March 6, 2015

Dear Me: 16 things I'd like to say to my 16-year-old self

Dear Me,

I'm your 36-year-old self. Our 20-year high school reunion is coming up, I've been reconnecting with classmates on this thing called Facebook, and I've been thinking about you and wishing I could offer some advice.

I'm presenting my thoughts in a futuristic format called the listicle. It's what writers in 2015 do when we're too lazy to write transition sentences and form a cohesive essay.

1. Spend less energy worrying about fitting in, and be a better friend to the kids who don't.

If you want to wear Guess? jeans because you like the way they look, that's fine, but no pants or hairstyle will make you "popular." Your very definition of popular is flawed.

Look around. Your school is full of many kind, smart, fun, interesting people who could use a friend like you. Stop comparing yourself to those pretty, athletic girls who are over-represented in the yearbook, and find your own tribe.

The few friends you do have are golden. Hang on to them forever.

2. You're going to date some duds, and that's fine. Healthy, even. Don't cling to those relationships with all your might.

Practice saying this: "That was fun. I learned a lot. Time to move forward."

3. You are not fat.

120 pounds. I was satisfied with my appearance, dark roots notwithstanding.
150 pounds. I thought I looked huge. 

Remember how you cried when you bought the red prom dress, because it was a size 12? Two things: 1) You looked a lot prettier than the prior year when you starved yourself into a size 6, and 2) You're going to spend the next 20 years wishing that you could wear a size 12 again. But it's OK (please stop crying), because...

4. There are many things worse than being fat.

You will get married in a size 18 dress and look radiant. You will interview for a job wearing a size 24 suit and nail it, because you put your heart and mind into a career you love. You will get pregnant, twice, and each time you will gain 80 pounds which you'll lose later and the only relevant part will be the 6 pounds that turned into a human being. 

You will raise those little human beings to know that a person's size is no indication of his or her character, beauty, or value. You will wonder why it took you so long to figure that out for yourself.

~290ish pounds. There's a lot of love in there.

5. Exercise can be enjoyable.

You hate to exercise because you've only tried it in the context of desperate weight-loss attempts and school gym class. Remember the long bike rides you used to enjoy as a kid? You can still enjoy them. You can run by yourself, too, with no judgment for being slow. Lifting weights can make you feel strong, physically and emotionally.

Give it a try, not because you hate your body, but because it's worthy of your love.

6. Don't tan, not even for prom.

It's April and you live in Fargo, North Dakota. That bronze glow isn't fooling anybody.

7. You're at a great age for making and breaking habits. See if you can learn how to get work done without procrastinating. 

Those all-nighters writing papers in college will have a romantic and heroic glow to them, but this gets really tiresome when you're in your 30s. 

Also, please don't take up smoking, even as a joke. You will quit eventually, but it will be really hard.

8. I give you permission to quit violin.

But keep playing piano. It will come in handy when you need to occupy a troubled mind, or when your friends are in the mood for a drunken singalong.

9. Write more.

Keep a journal, and don't give up the whole thing because you got busy and skipped a few days or weeks. Capture the small details of your life like what you ate for breakfast and which tape is in your car stereo; these minutiae will be surprisingly interesting to your adult self. Your earnest attempts at wisdom and your heartfelt emotional outpourings will be much harder to read.

Also, keep writing fiction. Don't get discouraged when your professors offer more critiques than compliments. The best way to write a good book is to write a thousand bad ones first. Give yourself permission to fail. Dust yourself off, learn, and write some more.

10. Take more photos.

Even during that green hair phase. Your life is beautiful and full of stories and worth remembering. So are you.

11. Have more fun in high school. Study more in college.

Also, when an Illinois senator named Barack Obama comes to campus to deliver a speech for Black History Month, drag yourself out of your dorm room and give him a listen. 

12. Try to be patient with your parents.

They're winging it, just as you are. When you and your mom are screaming at each other over which skirt you will wear to the Honor Society luncheon, take 3 deep breaths and ask yourself: "Is this a battle I want to choose today?" Remember that technique; you'll use it again when you are trying to dress a toddler for daycare.

13. Keep your favorite stuffed animals, books, and rock concert T-shirts.

Not all of them, just the really great ones. You know which ones I'm talking about.

14. Being an adult is more fun than you expect.

Sure, you have to deal with grown-up things like mortgages and cholesterol, but you also have the freedom to pursue the things that you love. You set your own curfew. You can buy wine and open it yourself with a corkscrew (a skill you'll acquire at 36). 

You can choose your own career and social circles, and if you don't like the direction of things, you can choose to change. You'll have huge adventures in your life: Moving halfway across the country, traveling, meeting new people... I don't want to spoil the surprise, but there are a lot of great days ahead. Some rough ones, sure, but they're necessary stopovers on the way to the good stuff.

Anyone who tells you that high school days are the best days of your life is wrong. At least for you, young Monica, the best is yet to come.

15. If the question is "Will I get over this?" the answer is always "Yes."

And if the question is "How will I get through this?" the answer is, simply, "You will."

16. I forgive you.

I've been hard on you, young Monica. I threw out poems of yours because I was embarrassed by the self-indulgent writing and awkward meter. I cringed when I watched your graduation speech because you sounded so serious in calling it the most important moment of your life. I appreciated some of your choices, and I regretted others.

All told, I'm glad that you were who you are. Your mistakes and your successes have paved the way for my future. If you hadn't taken up smoking, would we have been standing outside Laird Hall at the right moment to meet our future husband? If you hadn't had so many disastrous relationships, would you fully appreciate the positive ones you have today?

You're perfectly imperfect, and you're going to be just fine. We both are.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Monica,
You are a gem and I loved this so much. Great job. You nailed it.