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Our project continues as this millennial reminds her younger self to stand up for what she believes in.
ear 17-Year-Old Me,
This letter is difficult to write. Not because I don’t want to revisit the challenging moments you’re confronting. Not because I don’t want to share the life lessons learned. Mostly because I’m realizing how hard it can be to acknowledge the fact that I have experienced way more than I ever thought I would by the time I turned 27.
The future you doesn’t give herself enough credit.
It’s true what they say: we are our own toughest critics. Sometimes it feels like I was in your shoes just yesterday. How has it been 10 years? It seems terrifying, yet when I look at what I have overcome and accomplished, I can accept the decade-long departure from my younger self.
But today, I’m writing for you. Here’s what I wish I knew when I was your age:
1. It is okay to say no.
This takes you many years to learn, and it’s something you still have to work on every day. You have always been a “yes” person. Not because you want to look cool or fit in, but because you like to make people happy. Sometimes the only person you can make happy is yourself. Sometimes, you need to be a little selfish.
I’m proud of you for not being afraid to be different.
Stop saying yes to things you don’t feel like doing. Stop bending over backwards to please everyone. Once you start to learn saying no is OK, and you stop worrying about offending the other person, you’ll begin to finally grow a backbone. And you’ll be a better person for it.
2. Be true to you.
At age 17, you are at the peak of discovering your true interests and passions. Just because everyone else likes something, doesn’t mean you have to jump on the bandwagon in attempt to fit in. You know what? I’m proud of you for using a tin Cat in the Hat lunchbox as a purse. I’m proud of you for wearing black nail polish and heavy eye makeup. I’m proud of you for wearing plaid pajama pants in public. While these things seem completely absurd to me now, I’m proud of you for not being afraid to be different despite a lot of the criticism and backlash.
3. Friends are the family you choose.
Surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you. You are so fortunate that the friends you make in high school prove over a decade later to be lifelong companions. You really do end up standing next to each other in your wedding parties, just like you dreamed of doing. You travel together. You support each other through many obstacles. This is all because you knew to choose your friends carefully. Friends are not meant to judge you, but rather to accept you for who you are and make you genuinely happy. Remember this as you build relationships over the next 10 years.
4. Mom and Dad know a thing or two.
As a teenager, it often feels like your parents are out to get you. This really isn’t the case. You probably won’t truly believe this until you start your career as a high school teacher, but try to understand your parents are genuinely trying to protect you and raise you the best way they know how. Sure, they’ve made some mistakes. I know it’s hard for you to see this now, but they are real human beings too. Instead of assuming they are trying to make your life a misery, put yourself in their shoes. You are a teenager — you know what goes on. When your parents worry, they are probably completely justified. You always knew you had great parents, just wait to see how your relationship with them evolves into friendship over the years.
I wish I could tell you things are going to get easier, but I can’t.
5. You are a survivor.
By this point, you have already been through a lot; things people twice your age have yet to experience. You have survived the bullies and the awkward years. Hell, you’ve even survived your Mom’s journey through breast cancer. She is a survivor! And guess what? You are, too.
I wish I could tell you things are going to get easier, but I can’t. You are going to go through some incredible triumphs and some extremely hard times. But these experiences will help you build the strength you continue to rely on in coping with the tough times still ahead.
The good news is, in the next year you will realize your worth. You will even meet your future husband. Crazy, I know. Just remember, you’re capable of getting through whatever life throws your way.
Get ready for a wild ride.
What advice would you share if you could travel back in time 10 years from now? Be a part of Project: #YoungerMe. Check out our terms and style guide, then submit your letter here. Or simply share your thoughts in the comments below! (And be sure to use the hashtag when tweeting us @reply_mag and sharing on Facebook).