To my ten-year-old self:
As I write you this letter, I am 25 years old. A lot of things have happened in the past 25 years. While I do not reflect on any of these experiences with regret, there are a few things that, if I had known them, I would have avoided all of the unnecessary pain.
For starters, some pain is necessary. Dad will tell you in a few years that if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right. That growth comes from discomfort. You’ll resist this idea, but I advise you to chase after the things that make you nervous or scared. Lean into that feeling, let it fill you up, but never let it prevent you from chasing every dream.
In a few years, the bullying will start. Certain members of your peer group will mistreat you – and you should absolutely remove yourself from those relationships as quickly as possible. As a good rule of thumb, if it makes you feel bad about yourself, stay away from it. Teasing is never okay when it makes you feel bad about yourself. Even if something is presented like a joke, you will know in your heart if it is mean spirited in nature. When this does happen, understand that nothing anyone says about you can define your self-concept. They are only words, and for that matter they are only the opinions of others, which are none of your business anyway. What really matters is how you feel about yourself.
On that note, be humble. You will make many mistakes. Use each one as an exercise in humility. Always ask for help when you need help. Always apologize when you know you have done something wrong. Choose kindness first, every time, even when those around you do not behave that way. Learn empathy – the ability to understand someone else’s perspective – and learn patience. Also learn to believe in yourself, even when you are behind the curve on some things.
Never stop singing. I am telling you this because when you are 12, kids at school will make fun of you and accuse you for trying to show-off because you have a beautiful voice. Do not let them silence that voice. Of course you are not showing off – it’s not your fault you have the voice you have – and music makes you feel good. Sing loud and sing proud, kiddo.
Do not quit when things get hard. You will struggle with this constantly. Mom and dad will let you quit enough times to feel like you never had to see anything through to the very end, for better or for worse.
Speaking of mom and dad – pay them respect. Try to accept this now: they are way more than just mom and dad. They are Lee and Tracy, they have identities beyond what you see and the role of parent, and they are flawed individuals. They will make mistakes. This is because you are the oldest. Believe me – they love you endlessly and always want to protect you.
Be especially kind to mom during ages 12-17. Do not punish her because you are finally starting to realize she is more important to Dad than you. She always was.
Be gentle with your father, because as he watches you mature into a young woman, you will likely make some choices that make him very uncomfortable. You have the rest of your life to make private decisions privately; for now, just try to behave like a young lady should.
Be nice to your sisters, but stand up to Katy. She can be bossy and scary sometimes, and you might be tempted to let her walk all over you. Don’t. Don’t let anyone do that, as a matter of fact, including mom and dad, boyfriends, friends, teachers, and strangers. Stand up for yourself, but always be polite and respectful when doing so.
Make an extra effort to build a solid respectful relationship with Kasey. She is so much younger than you – only three now – that it can be hard to connect. When you are 25, you don’t want to worry that your sister, now 18, has nothing to say to you.
Relax. Relax. Relax. I know that you don’t understand a lot of your own intense feelings. I know that some sensory aspects of the world bother you. Dad is (or used to be) pretty high strung, and you are equally high strung because of genetics or modeling. Relax. Chill out. I know that you are fearful of the unknown and things you can’t quite understand, but just because you don’t know, that doesn’t make it scary. Nurture an appetite for adventure and never let fear get in the way.
Never stop reading. Silly, I know, but you will thank me one day.
Never stop writing. Write about everything. Write all the time. Don’t worry if it’s any good. Develop discipline by writing every single day, immediately after homework (you should get in the habit of doing it now) and before any play. Writing is your homework (some days) and your play (other days). The final product is not important. No one has to read it. Just write.
Speaking of writing, if you haven’t figured it out, you’re a writer. You will be (and can be) anything you want to be – but at the core you will always be a writer. You will spend much of your adult life (I think) trying to figure out what that means exactly. But, accept it now and never let anyone tell you that writers are “starving artists”. By the time you graduate from college, that won’t be true anymore. Technology and culture to the point where the writer is as commonplace as the Doctor, Dentist, or Veterinarian; do not limit yourself for any reason.
Finally – always put yourself first. I do not mean be selfish, not in the bad way that you are thinking. I mean take care of you. You have a huge heart and will want to help so many people throughout the next ten years. You will not be able to help anyone if you are not well taken care of. The person responsible for your emotional and physical well-being is YOU. So, drink plenty of water (don’t wait until you are thirsty), eat properly (or try to – it can be hard), love your body no matter how frustrating it is, forgive yourself for your own mistakes, forgive others for theirs, try to see the beauty in the world, get enough rest, and find balance between work and home. This last one is especially hard. Pour about half as much of yourself into people that you want to; this gets you a lot closer to a balanced life.
Remember that you are beautiful and unique and special, but so is everyone else. Respect yourself, respect others, and keep an open mind about the complexities of the world.
Your older self.
PS: It’s okay to experiment with anything you feel comfortable experimenting with, on your terms, in a safe manner. But do not smoke cigarettes. Once you start, you won’t stop for a long time.