Today officially marks one week since my seventeenth birthday. As with each year, seventeen does not seem to hold any more weight than sixteen. Yet, when I reflect on all my prior birthdays, I notice the minor qualities that I have developed with each passing year and life experience. As I explained in the post ‘My Sixteen by Sixteen’, I am constantly learning new things and becoming a wiser, more well-rounded person who is slowly understanding how to take care of herself.
The last week has been a rollercoaster of stress and despondency. With exams and other personal situations, I suddenly realized how much growth I still have to do. While generally, I would like to think of myself as a fully self-aware adult, I often forget how easy it is to get lost in life and return to the child I am deep inside. I also know that this, for me, is probably something that will never go away. I will always be messy, experience highs and lows, find myself in difficult situations, and will likely never completely grow up. But, the essential thing is that I learn from the anguish I encounter and employ the lessons I acquire in various areas of my life.
Overall, I can say that I have no regrets. Of course, there are things that I could have done differently but, overall, I view these experiences as the mold that shaped me. I am lucky to have supportive people around me and every opportunity at the tips of my fingers, the only regret I can ever have is not jumping at them. Nonetheless, younger Ria has definitely had her stumbles in the road and I sometimes contemplate whether guidance from an older version of herself would have helped her avoid those stumbles. Maybe…maybe not. But I still wonder– if I could write a letter to my younger self, what would I say?
A LETTER TO MY YOUNGER SELF
Before you begin reading this letter, I want you to sit down, take a deep breath, and remember that you are a beautiful, driven, intelligent young woman. I know that naturally, those adjectives will hold little meaning to you because you hear them often through family members or people at parties or Facebook comments. But, somewhere along the way, this will not be enough. You will begin to lose faith in yourself and your abilities. You will allow yourself to become wrapped up in what is displayed to you over what is told to you. I know that you are aware of your sensitivity at this point… it has already been poked fun of and been used against you. I want you to know that being sensitive is never a bad thing. It is not your sensitivity that will send you down a path of insecurity and self-loathing, but rather, your constant compulsion towards perfection and control. It is actually this keen sensitivity that will allow you to rise from that — to notice when the girl in cooking class seems to have duller eyes or to hold the awareness for researching the difference between an anxiety and panic attack. Never feel ashamed of the way you are. It is not your fault that your childhood best friend whispered and laughed about you on the P.E. court with her new friends. It is also not your fault that you made an A on the calculus test and the girl you look so restlessly to for approval made a C…or vice versa. It is not your fault that you will develop your own demons, and you are never a burden– the people around you choose to help because they love you, not because they have to.
Ria, you may not understand now, but your life at this point is likely the best it will ever get. I realize that this is a bleak statement because it sounds like what I am saying is that things will only go down from here. But, that is not my message to you. Every day, every month, every year things get harder. You will experience your fair share of disappointment, loneliness, exhaustion, and so much more. Life only gets more complicated. As you grow up though, you will begin to notice how you fit into your own life, that complexity is what makes everything beautiful. You will meet so many captivating people in the next couple of years that will spark your interest in new undertakings. Some will also try to deter you, making fun of your love for poetry or music or art. Please don’t let these people diminish your spirit. Understand that everyone has their own insecurities and most will project them onto you. Do not always let go of them, just keep their pain and insecurity in your mind and allow it to guide the way you treat them.
You are at an incredibly tumultuous time in your life. Each day you are soaking up the world around you and developing your sense of self. It will take you a long time to find it… how long I still can not say. Regardless, slowly but surely, you will feel more at peace with who you are and you will develop a vital set of unshakeable values. At this critical time, I see that strong, confident, untroubled girl beginning to break. You will start to look at yourself with disdain. Just remember that at seventeen, writing this letter to you, there is nothing I wish more than to be you again. I wish I could hold the fervor for drawing on my walls or writing in my journal, to be able to wear pink rainboots and stroll around school, to think more about the way the cold water of the ocean feels on my stomach than how my stomach looks to the eyes of Instagram. At this point, I am working so hard to get back to that girl — to you. It is up to you to clutch her with all your might and never let go. People, opinions, and even your own mindset will change. Keeping a strong focus on who you are, versus who you think you should be will be the one thing that will allow you to truly be stable and in control.
No matter how much I wish I could save you from every mean comment or uncertain situation… I simply cannot. Life is going to throw you many curveballs, and whilst I could list them all out for you, advise you to leave your comfort zone and go to that new school or to not quit just because someone else was doing so, I am not sure how much good that would do. Ultimately, there are infinite paths that you can take, and I promise you that you are not going to take the wrong one– because it simply doesn’t exist. You can make mistakes, but each mistake will teach you something different about yourself or how to deal with others. The hurdles you face are necessary so that you will understand to jump higher, to anticipate the next one. I know who you are Ria. You are someone who overthinks and overworks herself at times, scared to disappoint the people you love. But, you are also strong-willed, and creative, and capable. I don’t know where life will take us, all I know is that we will get through it and come out the other side standing tall and sage.
I love you, and one day you will too.
Your Future Self
“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still” -Chinese Proverbs
Happy Living 🙂