Dear Younger Me...
Letters from Teens to Their Younger Selves
October 1, 2019 | by ashlynn reynolds-dyk
I don’t know what it is like to be a teenager in today’s world. It’s more complicated for you than it was for me. Sure, I experienced the physical changes and the new structure of changing classrooms, but I didn’t grow up with social media or in the shadow of 9-11 or practicing active shooter drills at school. Your world is incredibly complex.
What I do know is that you are valuable—you matter. You are valuable, regardless of how many likes you get on social media. Moreover, you are valuable without social media (hard to imagine, I'm sure). I also know that you have the potential to create a beautiful world for yourself and everyone in it. This starts with those growing pains you feel throughout the middle and high school years. As both Stephen Painter and Carina Bracy explain in their letters below, it is those growing pains—the mistakes you will inevitably make and the hurt you will at times feel—that make you who you are. They give you the coping skills, experience, and independence that you need as you work to make our world a more beautiful place. Below, Stephen (now in high school) writes a letter to his middle school self while college student Carina writes a letter to her high school self.
Dear Middle School Self,
So you’re in middle school now. Seems pretty overwhelming at the moment—all the lockers, those 8th graders who seem like giants compared to you, everyone seems to have their friends and know their place— it’s a lot to take in. We've all been there; we have all had those awkward moments where the locker will jam, or you end up getting lost on the way to class, or you feel like a loner. Honestly, some people forget how overwhelming middle school can be. The changes from elementary school (where you sit in one classroom all day) to the tumultuous hallways during passing time in middle school are initially one of the scariest parts of middle school. They're ultimately one of the easiest things you will encounter in middle school compared to the relationships, friendships, workload, and so many other things.
Be sure to keep up on the homework. With the shock of switching environments so quickly, it can be hard to do a good job keeping up with homework. As long as you keep up with the schoolwork, you will be fine. Next, being judged in middle school is inevitable. It’s going to happen. For some reason, kids in middle school can be pretty harsh, which is strange considering some of them still can’t tie their own shoes. Remind yourself that it does not matter what people think. This is hard because that eventually turns into all you hear, especially with social media. And it isn't something that adults can fully understand because they've never experienced this world or these kinds of pressures. Social media didn’t exist when they were younger.
I want you to know that it is okay to make mistakes in middle school. Wanting to always be right or thinking you are always right is not realistic. Allow yourself some grace to make those mistakes. Allow others the same grace. Often we don’t realize that making mistakes is how we learn best and most effective.
Finally, don’t forget that fun parts of middle school exist as well. Some of my best friends today, I met in middle school. Putting yourself out there is important, and I would encourage you to do just that. One way to do this is by joining some clubs, which were not offered in elementary school. Socializing with people you enjoy can improve your day-to-day attitude and lower the stress of all the sudden change and responsibility you suddenly hold. It’s up to you to decide how to handle these sudden and confusing changes. As Abraham Maslow said in one of my favorite quotes, “In any given moment we have two options: To step forward into growth or step back into safety.” It’s up to you whether to embrace the change; I sure am glad that I did.
Stephen Painter, the High Schooler
Dear High School Self,
I am proud of you. You are strong outside of others and have the perseverance to overcome the hardships high school throws at you, and for that, I am proud. I won't lie to you: high school is difficult; however, I wouldn't be the person I am today without having endured the bullies, mishaps, and tough times of those years. Unfortunately, I can't give you any useful advice on how to avoid the ups and downs, but I do want to provide you with a different way of thinking about the challenges. A way that will hopefully give you more peace of mind as you deal with everything.
First, you do not need others to validate your feelings. What you go through and feel in high school is rough regardless of what others see, say, do, think, or feel about it. Know your feelings are valid and carry on being the strong, independent person you are inside. You haven't met her yet, but the sooner you do, the better life will be.
In fact, the quality I attribute most to my success today is my independence, which grew from the hardships of high school. So when you have to eat lunch alone or don't get invited to nights out at so-and-so's house or to the game with a group, know that as sad as you may feel in the moment, these experiences foster independence that will open many doors for you in the future. A big realization I experienced when starting college was how afraid most people are of being alone. Therefore, when you are excluded and forced to be alone, you are becoming a stronger and more independent person—you are gaining critical coping skills for the years after high school.
I cannot stress enough how valuable independence is for taking advantage of opportunities. With regard to most of the coolest things I’ve done—from moving away from home to outdoor adventures and world travel—many people tell say, “That’s so cool you did that! I would never do that on my own!” So keep your head up through the hard times, and accept that few things will go as planned, yet it will all work out. Really soon you will wake up in Santiago, Chile, during a weekend trip and embrace the fact you were strong and independent enough to fly to another continent alone. One day soon you will be on a flight back from Tokyo, Japan, writing a letter to your high school self, and you’ll realize that you wouldn't be on that flight if it weren't for all the hardship and heartache you endured in high school.
The Voice of Experience—A Stronger, Happier, and More Independent You