Note: This letter is addressed to my younger self so it does not necessarily apply to every 16 year old who’s also figuring out what to do with their lives.
Dear 16-year old ME,
Graduating from high school felt great didn’t it? And now you think you are so ready for college! You think you’ve got this- sign up for a course, attend class regularly, get good grades and graduate. You think that as long as you stay focused and be single-minded in achieving that diploma then everything’s going to be okay. You think you’ve been dreaming about this all your life- get into college so you can start on that life you’ve always dreamed about.
And then in your determination to prove yourself to everybody, you forgot to look deep inside you and ask the questions that matter most. You were so focused on being that person everybody thought you should and could be that you forgot to consult yourself and ask who you really wanted to be. You didn’t know it back then but I guess you really were just another 16-year old girl who let herself be defined by what other people think.
It’s okay. I am not blaming you for decisions and actions of the past. You were young, full of dreams and hopes and you haven’t seen much of the ugly side of life yet. You have been sheltered most of your 16 years that it took college to bring you out of your comfort zone, to shake you up a bit and get you to realize that life doesn’t always go your way; that sometimes you have to adapt, compromise, make changes, and take a detour towards your goals; that if things didn’t go your way it’s okay to mourn it; that it’s okay to let your frustrations out; that second guessing yourself is never a good thing. Oh the things you have learned the hard way all through these years!
If I had a magic mailbox (you know like that marvelous mailbox in The Lake House movie) and could have sent you this letter a year before you turned 16 and went to college, then these are the things I would have wanted you to ponder upon greatly and deeply.
1. Know what you’re passionate about and go for it. If you need a gap year to figure it out then take it! It’s okay to take a breather now than fumble along 5 years later asking yourself why you’re doing something that you’re not in love with. Choose to do what you love.
2. Be comfortable in who you are. Don’t let the pressure of how others perceive and define success affect your decisions. Do not instinctively jump into decisions as a reaction to people’s perceptions and opinions of how you should lead your life. Take it slow. Hear them out, consider their opinions but remember it is your choice to make. Ultimately, it is your happiness and your contentment with the life you are leading that is at stake. Have confidence in yourself.
3. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s okay to make mistakes- be it at school, in relationships or over mundane everyday life. Forgive yourself, figure out the lesson, learn from it and move on. You don’t need the extra emotional baggage. Life beyond 16 years old will be challenging enough, you don’t need to carry the extra weight of past mistakes. Own up to your mistakes, accept your faults and learn to let go.
Be vulnerable. If you get hurt, you don’t have to keep it all in and mask your pain. Let it out. That’s what friends and family are for. It’s okay to share the burden with someone else.
4. Take risks. It’s okay to live precariously sometimes. Do you know that saying they always throw around about life being too short not to enjoy life? There is truth in it. I’m not saying that you throw caution to the wind! I’m telling you to let lose a little bit because life cannot be enjoyed if you live strictly within the confines of your comfort zone. There’s more to life than all the boundaries you have confined yourself in. Take a leap, who knows where it may lead!
5. Don’t be afraid of change. Change, is one of the constant things in life. You cannot hide nor run away from it. Do not live your life being indifferent each day because at the back of your mind you are thinking things are going to change anyway and you think self preservation is the way to deal with it. Instead, embrace change! Let your awareness that the present may not be the same tomorrow drive you to savor every experience today. Jump wholeheartedly into the present. Tomorrow, life could get better or it could get worse. What’s important is that you enjoy and treasure each moment that life throws your way. When it has passed, regret is not a thing that will keep you company when you lie in bed in the darkest of nights. Always keep an open mind.
6. Be your own yardstick to measure your success. Do not compare your progress with others. Your journey is different from theirs. It does not bode well if you keep looking at their accomplishments and use them as the blueprint to track how you are doing. No two person are travelling the same path. You can look at their accomplishments but let it be a mere source of inspiration. Assess your current progress and use that for future reference.
7. Be always grateful. Say thank you for every helping hand, every gesture of kindness -big or small. Appreciate even the simplest of things. It will shake off negative thoughts and will remind you how blessed you truly are.
8. Celebrate. Give yourself a reward for every attained accomplishment and job well done. Reinforce the good work you are doing. When you celebrate each victory- big or small, you are encouraging yourself to keep up the good work. Congratulate yourself!
Strive for perfection in doing what you love but forgive yourself for the mistakes that you are bound to make. Never let the pressure of people’s expectations dictate your actions. The only person you need to compare your progress to is yourself. Take a leap of faith! You’ll never know what or who is waiting around the bend. Life is meant to be lived and you only pass this way but once. Live it meaningfully well.