More than a year ago, I saw a flurry of blog posts all across the internet, in which people wrote letters to their 16-year-old selves. All kinds of people joined in. I did not. I don’t know why. I guess I wasn’t feeling it at the time. But now it’s winter, and 2011 is almost over, and I’m feeling pensive. And pensive, as it turns out, is just the right sort of mood for writing letters to yourself at 16. Here I go!
Letter to Amber at Sixteen
If I could actually send you a letter, the smart thing to do would be to fill it with helpful information about the outcome of certain sporting events and how the stock market will perform. You know, like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future II. Since that is not the point of this exercise, though, I will refrain. Instead, I will attempt to impart wisdom, as I reflect on my life and yours and how much I’ve learned in the 19 years that have passed since I was in your shoes.
This will be a difficult year for you. A lot of things happen that leave you reeling. The important thing to remember, as you face sadness and adversity, is that you are resilient. All of these things that seem hard now will make you strong, and help you to grow up. One day – and that day isn’t far off – you will even look back on this year as a time when you found yourself, and let go of the things that are holding you back. It’s natural that this kind of transition brings upheaval. Just understand what it is, and it will be easier to navigate.
On the upside, I’ve seen the photos, and you’re looking good. So please, for the love of all that’s holy, stop spending so much time agonizing in front of a mirror. When you’re in my shoes you’ll only be able to dream of looking like you do. Stop fretting over it and appreciate it.
In fact, there are a lot of things that you can stop fretting over. High school is not easy, and I won’t tell you that it is. But this time will be over before you know it. So rather than worrying about every little thing, try to understand that in the end, what you’ll miss is the fun stuff. Do more fun stuff. Don’t worry so much about what other people will think, or whether you’ll get in trouble, or how it will all turn out. The truth is, this time is for figuring out who you are. Play with it a little.
Play is something that most 16-year-olds have abandoned. Don’t. Spend more time doing things you like, rather than things you think are expected of you. Write for fun. You love to write. Don’t stop writing. By all means, take the math and science classes. Show up at school every day. Do your homework. But learn how to cut loose, too. You don’t have to spend your youth trying to be serious. Seriousness is overrated. Dreams are not.
You won’t leave every part of your life now behind, as you graduate and move away. You’re forging lifelong relationships here, so don’t flippantly discount someone’s feelings or be heedlessly rude. No matter how any interaction turns out in life, it pays to be kind. You never know when you’re going to need a hand, and sometimes it’s surprising who shows up (and who doesn’t) in your hour of need. Remember that, and learn to think a little before you speak.
The biggest message I want to leave you with isn’t a piece of advice, it’s an affirmation: you are enough. You always have been. You have all the tools that you need to do what you need to do. You’re smart, you’re resourceful, and you have people who love you. Things are going to turn out all right for you. You may not know what’s coming next, but you can trust yourself to deal with it when it comes. If you know that, then you can take whatever the next 19 years have to give you.
Amber, just a little older and wiser
What wisdom would you share with your 16-year-old self?
PS – Every month I do a monthly review of things I learned. Some are serious, some are funny, and all are hard-won. I will be running my November review on Saturday, December 3. I’d love it if you played along. Write a post on or before December 3 and come back here to include it in my link-up!