A Letter to Teenage Me

Contrary to popular belief, writers, amateur and professional alike, do not always feel inspired.

Compare it to exercise: When you finally get your lazy hide to the gym and complete that workout, you feel relieved and rejuvenated no matter how difficult the session was or how much pain your muscles tell you they’re in. But most of us don’t always feel like doing it in the first place–it takes discipline.

Likewise, in order to stay creative and constantly improve, I have been engaging in a few weekly writing challenges since the beginning of the year.

Last week one of these prompts read, “Write a Letter to Teenage You,” and I was forced to take a trip down memory lane. This brought mostly smiles, as well as some cringes.

What did younger me need to know then that the current me now understands?

I confess, I have a really hard time sharing my truly personal thoughts and feelings out loud–that’s the biggest reason I love writing. Like exercise, we shouldn’t do it for anyone else. I write for myself.

Knowing someone else may read about my deepest thoughts and experiences gives me an elevated heart rate. Hiding behind casual topics or writing from a general, 3rd person perspective is much easier for me, thanks to the myriad of formal college essays I’ve had to complete.

Taken in a cafe in Geiranger, Norway

But they say an effective writer lays his or her heart on the line and becomes transparent. Readers want to connect to a relatable subject, or else it is meaningless.

So, I know this is a little different than my usual post, but this ended up being so cathartic I couldn’t help but share it.

…If this inspires you to write a letter to yourself too, I’d love to know.

Dear me,

As much as I’d like to think this note could actually get to you and make a difference, to save you from heartache and blah blah blah, I’m well aware that time travel has not yet been invented. So you’re out of luck there. Besides, we both know joy is found in the journey, and knowledge given isn’t necessarily knowledge earned.

First of all, let’s be thankful you got your braces off in 8th grade so you at least have a radiant smile going for you once you start high school, if all else fails. And if you think your penmanship is awful now (and I know you do) just wait til post college years. Oh yeah, you do end up attending and even completing college, by the way–all the way to a Master’s degree, if you can believe it (but I know you can’t).

[SPOILER ALERT] There are some really awesome, memorable moments coming for you during these high school years.

For instance, thanks to a rare planetary alignment (or something), you’ll be voted on as one of two girls to represent your Junior class for homecoming court. You will make a few touchdowns for your powderpuff football team that year as well as your senior year and for some reason, maybe something to do with adrenaline and feeling accepted, these games will be inducted into the Hall of Fame of your memories. In Mrs. Tomlin’s class, you’re going to win a national poetry contest (you giant nerd, you) and that $50 check is going to feel like a Grammy Award in your hands. Your name will get placed on the record board in the weight training room in your senior year for maxing 185 lbs on a back squat. A friend will persuade you to participate with her in something called Junior Miss for a chance at winning college scholarships. For the most part it will feel like a waste of time, until the moment you and the other girls are standing on stage in evening gowns holding hands and just before the name of the winner for the “Spirit Award” is announced all the girls in line will turn their heads and smile at you, knowingly. It’s only $250, but you care most that the award description says you kept a smile and positive attitude during the months of preparing for this event, and more importantly, all the other contestants recognized it and gave you their vote.

Feel proud in that moment; it’s OK. Thank God for His testimony in you, and pray the highlights like those above are the ones others remember later on, too.

I say this because there are definitely some actions and words you will regret, and hope everyone else forgets. Like how you pick up (but thankfully overcome) the nasty habit of swearing, or how you push yourself so frustratingly, embarrassingly hard, in vain, to impress your basketball coach, or that time you get in a fender bender in the school parking lot while driving your dad’s 86′ Camaro.

You’re even going to question your faith for a while. But it’s good for you; it will make you cut away the doubt and take root in what you really believe; it’ll give you a backbone, when it’s all said and done.

Taken on a beach in Tobago

Remember, there will always be someone watching you, taking mental notes; your life is on display more than you know right now.

Make a point of savoring all your experiences and reaching out to others around you. You’re sensitive and you hate it, but you don’t have to; feeling deeply is not a bad quality. Don’t build a tough exterior to try to hide it. Instead, channel that sensitivity to be more conscious of the needs of others.

Don’t waste your time on people who don’t understand you. You try too hard to be liked by everyone–it’s a common teenage flaw, I know. But you really cannot please everyone, so it’s best to cease all attempts and spend more time with the people who actually want to spend time with you.

People are going to think you’re odd anyway for a number of reasons. Embrace it. Give them even more of a reason.

You’re going to be known as “the girl with the long hair” who accidentally gets it caught on backpacks and chairs, but honestly most people are going to think it’s pretty awesome. People will ask one of your friends why she hangs out with you, because you aren’t a “cool” party girl. An older girl in your math class is going to call you a slut because you wear skirts below your knees every day (yeah, I never figured that one out either).

These are just a few of the many tests your character is going to receive. Don’t take it personal. God chose you to stand out; consider it an honor.

By the way, you’re a month from being 26 now. Some of your dreams have definitely come true. You travel often, drive a truck, and finally got the dog you wanted every day of your entire life.

However, your life does look much different than what you had expected. For one, you have something called a smartphone now, although you were one of the courageous (stubborn) few who held on to your trusty flip phone for quite some time. You found your first gray hair at age 20 but instead of having a breakdown you plucked it out with pride because it was proof of the battles you’d fought…I guess you’ll understand when you’re older.

I could take more time to tell you what not to do, who you should avoid, or what you should change, but that would all be useless. What’s done is done. The point is that you grow from it.

Who am I kidding? You’re still growing and learning.

But you only get to be this age once. Don’t rush it.

So, make Hanson roll his eyes at you when you make a sarcastic comment in chemistry class (he loves them, deep down); play Duck-Duck-Goose in the hallway instead of going into the silly school dance; ask the loudest guy in the school to go with you to Snoball because he’ll say yes with a bunch of roses while wearing a sombrero; and give all the people in robes a high-five as you walk across that graduation stage, including six-foot-four-or-more Borresen afterwards.

You’ll be amazed at what you remember, years from now.