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I wrote this letter to my teenage self as part of a speech I delivered to some wonderful people that are very important to me – you know who you are! I wasn’t prepared for how it would make me feel. At 42 I was transported back to that awkward teenager who struggled with angst and torment, who never felt good enough and always tried to do her best. It was lovely to reconnect with her.
Writing this gave me an entirely different insight into being a teen and how damn hard it is. This is a transformational period in our lives that shapes us into the adults that we become. We often forget this part, instead, we recall the hormones, impossible attitudes directed at our parents, and fashion experiments.
To all of us out there with teens in our lives, I recommend that you repeat this exercise and share it with them. Be brave and be honest and don’t be amazed if you shed a tear or two.
Hi. How are you? Just thought I’d drop you a line because I know that you’ve been having a bit of a tough time lately, and I wanted to tell you not to worry because everything is going to be OK. I promise you.
You spend so much time worrying about ‘stuff’ when you could be laughing more instead. It’s OK. I know you’re trying to figure stuff out. Really – there’s no hurry. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s going to take quite a while before you finally do – and even then you will forever be a work in progress.
I wanted to give you a few hints to help you along the way. To ease your burden and help you out of that dark place you go to sometimes. So here they are. Seven life lessons from me to you.
Lesson 1: Despite what others might say, everyone is as scared and afraid on the inside as you are. The truth is that we are all struggling to fit in.
It’s true that we all have that feeling on the inside of not really fitting in or feeling like we are different than everyone else. Many of us continue to have this feeling as adults – they just give things a fancier title. Even some of the most accomplished people on the planet feel it. As adults it’s called ‘imposter syndrome’ – that feeling of not being quite good enough, that others might find out that you don’t know what you are doing, or that you’re a fraud.
These feelings happen because of peer pressure. It’s the test that stretches your resolve to see how far you will go feeling uncomfortable because you’re trying to fit in. It shines a light on what you, as an individual, know to be right and wrong. Peer pressure forces you to look in the mirror and be honest with what you see. It forces you to think about what you really stand for and to ask yourself if you are compromising what you believe to be like others. I know it’s hard – but don’t. Be brave enough to be yourself.
It is a strange truth that you have an internal compass – a moral guide, and this cannot be silenced. It knows, and it will tell you, when things are wrong. People enter dangerous territory when they give so much to peer pressure that they silence this voice within them.
Trust it. Allow yourself to be approved by you – not others. Ask yourself when you lie in bed at night if you are comfortable and happy with the person you have become and if you’re not – change things. Find the strength within to do this – for this is the thing that makes you the adult that you are going to become. Listen to the inner voice and stand up, be strong. Having the skill and ability to do this will put you in a powerful position for the rest of your life.
Remember, be kind to others and help them fit in. You might just change someone’s life.
Lesson 2: It really doesn’t matter what you look like.
Anyone who decides that they like or dislike you because of the way you look is not someone who deserves your time or friendship. It is cheesy, and it is corny – but beauty is on the inside and not on the outside. Fair enough, we all know that looking smart will land you a job – but this is not what I am talking about.
Learn to cope with the fact that not everyone is going to like you – but this doesn’t mean that everyone will hate you. If you learn to be strong and listen to that voice on the inside, then there are going to be times when you must stand up for what you believe in and this will make enemies along the way. It doesn’t mean that you must be cruel or unkind, but you should continue to stand up for your beliefs. Do not allow yourself to give in.
Lesson 3: True friends will stand by you no matter what – forever and always
Perhaps the greatest journey of being a teenager is the journey that leads you to find your friends – your tribe. Some of them will be a part of your life forever, others will come and go, and some will be fleeting. Some important ones you have yet to meet.
Invest in your friendships because this investment will stay with you forever. True friends are those people who you may rarely speak to as adults but when you do – it’s as if no time has passed. They will love and care for you despite your flaws and imperfections. True friends will pick you up when you fall, and true friends will be your greatest champion.
