Dear Sara at 16,
It’s your birthday today. Right now, you and your friends are probably hanging out in your basement, playing Mario Kart and dancing stupidly to the halfhearted pop/rock of 2008. But because it’s you, I know you’re thinking about the future, what the year holds for you – whether this will be the year that changes everything.
I know, I know – you’re rolling your eyes at this well-worn internet trope, written ~from the future~ by a 26-year-old version of yourself. You think you’re too cool and too smart to fall for this sentimental ish, but there’s no emotional manipulation here, no agenda. I just want to tell you how proud I am of you. I want give you a little glimpse into the future and a little advice that I know you won’t take.
In a lot of ways, 16 will be good to you. You’ll read two of your favorite books for the first time, books you’ll reread more times than you can count in the next 10 years. You’ll watch your favorite movie for the first time. You’ll listen to albums that’ll change you, as horribly cliche as that sounds – Radiohead’s In Rainbows, Imogen Heap’s Speak for Yourself, Sia’s Some People Have Real Problems. You’ll cry the first time you hear the song “Dark Come Soon” by Tegan and Sara.
You’ll take classes that spark your interest in government, politics, and social justice, and you’ll continue to hone your crafts as you write your stories and sing and make art in your little corner of the universe. You’ll have teachers who nurture your skills and respect your ideas – you’ll learn to have more confidence in your brain and your creativity.
You’re learning how to be yourself, too. You’re saying no to the things you don’t like or you don’t want to do, and starting to take pride in your interests that are off the beaten path. You’re speaking up in classes, and not diminishing yourself in order to fit in. You will become more open-minded and open to new experiences, and you’ll learn some surprising things about yourself. You’re starting to think about your identity and your future.
In other ways, 16 will hurt. You’ll fall in love with a boy, and he’ll reject you; your friendship will never recover. It will hurt, and you will hold onto that hurt for a long time. Friends you trust will let you down; you’ll learn that you can’t make someone change their mind about you. This will hurt, too.
You will make mistakes; you will speak without kindness or softness, without empathy, and you will hurt people. You will try your hardest at something, and you will fail. You will be wrong.
And, you will feel lonely. Even as you make new friends, surprising friends who will have your back for the next ten years, and as your amazing family loves and supports you unconditionally, you will feel so, so lonely. You will be crippled by self-doubt and self-hatred. There will be times where you feel helpless, like there is no point in anything. One small part of you will know that this is not right, not normal, and I wish I could say this is the year you tell someone, but it will be years before you really get the help you need.
I want to tell you that, most importantly, you’ll be okay. Your failures, your sadness at this age, will feel insurmountable, but nothing is permanent. There’s always a way out of it, even if that way is through it, and you don’t have to do it alone. The bravest thing you will ever, ever do, is ask for help.
I want you to know that not getting your way is sometimes the best thing that’ll ever happen to you. You didn’t end up with the guy in high school, but just two years later, you’ll meet the man who will become your partner. Later in your life, you won’t get the job you wanted, but a door will open to something different that will make you much, much happier. It may hurt in the short-term, but it will make you so resilient and strong.
It will do you well to learn to apologize, and to mean it. Learn to admit that you’re wrong, too, while you’re at it, because it happens far more than you’d like to admit.
At 16, you may feel like being smart and clever is the only thing you’ve got going for you, but you will learn very quickly that making people feel stupid is not a good way make friends. I know it will take years to figure this out, but being kind, open, and empathetic will not only make your relationships so much stronger, but it will help you feel better about yourself.
On the note of relationships, learn to let people be themselves. You can’t make people like you, and you can’t make people behave the way you want them to. You will have housemates who frustrate you, mentors who disappoint you, and friends who betray you. You can forgive them and learn to love and accept them as they are, or you can let them out of your life. Stop holding grudges, too. The dumb saying is true: it’s like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
Finally, don’t lose your fire. You want so badly to do something important with your life, and by the time you’re 26, the world will desperately need people like you to stand up for what is right and make the world a better place. You may not be doing it the way you thought you would at 16, or at the scale, but don’t ever underestimate your power or your ability to do good.
You have the whole world in front of you, and you still will ten years from now. You don’t have it figured out now, at 16, and you won’t have everything figured out at 26 either. It’s okay. We’ll be okay. Learn to take it all one day at a time, and slowly make the changes you need to live the life you want to live. I’m so proud of you and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us.
Sara at 26
What do you think?
What would you say to yourself at 16? Let me know in the comments below!