You’re probably rolling your eyes at this letter – or you’re deeply fascinated because even at 15, you were pretty obsessed with sci-fi ideas and time capsules and looking backwards on your life. But here’s the thing: whatever you feel right now, KEEP READING.
YA Tiff, you’re 16 years old right now and you’ve had a really emotional junior year. This is the year when all the talk turns to college and you start thinking ahead to the next part of your life. At the same time, though, you’re pretty ensconced in high school, being part of every team, wanting so badly to lead in your choirs, band sections, literature review; the list goes on.
|Me and a friend at prom.|
You’ve tried a lot of stuff this year, and what you’ve kind of realized, but might not want to admit to yourself is that you want to be the best at a lot of things, but you might not be. You really want to be a great singer, but you’re not sure if you are. You desperately want to be as good at percussion as your brother is, so you know that to be that good you not only have to practice (which you never have time to do) but you really have to be talented. Your biggest fear is that you’re not talented at anything at all.
We’re right around the time just after prom, when you had a devastating blow after you asked the guy you’ve loved for three years to prom, and he sort of mumbled something, and you told him to get back to you. Then, through the grapevine, you heard that he had another date. That’s right, he asked someone else to prom and didn’t even bother to give you an answer. I know you’re hurting right now, because you put yourself out there with that crush and didn’t just get rejected – you got stomped on.
On top of all that, the seniors are graduating this year – and that includes your brother and that guy that you love. And that best friend that you have? You keep having fights with him, mostly because you’re insanely jealous of his talent at music and math – two things you wish you could do better.
Ok. I know you feel like I’m harping on you. But here’s the thing – and it’s a thing that you’re still sort of realizing right now, because you don’t want to believe it’s true because of all that Sweet Valley and Love Stories that you read.
This is it: HIGH SCHOOL SUCKS SOMETIMES. A LOT OF THE TIME.
And it sucks way more than you want to believe it does, and it has ups and downs for everyone – yes, even the cool kids who seem to be having such a good time. I don’t think you realize just how much it sucks.
Here’s another thing: LIFE GETS BETTER.
Wow, does it get better. I know you’re rolling your eyes, like, “Wise wisdom from an old lady, whatever.” But look, I’m you 16 years later, and let me tell you, every year since high school has gotten better.
Because I know what you’re going through.
I know you feel alone.
I know you feel like no one, not even your best friend, really understands you.
I know you feel like a nerdy, ugly girl sometimes because you don’t have a lot of friends who are girls, and the ones who are, you’re never sure if they’re your friend anyway.
I know you feel different from everyone else.
I know you feel like it’s hard to wake up and be a person sometimes.
And here are the things I need to tell you:
You’re not alone…so don’t put yourself there. Let yourself be around people and accept that they want to be around you.
There are people who understand and who WILL understand, so don’t pity yourself.
The things that you call nerdy in yourself? The reading, the writing, the crazy enthusiasm and love of Sweet Valley and Love Stories and romance? Those are the things that will lead you to success – and they’re the things you’re going to own (and I mean, REALLY own) one day.
The feeling different? I guarantee that you will find people who feel the same as you in many ways – and those people will become your community and support. And that support is coming soon. Really soon.
And the way you feel about getting up and being a person? Believe it or not, that’s something that is totally in your control, and you will discover that not only do other people feel the same way, but there is a medical solution for it that will change the way you do things. And that there’s nothing to be ashamed of in admitting that you need help.
The thing I want to remind you is that a lot of the stuff you’re dealing with? There wasn’t a way to find out more about that stuff at that time. You didn’t know what other teens were feeling because the only books there were about this stuff were not directed to you.
I’m so grateful, though, that you found a soulmate in Vicky Austin from Madeleine L’Engle’s A Ring of Endless Light. I’m grateful that you saw so much of yourself in her bookish dreaming, and that it gave you hope for friendship, family, and love.
So my advice for you right now is to focus on what you love doing – what you really love doing, not what you think you should love doing. Never mind if you’re not the best. Never mind if you’re not the most talented. Just do what you think you love.
Also, I know everyone says this to you, but seriously, don’t worry about getting a boyfriend for now. Love the way you want to, but don’t let it dominate your self-worth. Don’t let other people’s expectations of you dominate who you think you are or who you’re trying to be. Just try to be a good person. And take it easy on yourself and your friends – especially that best friend – because as you learn more about friendship, you’ll come to realize it’s a lot more than jealousy or drama.
So I want to recommend a few books to you, because these are those books that you really need at this time in your life. They don’t exist for you now, but maybe they will now that I’m sending this letter.
1. I Was Here by Gayle Forman – I want you to read this because I think it will help you understand what you’re up against. You don’t know it yet, but discovering that mental illness is a real thing will make a huge difference in your life.
2. None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio – This book will help you realize that it’s okay to be different, and that different is not always a bad thing. I also want you to realize that maybe other people are feeling that way about themselves.
3. Lovestruck Summer by Melissa Walker – Frankly, YA Tiff, you’re a huge music snob right now, and this book will set you straight and remind you to look outside yourself.
4. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell – Believe it or not, YA Tiff, there will be people just as “into” things as you are (*cough*Harry Potter*cough*) – whether it’s Dawson’s Creek or Ally McBeal or rom-coms – and all that fanfic that you read? That is definitely not some silly activity. You will learn a ton about writing and reading and crafting stories from fanfic.