You will learn from one another how to be a good friend and how to be a good person. They will also tell you what you don’t want to hear – listen to them.
Lesson 4: You are here for a reason and you will add value.
It is a fact that at some point in the existence of the universe that something must have come from nothing. This is just like our lives. We were not part of that conscious decision that put us here. But we are here and something or someone – be that a process or a being, took a course of action that gave us life.
We cannot take this lightly. We cannot overlook the importance of this. Because it means that there is a reason why we exist, and it is our job to find what that reason is and make the most of it.
We may not all split the atom or cure cancer, but the simple truth is that each and every one of us can find value in our lives and add value to the lives of others. It may be from cutting someone’s hair and boosting their self-esteem, to caring for the elderly or teaching the young. Every job we perform adds value.
Society also teaches us that there will come a point when we suddenly know what we want to do when we are ‘older’. Sorry – but even now I am still waiting. The thing is to live your life every day by adding value and not waste time waiting for this realization to come.
Lesson 5: Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening. It will just stop you from enjoying the good stuff.
I cannot think of truer words. Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and start to think about what could go right.
Too often you are crippled by worry, anxiety, and self-doubt. Well, you know what? Doubt killed more dreams than failure ever did, and we don’t win or lose – we win or learn.
As you get older it does get easier but practice this habit now and intervene to stop the wasted time caused by worry.
I think that so many people have worries and concerns that they store on the inside, plastered behind a fake smile, that they never tell anyone. Well – that’s OK because we all do and most of them are for nothing. You already worry and fret about things and that is not a good use of your time. You have that abiding fear that things are not going to work out OK, but I can tell you now – they are.
Teenagers often get things out of proportion. Things seem bigger than they really are. They over analyze. The things that you think are going to ruin your life really aren’t. That thing that you think is going to destroy you will pass. Trust me.
In fact, the one constant thing in your life is you. Trust yourself.
Things change – nothing is forever. This is not something that you should be sacred of.
Lesson 6: The things that are worth it take time and effort.
In the words of the Dalai Lama – “Happiness is not something ready-made it comes from your own actions.”
When starting out it is so easy to compare ourselves to others who are already much further ahead than us. Don’t – it is a recipe for killing dreams. The fact is that everyone has a story – it’s just that you don’t necessarily know what it is. And those successful people that we all aspire to be like took time, effort, energy, and sacrifice to get where they are today.
Stick with your belief that ‘anything is possible” – because you are right. You just need to ensure that you have the resolve and the will to make it happen because you will. When you are starting out and growing, when nothing seems glamourous or like it is working – this is when you need to dig deep and have a little faith.
And remember your favorite quote by the lovely Mr. Lewis – it will stand you in good stead:
“Integrity is about doing the right thing even when no-one is watching.”
Lesson 7: “One day when you wake up there won’t be any more time to do the things that you’ve always wanted to do. Do it now.” Paulo Coelho.
It’s only in the last couple of years that I have truly started to understand the accelerating sands of time and I wish that I had started to ‘get it’ earlier.
It is a tragedy that some people only get the opportunity to see what they had once it is lost. Do not allow yourself to be that person. Make the most out of every day and live it as if it was your last.
You will soon realize that the people that you love and rely on are human too. They will grow old and they won’t be here forever. Don’t take them for granted. You never know when they could be gone.
The experiences, the suffering, and the pain you are going to endure as a teenager will make you the adult that you are going to become. It might seem cruel and unfair at the time but in the end, it will turn out to be one of the biggest gifts of your life and you will remember these years forever.
The world and its people are beautiful.
You will soon learn so much more about people, about teamwork, about faith and resilience, and, most importantly, about what you really can achieve when you set your heart, your mind, and every muscle in your body to it.
Remember. You. Are. Enough.
Your Future Self
Now, we’d love to hear from you.
What happened when you wrote to your teenage self?
Share your thoughts below.