My Dearest 16 year old Andreana,
Sixteen can be such a wonderful age, full of excitement and new-found maturity, but can
also be scary, as you take on risks you think you are ready for, only to discover you may not be yet. You are at the end of your junior year in high school, looking at colleges, and contemplating what you want to do with the rest of your life. I want to share some things with you, things that if you knew about yourself and life, might make you feel a little more at ease with the vast unknown into which you are headed:
- You are NOT fat. The images that you see in magazines are altered to make people look “perfect.” And I say “perfect” in quotes because the definition of perfect when it comes to the female body changes over time. Your body is perfect in all its imperfections. Someday you will look back on this body that you think is so fat and undesirable now and wish it was the body you had again (especially after you have your beautiful children). Exercise is certainly worthwhile, if only because it makes you feel good about yourself. But please do not waste time obsessing about your weight and the size clothing you wear. You are beautiful and so is your body. Love it and yourself for what you are.
- You will experience disappointment in various forms. You won’t be cast as Sandy in your high school production of Grease (relax, you are cast as Rizzo and have an awesome vocal solo). You will not do well on important exams. You will find the workload in college to be daunting at times. You will consider dropping out, giving up, taking short cuts, etc. Don’t do it! Push through. It will be scary. You will have a gnawing, nauseous feeling in the pit of your stomach through many of these experiences. That feeling, that knot in your belly, means that you are about to do something great. Not front page of the newspaper great, but personally great. Rejoice in your personal victories. They are helping to grow you into your future self.
- Along with disappointment, you will experience regret. Regret is a hot button issue, as some people don’t think it exists or is worth spending time on. Regret exists for you, Andreana. You will regret not taking chances, not taking risks. And, you will also take chances and risks, and regret doing so as a result of the outcome. I’m not going to warn you about what these are, because even though some of the regret is painful, it is necessary. You need to experience these regrets to learn lessons. These lessons will become incorporated into the fabric of your being. They help shape your future self. And I have to say, your future self is pretty kick-ass.
- The regret and disappointment I’ve mentioned will, at times, feel life threatening. You will spend a significant amount of time on your knees – crying, begging, praying. Don’t try to shortcut these feelings. The only way out is through. If you try to go around, they will come back and bite you in the ass later. It will be more difficult to get through them later. So persevere. It will be difficult, but you will be happier about it in the long run.
- Protect your heart. You tend to give away pieces of it too easily. You feel things deeply – both good and bad. When it’s good, the high is better than any drug you could ever take (which bravo, by the way, for not giving in to peer pressure on that). But when it’s bad, it will paralyze you. You will fall in love and it will be beautiful. But your heart will also be broken. Invest in tissues. Know that with each heart break (yes, there’s more than one), you will learn new things about yourself. You will realize that some of what felt like love wasn’t love at all. These are important milestones in your life. Don’t spend time beating yourself up about it (see my note on regret, above). You always give of yourself unselfishly. You are not stupid or foolish. You are learning about yourself and what you need and want in a partner. Each heartache will teach you how to recognize true love when it comes to you (and it does).
- You cannot save or change people. Read that sentence again. The people you encounter who want to be saved or changed will accept the help you offer them. The others are not your personal failures. You will always be generous of spirit and heart. Don’t lose those qualities. They will serve you well later on. I want to especially emphasize this point when it comes to the boys, and then later men, in your life. Relationships always change us in that the “good ones” make us want to be better people and partners. They bring out the best in us. But you do not have the power to change someone else. How a man loves you and respects you is what it is when you meet him. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that he will be different once he’s with you. He won’t be.
- In the same spirit, I urge you to believe people when they show you who they are. You are an intellectual. Words are important to you. But you must pay attention to the actions behind the words. The words alone are not enough. Actions will speak way louder. Pay close attention to them. Trust them. They will never reveal to you something that is untrue. This could save you some of the heartache you experience when false friends show their true colors.
