There are two kinds of people in this world I used to say in my teenage years, those who agree with me and everyone else.
Categorizing to make sense of things is natural for the teenage mind. I see my teenagers now doing this very thing as they realize I am not perfect and don’t have everything figured out.
Me-at my high school grad party. Look at that confidence!
I remember being upset, angry really, when I realized my parents were not the people I thought they were. When I was a senior in high school, a teacher had us write ourselves a letter to be opened upon our 10-year high school reunion. I never read my letter; I didn’t want to look back when I was 28 at the angry 17 year old I had been.
I wish I had that letter now to peek back at what it feels like to be my 17-year-old self. Maybe that could help me relate better to the overwhelming loss I feel at the distance growing between my teenage children and me. I know it has to be this way, but why does it have to hurt so much?
I feel, instead, compelled to write my younger self a letter, tell her all the things I wish I knew, all the things I wish my teenage kids could just learn from me by osmosis…
Dear Younger Me,
Life fills you full of many lies. Your job is to sift through the lies to find the truth. You will hear over and over again a version of how you aren’t enough – make yourself smaller, this is just the way it is and you cannot change it, you are no good at sex or cooking or keeping a house unless you buy or try it this way, you aren’t smart enough, tall enough, thin enough, strong enough, Christian enough, and you don’t belong to the right groups.
The thing is, your life will be full of privilege. The privilege you have now, Younger Me, allows you to remain unaffected by the cruel realities of the world. Sure you have had hard things happen to you, but you are safe and well cared for. This will continue all your life. What you most have to worry about is being the best you, you can be.
So the lies boil down to you should conform to someone else’s expectation of who you should become. Younger me, you are fine the way you are and don’t need to change yourself to meet someone else’s expectations. You need to be happy with you.
Younger me, life is full of painful moments; but beauty comes on the other side of pain, like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. The growth that comes from the ashes of greatest agony will be the source of some of your greatest pride. I wish I could spare you from the worst pain, the hardest moments and just pass along the wisdom and growth; but I would not want to take from you the joy of meeting some of the best people on your life’s journey.
Try not to feel that to struggle is to fail. Fail is not a four-letter word to be avoided. One of the biggest lies you will buy into is that fail is a definition attached to your name. Younger me, when you make mistakes treat it as a lesson to be learned instead of a stopping point. Fail. Fall. Dust yourself off. Figure out what’s next or will be different. Try again. Repeat until you get the outcome you desire. Fail doesn’t mean you can’t, it means not yet.
Younger me, be strong and courageous. You have been taught to shrink away from things that are tough, painful, or uncomfortable. Not every fight will be your fight for sure. Part of learning to be strong is learning to say no to the things that are not yours to do. So choose wisely those things that break your heart or make you sing and then dive in with your whole heart. And when you don’t know what to choose, I have found it best to sit quietly and listen instead of rush to make a decision. The answer will come.
You will find real joy in the people you meet along the journey and the path you take to get there. Remember this is a privilege and a blessing. Treat it as such. Be grateful. Somewhere along the road, someone tries to convince you that complaining is a contest worth winning, because it turns out happiness is a choice; marriage is a choice, neither of which comes easy. Choose both every day without complaint and they will be yours.
And when you find heartbreak and joy in your path; do not stuff your feelings away or minimize them to make others feel better. If you feel something, whether it is pain or joy, it is part of your journey. It is your teacher. Don’t let someone else steal your lesson. Don’t apologize for the need to feel.
When did it happen, younger me, that I grew so far beyond you? That so many miles separated us? I cannot come back and hold your hand from the there and here. But know, without a doubt that everything will be ok. Just do the next right thing, trust your tribe, and know you are stronger than you ever thought possible.
Also, choose the epidural.
Spend the money on the wedding dress, but not on the photos or the flowers.
Pets and vacations are never a waste of money.
Exercise and eat right, you really will feel better.
Prayer always works.
And there are many more than two kinds of people in this world. It is best to just love them all instead of try to define them.
Love, Older Me