I started this post earlier this week, inspired by Cheryl Strayed’s advice to her younger self at the end of Dear Sugar and my own desire to say something meaningful to my younger sister about surviving high school. It was intended to be my way of traveling back in time to fix all the perceived wrongs I witnessed and/or participated in as a sixteen-year-old girl.
However, after the list sat unpublished overnight, I decided it was more angry than inspiring, an outdated wish for more confidence and regret over things that could not be changed. See, as much as I wish I would have stood up for myself and others more, maybe it was the not standing up that needed to happen first. To be on the victimized side of rumors, to watch mentally challenged and effeminate students be taunted, to forego relationships because my friends did not approve, to ignore chauvinist boys who pushed too much or called me horrible names, was all part of my becoming.
Sure it would have been nice if I became confident and outspoken sooner, but maybe I needed to know what it felt like to not be those things first so that I could relate to my quiet students and collect more pieces of life and knowledge of myself. Going back and standing up would have felt good, but it was not realistic to who I was at sixteen. That was me and it’s alright. Forgiving myself for not being stronger is actually the bigger piece of advice than any list of all the things I wish I did. It’s okay to be sixteen, quiet, not sure, and sometimes disillusioned.
An afternoon coffee visit with an old friend from middle school made me realize that it was not just my high school experience that felt a little angry– it was hers too, at the very school I thought would make me happier. While this should come as no surprise, because half the people I know felt this way about their own high school experiences, it was somehow humbling to realize I might have been pretty much the same girl under any circumstances. Just part of the territory of growing up.
So, dear sister and sixteen year-old me, that’s my message. Instead of a long list of sixteen different pieces of advice, I leave you with one idea. It’s okay to be imperfect, emotional, sometimes angry, sometimes disillusioned, and not always possessing the confidence we know is inside us. That will come, just keep being you and hold on to all the happy moments, because there will be plenty.