A note to my younger self

Me in front of Madrid's Palacio Real in 2002

In 2002, Crayton and I had just started dating, and I convinced him to take a trip to Spain with me.

I studied abroad there for two semesters in college and I think I won him over by telling him I’d show him around my old Madrid haunts — and that there was this thing called a botellón, a concept now outlawed, that enabled anyone to drink outside, anywhere.

We went for a week and botellón-ed and saw the sites. But it wasn’t a good trip. My Spanish had atrophied. I couldn’t understand anyone. I hated the madrileños’ brusqueness and their lack of patience with foreigners. The food, which I loved when I lived there, suddenly seemed complex and intimidating, and I hated that there wasn’t more variety.

The real problem was that I was terrified I’d become a failure. When I lived in Madrid, I thought I would graduate college and travel the world, and I’d have a job where I could use my Spanish every day. I would live in Mexico and be a freelance writer. Four years later, none of it had come true, and I wasn’t sure it ever would. I spent a lot of my time on that trip crying and willing myself to leave our hotel room, and tearfully asking Crayton if he’d go buy me McDonald’s. (I’m wincing as I type that.)

Last week, we went back to Spain together and the difference between then and now was astounding.

I wish I could have told the 23-year-old me who cried and thought she wasn’t good enough that everything was going to be fine. I will live in Mexico, and I will speak Spanish, and my next visit to Spain in 2012 will be when I’m happy and healthy and confident. I’ll order sepia and chocolate palmeras and pulpo with gusto, and take pictures of everything on my iPhone.

In 2012, I will love the guttural, garbled way Spanish men say “hasta luego” because it reminds me of a time when I was just stepping out in the world. I’ll love that they serve me a fork and knife with my pan tostado, because that’s what they did 14 years ago and they still do it now. I’ll love the shops piled with sweets, because they remind me of sweets in Mexico. And I’ll actually find myself looking up at my surroundings, not down at my feet, and realizing: whoa. Madrid has gorgeous architecture.

When I was 23, I wanted to be exactly where I am now — bilingual, happy and at peace. A woman in a job she loves, and who made the excellent decision to marry the man she went to Spain with in 2002.

The dreams will come true. It just takes time.

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27 Responses to “A note to my younger self”
  1. Rachel Laudan

    What do I say, Lesley? You’ve added hard work, persistence and ingenuity to time. And I’m so happy you are loving Spain.

    • Lesley

      Thanks Rachel. Means a lot to me.

  2. Julie

    Love, love, love. And am so happy for you.

    • Lesley

      Thanks Julie! Te mando un abrazo.

  3. Michael Warshauer

    Well done, Lesley.

    This September will be the 10th anniversary of our trip to Spain. It was at a turning point in my life, career-wise, and it couldn’t have been at a better time.

    It was the most memorable vacation we’d ever taken. I recently reposted most of the photos from that trip on Picasa Web Albums.

    Don Cuevas

    • Lesley

      Thanks DC, and thanks for sharing the photos. (Although maybe I shouldn’t have looked at them on an empty stomach — the queso cabrales and pulpo a la gallega made me drool.) I’m jealous you went to the north. We really wanted to take a trip there this time around, but we didn’t have time. Hopefully next time, or the time after that… there will be time for everything. :-)

      • Michael Warshauer

        Lesley (Why has the comment box turned red?)

        The 2002 trip of a Lifetime to Spain was so memorable, that I would be willing to retrace nearly ally our steps, with but a few exceptions. I would make better dining choices now. Certain hospederías would be passed over in favor of others. I probably wouldn’t want to go to Toledo again, although it was interesting. Maybe Segovia next time.

        We wouldn’t be physically able to walk the Cares Gorge again, alas! That was possibly the centerpiece of or trip.

        There would be more vino, queso,mariscos y embutidos than ever. We would definitely return to Santiago and the Hostal Alfonso there.

        Maybe I should do a 10th Anniversary Retrospective on our trip to Spain.

        Thanks for a great idea!

        Don Cuevas

  4. Peggy Bilbro

    With your wonderfully positive attitude, you will find that life just gets better and better. Yes, there will be a few down moments, but they always lead back up and –hey!– they make great stories! Just like this one of your first trip to Spain.

  5. Fred

    I hope you enjoyed Spain Lesley!:-)

  6. Lauren

    Lesley, it was so lovely meeting you and Crayton on the food tour, and now I have a new food blog to follow! I’m so glad to have just read this post- it’s 5:30 am Madrid time, my friend Matt just left for the airport, and I am officially on my own in Spain. I’m nervous as hell, but it’s so nice to know that things worked out for you just the way you wanted them to. I’ll be sure to remember that when I’m overwhelmed and sheepishly sneaking into a McDonald’s!

    • Lesley

      Hi Lauren: It was great to meet you too. You’re going to do just fine — the tough times, in the end, are part of what makes the whole thing worth it. Wishing you the best of luck as you start this new adventure! (And don’t feel bad about McDonald’s, sometimes you need a taste of home. Although I heard there’s an American restaurant chain as well? I forget the name.)