5. Since You’ve Been Gone by Morgan Matson – This book is all about taking a leap of faith, taking chances and trying to figure out what’s best for you. It’s also all about idealizing people and maybe realizing that they’re not quite who you thought they were. Because you will get hurt, YA Tiff, and it’s going to be hard when you do. But the thing you will learn from Emily is how to keep going, keep searching, and how to make your own path.
6. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series by Ann Brashares – Honestly, YA Tiff, you don’t really know that much about friendship right now. Those fights you’ve been having? They can be alleviated by just trusting the people around you. These books will help.
7. Just Like the Movies by Kelly Fiore – this is one of those books where you’re going to see a lot of yourself, and you’re going to realize that it’s okay to be you – and also that who you are is actually someone worth being and worth noticing.
8. Sloppy Firsts and Second Helpings by Megan McCafferty – these are books that actually are out now, so run and get them! Honestly, it’s a travesty that you haven’t read these books. You need them so that you can laugh at all the things that you see and do in your own high school. You need them so you know that sometimes, navigating high school is just trying to stay afloat, and that’s okay.
I know I went on forever and ever (hey, it’s me!), but I want you to know, YA Tiff, that even if you get your heart stomped and your ideals crushed…you’re going to be okay. More than okay.
I don’t want to spoil it for you, but that list you have in your diary of the things you hope to do one day? The one that includes working for the UN, travelling the world, finding someone who really understands you and loves you? It’s going to surpass your dreams.
Nurture your friendships. Keep your heart open. Take people at their face value and believe in yourself.
See you in the future.
Thanks to Ginger for giving me the opportunity to reflect on who I am and how much I’ve changed. I apologize for the length – I’ve never done this before and I did a lot of soul-searching while writing it. I sincerely hope one of you out there will get something from this. I know I did.
I would tell me YA self: It's OK to get help and to hang in there because things will get better.
I would like to recommend Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Because it's always nice to identify with other people. At this time, and still, I was dealing with major anxiety problems and to have Cath go through that with me, I think would have helped me a lot.
Elizabeth, I hope the anxiety is better now! I SO wish I could have had Cather and Levi in my life as a teenager. I really believe that being able to see yourself in the books you read is huge.
I'd recommend Once Was Lost by Sara Zarr to my 16-year-old self. The MC in that book went through so many of the same things I dealt with at that time. And I'd tell my younger self I'm not crazy. I'm not selfish for standing up for myself.
You definitely aren't selfish for standing up for yourself – I feel like as girls, we have a lot of internalized guilt and shame about not being quiet or shrinking back in the shadows. Good for you for standing up for yourself!
I have to read that Sara Zarr book! Have you read Sweethearts?
I'd tell my YA self to get my sisters into reading! We can all chat and fangirl about books~ It would be really nice!
I'd recommend Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell~ It's such a warm and cute book 🙂
Ha, I think I got my brother into reading Baby-sitters Club with me, but it wasn't the same. I hope you and your sisters do readalongs now!
wow! that letter was awesome. I was able to relate to it for most of the part. I am still 20 and haven't read many books to recommend myself. I think I need to get the books mentioned here, they'll be helpful for me. 🙂
Anubha, I'm so glad. I hope you read them and they help you get a perspective on where you are. =)
Dear YA self,
Don't sweat the small stuff. Also, don't get rid of all the clothes you think are uncool. College Jill would like them back.
Also, read The Fault in Our Stars.
There are a few things I'd say to my YA self. One: don't worry so much about boys and getting a boyfriend. There's plenty of time for that to happen. Two: cut your parents a little slack. I know that they seem very rigid or "unreasonable," but they really have your best interest at heart.
I'd tell the old me to read Hold Still by Nina LaCour, The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand, The Way The Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald, Me Before You by Jojo Moyes, The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, Gone, Gone, Gone by Hannah Moskowitz, All The Rage by Courtney Summers, and Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.
I'm still my YA self, but I'd say ''Don't think you know everything about people, everyone has a hidden story''
I'm loving this meme! I'm planning to write one later this week. And gosh, I could have used this letter here when I was in HS too. 🙂
Reading and enjoying books becomes easier!
What a beautiful post, Tiff. It made me tear up!
If I could tell my YA self one thing it would be to always believe in myself and don't let other people convince me I can't do things when I know I can.
A book I'd recommend to my YA self…hmmm…Golden by Jessi Kirby.
What I would tell to my YA self? Never get enough of reading 😉
I recommend: Falling into Place by Amy Zhang 🙂
I adored reading your letter to yourself, Tiff! It's so refreshing to see such honesty and a willingness to accept the past as part of your life, but never let it really haunt your present or future. Loved that you shared so much with us!
This was such a lovely letter! I wish I could have told my younger self all the same things. I stressed so much about never having a boyfriend and liking strange/"nerdy" things but here I am, 6 years after graduating high school, and I'm involved with someone who actually encourages the nerdy things. He calls me a nerd frequently but in the most loving way. I wish I had nurtured the bookish side of me as much as my athletic side back then.
This is all so important and it's nice to see someone else had similar experiences. It's great to not feel like the only on 🙂