- Know that what sometimes feel like the most painful endings in your life will actually be very powerful new beginnings in disguise. Trust that the road you are on is the right one. You will end up where you are meant to be. This applies to both people and experiences. Some people will come into your life for a short time, simply to teach you a lesson. Others will come and stay forever, becoming part of your inner circle of support. And yet others will come and go multiple times. They all have a purpose in your life. Pay attention to them and what they will teach you – and what you will teach them. If you get the job, it’s because it’s part of your journey. If you don’t, its because something else is coming down the pike for you. It won’t feel like it at the time, but trust me this is true.
- Try to appreciate your family more. It will take you years of therapy to come to a place of acceptance about your parents and your upbringing. They are far from perfect. But they love you in ways you won’t be able to understand until you have children of your own. They are doing the best they know how to do for you. Sometimes, they don’t know enough. At times it will feel like they are trying to destroy you or make you suffer deeply for their own pleasure. But they are only looking to protect you. You will recognize this someday.
- Your brother will become your hero. I know you are probably rolling your eyes and laughing out loud at this right now. At this moment, he is 13 and awkward and mostly a pain in the ass. But he grows and matures as well. He will always be your biggest supporter, your greatest cheerleader. He will also not sugarcoat things for you. He will say things that you don’t want to hear. Don’t condemn him for this. Respect him for this. He will be of help to you in your adult life in ways that will surprise you. He will be an amazing uncle. Your children will also hold him in very high regard. You will be grateful for his presence in your life and the closeness that you develop. You will also go through a period of awkwardness and hurt feelings when he chooses to marry. Own your mistakes there. His wife will love him truly and deeply. That alone will make you love her.
- You will experience a heartache that nothing I could tell you would prepare you for. You will contemplate ending your life, briefly, because the pain in your heart will be so overwhelming. Just know that you are stronger than you think you are. You are incredibly brave and have more courage than you can possibly imagine right now. This heartache will force you to confront fears that have paralyzed you and caused you great anxiety in the past. You will gain strength from people and places you least expect it, children especially will give you great strength and comfort. Accept it all from where it is offered. You will become a role model to those around you. You will also become one seriously bad-ass woman. When others tell you this, you will feel uncomfortable. Get past it. Wear it like a badge of honor. You will become a force to be reckoned with. This is a good thing.
- True love will hit you like a bolt of thunder, and more than once. Each time, you will know it immediately. You will doubt yourself, but trust your gut. You will know when what you are feeling is “it.” In a lot of ways, it will feel like the last two pieces of a puzzle finally fitting together. The real thing will not be easy. Don’t be fooled by what you see on television and in the movies. Relationships are hard. They require a lot of work. They require timing, which won’t always be ideal. Believe and trust in true love. It will not be problem free. It will be a rollercoaster ride. It will require tremendous sacrifice and trust. It will hurt you at times. But the hurt will teach you things, like the difference between fighting and communicating. You will become more comfortable with talking about and asking for what you need. When it’s the real thing, your partner will do his best to meet those needs. Your parents will set a poor example here, unfortunately. They do love each other, but they will model communicating needs as an act of war, thereby necessitating a winner and a loser. Try to ignore this. You will discover that this is completely unnecessary and causes more hurt feelings than anything else. In true love there is no winner or loser. In true love, what will be most important to you is the happiness of your partner. I don’t want to say too much more here, just that when it’s true love you will know it and you should do everything in your power to grab it and hold on tight. Do not let it pass you by. It will be worth it. I promise.
- Finally, always be kind. There will be a lot of hate in your world – micro and macro. If there is an opportunity for you to be kind, take it. It will always be worth the effort. It will come back to you in ways you can’t imagine. You will be appreciated for it. You will be respected for it. It will make you happy, not in a temporary way. It will make you a happier person long term. When people say “money can’t buy happiness,” this is what they are talking about. Kindness comes from the heart and it will fulfill you in ways that nothing else can.
You are a good person, Andreana. You are worthy of love, even though you don’t always believe it. You will make your mark on the world. Your presence will be known and appreciated. You will be happy. You will have many good friends and a large family that will help support you and celebrate the milestones of your life with you. You will be a successful human being. Keep your head up.
You, at age 45