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03 Sep / Letters to My 18-Year-Old Self

Letters To My 18-Year-Old Self

A couple of weeks ago, I dug up from the recesses of the Internet – mercifully, password-protected – a couple of blog posts I had written from when I was 18. I expected them to be bad. So bad, I read them with one eye closed, cursor hovering over the ‘x’ button. But you know what? Aside from a bad analogy there and a wistful trope here, they weren’t terrible.

In fact, for better or for worse, I was pretty fundamentally the same at 18. I still loved creative stuff, designed a lot, wrote some, was eternally fascinated by street art, and busted my gut 5 times a week canoeing. (Okay, so I don’t canoe any more, but the rest, I swear, is the same.)

At the same time, I read with a twinge of sadness at how I thought I knew what I wanted, at that age, for the rest of my life. “I never want to betray myself into following a “high-flying” career path I hate,” I wrote. “All I want is a stable job that pays the bills, and lets me sing and design on the side.”

Well.

We all know life isn’t as simple as that. Gosh, Geneve, you were so unprepared for how the next 6 years would change you, I found myself saying. You had absolutely no idea. 

And then it all came flooding back – the whirlwind of everyone else’s ambition, applying to colleges overseas, the faint hope of scholarships, and the twinges of envy of those who could afford the leap on their own. All at once, the dreams we were told we had to pursue reached a frenzied apex. University, it seemed, was the be-all and end-all of life. It would pave the way for the next 30 years or so of our careers. No room for mistakes. We had no idea.

I shared this with a good friend of mine just last week. We were classmates during the time and recalled with a certain wistfulness just how young we were then, and just how much we thought we knew about ourselves. “We’re probably going to look back in 20 years and say the same thing about now,” she said. But I guess that is my point:

“At 18, or at any age really, but even more so when you are young – you’ve got to be really lucky or have looked into some sort of crystal ball to know what you’ll be like in 5, 10, 20, or even 50 years.”

At 18, or at any age really, but even more so when you are young – you’ve got to be really lucky or have looked into some sort of crystal ball to know what you’ll be like in 5, 10, 20, or even 50 years. People constantly change. And hopefully they learn with every episode of adversity and triumph. The years after I graduated Junior College I found within me a deep wellspring of ambition – goodness knows where from – that would have astounded my 18-year-old self. Perhaps all that happened was that I became more confident in my ideals and values, and had more opportunities to flesh out my views on the world. In short: I grew some.

Anyway, TL;DR,  my friend and I are mulling over the idea of starting a writing exercise of some sort. It is tentatively titled “letters to our 18-year-old selves” (I am sure Tumblr has every permutation of that URL already taken, so we might have to regroup on that one) and will hopefully feature nuggets of insight on growth and learning, and what we would say to our fresh-out-of-JC selves. We’re thinking it might even take on an open format, with people contributing, since so many of our friends’ experiences were unique – but nevertheless featured common undercurrents.

Ultimately, we hope to reassure and encourage, and put it out there definitively that it is okay to not know at 18. It is okay to be confused and scared, especially when so much is expected of you. That paths in life are not absolute, and that mustering the courage to take the next step, no matter what it is, will always be rewarding. That there is often more room for making mistakes than people will have you believe. That confidence and perhaps even passion will come with time. 

After all, and I say this with incredible hope, what are you but a lifelong work-in-progress?

1 Comment
  • M L

    Growing pains, they call it… Hindsight is 20/20. I have my share of mistakes too, but I think I would have done it all over again, if I could repeat history. Without each of these mistakes, I don’t think I would be the same person I am today. And that’s the mentality that I hate, which is also so perpetuated by schooling and teachers: mistakes *aren’t* okay. It’s *not* okay to get a B on a final exam, and it’s *not* okay to miss a note in your piano recital, or forget a word in a memorized speech.. according to some… It breeds a toxic fear of making mistakes to a point where we’re choked up in decisions and so unwilling to stray from what we know is tried and true.

    I would so love to write a letter to my 18 year old self. I’d probably tell him to stay the same, just watch out for sleeping excessively late… or procrastinating… some things, you never quite learn.. But I’m getting there!

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