Noah Charney
Writer/Professor of Art History

Illustration by
Pik-Tone Fung

Dear 25-Year-Old Me,

Well, let’s get things straight from the start. It all turned out pretty much as you hoped it would, and feared it would not. Things were moving in the right direction when I last saw you (eight years ago now), but it really started to click at age 26/27.

I always thought that a good life broke itself down into several components: career, family, friends, place, pastimes. Success and happiness, or at the very least contentedness, in as many of these categories as possible is what we’re all after. All of them clicked into place just after I was your age, although the friends part was not quite what I had in mind.

Back at your age, I had the friends category perfected—but my great friends were met in England while we were all studying there, and as we knew would happen, we all went back to our native nations or elsewhere abroad after those studies ended. So the time of greatest friendships for me was age 22–24, and has not continued as I would have liked. The problem is merely logistics—those great friends are all many hours’ flight away, and email and phone calls don’t cut it. Of course I’ve got many new friends, but what I miss is the group dynamic that perhaps comes from a gang of friends who are all living together and all essentially single. Once you start to get married, and especially have kids, if you’re not in the same physical time zone, much less city, then it’s just too hard to keep up. If I’m lucky, I see these friends once a year, but often less. That’s just about the only thing that did not turn out as I had hoped, but that is the price I’ve paid for living in a lot of wonderful places, and having to establish new friendships in each.

Pastimes were never separate from career for me, I’m glad to say, not at your age, nor now. I write for fun and look at art for fun, and that’s what I do for work. The novel I wrote just before I was your age was sold just after I was your age, and became a big bestseller, allowing me to become a full-time writer, and part-time professor. I’m not sure what I would have done, had that not come to pass, so thank goodness it did. It never occurred to me that it wouldn’t, so perhaps the cocktail of self-confidence and positive thinking helped it come to pass.

Of course, I did think that work would be light and easy from the first novel on. In fact, life as a writer is a lot of hard work, more than I thought—though I can hardly complain about any aspect of a job that keeps me at home and in my pyjamas all day. But I put in very long days writing, I write articles all the time to make extra money and keep myself unforgotten between book releases, and my books haven’t come out as frequently as I would’ve liked. But I can and look to always be able to live as a full-time writer, which is a huge gift. So you’ve got nothing to worry about.

Place has worked out well. Since age 16, as you know, I’ve wanted to live in Europe, and always felt more at home here than my native USA. I was well on the path at your age, and the only question was where in Europe? That came down to who Mrs. Charney would be, and that had a very happy ending, too. I know it seemed like I would never find The One, though in the back of my mind I knew it was only a matter of time and kismet. But I did, and she’s everything we hoped she would be. She happens to be from Slovenia, so the place turned out to be Slovenia, with frequent trips to Rome and Umbria—a happy ending to the question of place.

And, of course, to family. The wife is all I could have hoped for, and now we’ve got our first kid (not counting our Peruvian Hairless, Hubert van Eyck), a three-month-old daughter. Everyone always tells you that having a baby is the best thing in the world and I’m pleased to report that it is just as good as everyone says. That’s mighty impressive because nothing is as hyped as your baby. But it is as advertised and then some.

So my advice to you would be patience. You are on the right track and everything is about to fall into place. Maybe you would’ve liked it to have fallen into place a few years earlier and it sometimes felt like it was taking far too long. But inevitably it does, and when it does, all you can do is count your lucky stars.

Best wishes and see you when you catch up to my age,


P.S. Good for you for living so long alone in Europe and not drinking too much nor smoking. Both sound lavishly appealing to me now and I’m quite shocked that I refrained in my youth.

July 2013