  7. Raqueld

    Thank you for sharing your lovely memories and congratulations on your success of making it all come true. I’ve enjoyed your blog and this particular post was encouraging to read as I too would like to continue to write and travel and have fallen in love with parts of Spain like San Sebastian and hope to one day go back. Patience is a hard virtue to master, but you’re right that all things happen in good time. Thank you!

  8. David

    Increíble historia! Yo estoy cómo tú a los 23. Pero me digo, que en 10, o 9, u 8, o menos estaré donde quiero estar. Felicidades! Que bonito blog! (soy mexicano)

    • Lesley

      Gracias David! Te deseo toda la suerte en cumplir tus sueños!

  9. Lauren Aloise

    Lesley, I would have had no idea that your last trip had been so emotional. This time you were so obviously in your element here in Madrid! It was so fantastic to meet you and Crayton, and your kindness in helping me was something I will never forget. Not everyone is as nice and down to earth as you guys! Anytime you want to come back to Spain to travel around and eat, just call me up– I still have lots of regions to explore! In the meantime I’ll be checking in here as usual, dreaming about a future visit to Mexico City. I’m so happy you have achieved your goals and hope you know that you are an inspiration to the rest of us! Un beso, Lauren

  10. Mayrena


    I was moved by your blog. I’ve felt stuck like that 23 year old, but you must admire that at least you went to Spain. You tried, and that was one step to where you are now. I’ll be going to Mexico City in early September, so a little research is what led me to your blog and I’m glad I found it. :)

    • Lesley

      Thanks Mayrena. I’m happy to hear this resonated with you — I’m actually trying to keep this in mind as I’m facing other changes in my life. Wishing you an equally successful journey to Mexico City!

  11. Mayrena

    oops I meant Lesley….

  12. Laura

    This is a great post on many levels. I moved to Italy two decades ago and married my Italian boyfriend. A total leap of faith. The first years were so hard while I suffered unemployment, terrible homesickness and tried to improve my Italian. I stuck it out, kept the faith and worked hard. Now we have two beautiful teenage children and I have a career that I love. We just took a 17 day trip to Mexico. It was fantastic. I have been writing non-stop to my friends and family since about the food we ate while in the D.F., Puebla, and Veracruz. In Puebla our friends made us chiles en nogada. A friend wrote back today saying that she just found your recipe for chiles en nogada. That is how I arrived at your website. Our family which is already bilingual Italian/English, studied Spanish for a year to prepare for the trip. We stayed with friends: a huge, warm, generous, multigenerational Mexican family the whole time. They have come to visit us in Italy many times, but this was our first trip ever to Mexico. It was wonderful. I told my husband that I would like to retire in Puebla! Cheers to living life to the fullest. Love your website and blog! Laura

    • Lesley

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Laura. And I’m glad you enjoyed your trip here. Hope you make it back someday!

  13. Ilsa

    Awwww…Lesley! This article made me tear up (I will not cry at work…I will not cry at work…I will not cry at work). Can you believe it’s been so long since you came from Madrid to meet me in Grenoble and we went to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic? Remember those bagels in CR? I still have my champagne glasses from New Year’s Eve in Vienna. (I will not cry at work) While I’m not where I thought I’d be when I lived in France and you lived in Spain, I’m overjoyed that you are and hope I can one day be as lucky as you. I miss you “mija”!

    • Lesley

      I miss you too lady! I don’t remember the bagels in CR, but I do remember the cheap beer. And the crazy hostel with the basement bar. And the random strangers we met at the train station and ended up sharing a room with. We need to get together the next time I’m in LA!

  14. Emily

    Hola Lesley, I’m 23 and going on my first big trip overseas alone. I’ve traveled before but always with a friend.
    I’m off to Mexico and in many ways feel the way you have expressed here. Its reassuring to read that life doesn’t have to happen all at once and we will all accomplish the dreams we set out.
    I may even meet you shortly! I have a tour booked in DF with eatmexico :)

    • Lesley

      Hi Emily: Thanks for your comment! How exciting to be starting off on a new journey. I wish you the best of luck. Also, I’m glad you’ve booked a tour — I think you’ll really enjoy it. If you have any questions about life in Mexico, please feel free to email me, I’m happy to help.

  15. Aide

    Lesley, the idea to write a note to your younger self is just so great. There so many things I´d like to say to me. Odd as it sounds, it´s relieving.

  16. Alejandro

    Gracias, Lesley

    I am 23…just got fired, have fleeting hopes and dreams but this story is uplifting. I think I should do as you did; stop and smell las rosas. God bless, thanks for this.

    Alejandro Rodriguez-Garcia

    P.S. I really enjoy all of your content, you’re an easy read and very informative.

    • Lesley Tellez

      Hi Alejandro: I’m glad this resonated with you. Thank you for commenting and wishing you the best of luck!

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