03/17/2013 09:25 am ET Updated May 17, 2013

When I


You're about to turn 2 years old. It drives me crazy that I won't be there to celebrate you like last year. Thank god for childhood amnesia and Facetime, I suppose. Point is, you're growing up fast. Like Usain Bolt fast. Soon you'll want to speed things up even more. Press fast forward. "Grow up." When you're 10, the high school kids will seem mature and independent. They're not. They might drive cars and they likely won't have a bedtime, but they're just like you, trying to figure out where they fit in.

When you're in high school, 20-somethings will seem exciting. Some wear suits. They have jobs. Some might even have a career. If TV is the truth, they have sex with every meal. They have the freedom to do whatever they damn well please, even if that means watching four hours of television in elastic pants while eating hummus with their index finger. But their eyes are just as eager to see what comes next. They escape from the present and turn their attention to the future tense: "when I finish school," "when I find a job I love," "when I get married," as if any of that is promised.

Well, at some point, the teeter-totter will tip in the other direction. You'll try to grab hold of time and slow it down. You'll want more time to discover your true passion, turn your career into a calling, find true love and friends that challenge you to be a better you. As these slip in and out of your fingers, you'll wonder if time is passing you by, if maybe these things are for other people, not you. Like Missy, you'll want to take time, flip it and reverse it. You'll get hung up on regret, thinking about the might-have-loved and the should-have-been.

Take my story, for example. Doing well in school always mattered to me. When grandma Mia told me that I could be whatever I wanted if I tried my best in school, I believed her. The more time I invested in school, the more doing well in school came to define me. Like an anchor, sometimes keeping me grounded, other times dragging me down. Here's the thing, Sam: This too was an escape from the present, from figuring out what really mattered to me, and acting on it. While I don't regret this -- I ultimately got into the graduate school I wanted and was lucky enough to find a job that gives me purpose -- doing well in school should have been justified on its own terms, in the moment. It should be about getting lost in another world and understanding your own as the pages turn. And yet I focused so intently on doing well in school that everything else -- everything that it turns out really matters in life like honest-to-god friends, figuring out what makes you tick and love defined by partnership -- got pushed to the side.

It's not that I didn't think these were important too, Sam. I did. It's that for too long I thought they would follow automatically, as if they were somehow guaranteed, a promised part of life. They're not. I've learned the hard way that you have to work harder at these than anything. But "when I"s ran rampant in my mind because I didn't want to admit to myself that maybe, possibly, I would grow old, alone, with a fancy degree, framed like it matters. Until one morning, sometime a year and a half ago, I woke up and realized that "when I" is a crutch, that nothing is promised and everything that matters must be lived intentionally and authentically, that tomorrow is a fiction, and today -- right now, right this instant -- is what matters.

The propensity to get lost in what should have been or what might be one day is an escape from what is. Yours is an even greater challenge, hate to say it. Being present, being mindful, being intentional about what matters to you is a daunting task even without technology grabbing your attention like it is entitled. It's bad now -- moments of reflection zapped by status updates and Tweets. In writing the last paragraph I checked my email twice and Facebook once. I can only imagine what you will face when these questions cross your mind. Whatever the case, it is a fight worth fighting because you can only ensure the future you want for yourself by confronting the present with courage.

So put down your cell phone. Seriously, put it down. Stop texting for just one second. Your phone, I promise, awaits your return with open, eager arms. Now, take a deep breath. C'mon, play along. A really deep breath. Feel it in your gut. In. Out. Repeat. Feel the carpet rub against the heel of your foot, the fibers twisting in between your toes. Hear the bass as it thumps along. Notice your head as it bobs to the beat without so much as a conscious thought. See the bright lights of the computer screen and feel the clicks and the clacks of the keyboard as you punch the plastic keys.

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