise. It is too difficult to tell what is worth paying attention to, but therein lies the rub: We have this tool to immediately connect with almost anyone on the planet, to learn from each other in ways that up until this point in history did not exist, yet the overwhelming majority of our time on the Internet is spent on bullshit. A lot of it is entertaining, and serves to distract and placate us, but at the end of the day it is still mostly bullshit.

In the summer of 2013, I sat on a bus in Vietnam for 48 hours straight. At some point during the trip, I wrote "Letters to our Former Selves" in my journal and underlined it twice. Then the idea came out quickly -- to get people from as many varied backgrounds as possible and have them write a letter to themselves at the moment that changed their lives. A politician the night she won her first election, an addict the night he first used, a celebrity right before they became famous, a death-row inmate the night they murdered someone. What are the common threads in all of these stories, those feelings of regret or satisfaction that every person on this planet has about their past? I am not just curious. I want to know so that when I do make these "big" decisions, I might be just a little bit more prepared. History is only doomed to repeat itself if we do not learn from our collective mistakes.

So I have embarked upon a quest to learn -- and hopefully to grow -- from the wisdom of my elders. The past is humanity's great equalizer, and we all have a story worth sharing. This common thread across the spectrum, this unexplainable truth that is greater than any of us, binds us in ways that I do not believe we are capable of fully comprehending. And I do not think I will find a singular truth in the process, but that is not the point. In the journey lies the destination.

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