Dear Seventeen Year Old Me:
In a precious few months, you will be a legal adult and will be responsible for your own choices, by proxy. I want you to see this as a good thing; for all of the potential that you have to make catastrophic bad choices, you have the equal potential to make miraculously good ones. For every situation that you’re in that could be bad, there is an equally accessible one that is amazing; that responsibility to make the best of it is now up to you, do not take it lightly.
Stop blaming the small town you grew up in as the chief source of your misery. You live in a small town and go to a small high school where everyone knows everyone. The kids you go to high school with are just as unsure of themselves as you are; right now, you are all fighting to find out where you fit in the world and when such a basic knowledge is lacking, you start putting yourself anywhere you think you will fit. It’s primal, but its true. The people from that town are good people at heart; they become good neighbors and good parents, they will surprise you. There are some that will never change and the good news is that you don’t have to care anymore. You won’t cross paths with them and you will lead a distinctly different life.
The crushing panic and overwhelming sense of not belonging is anxiety; it will not always be this way for you. You will identify it, manage it, and find that the worry inside is not how the world outside really is. As you get older, the insecurities that held you back will seem trivial. You develop quite the personality and discover the tools you need to get out there and get after the qualities you want for yourself.
Listen to me very carefully: hold your goddamn head up high. There is nothing about you that you need to be ashamed of. You listen to different music than everyone else? Less of a line at the music store. You don’t like Football? Guess what, neither does most every other country in the world. If you keep your head up high, you are more likely to find the kindred souls who feel just like you do. The combinations of personality aspects are finite and if you are willing to look, you will find people who think and feel the same way you do.
One of our favorite quotes is “if you fall, try to land on your back; if you can look up, you can get up.” The world, by nature, is not a friendly place where every moment is a happy one. Those moments can be navigated and managed by controlling your perspective. If you embrace and seek out the moments that make you feel good, you will be able to weather the storms that come your way. Make a practice of getting up in the morning and saying “I am sincerely thankful for…” and then make a list of the things you do have to be happy about. Even if the moments of consternation outnumber the things that sincerely make you smile, concentrating on the good will give you the peace to endure.
In parting, there is a big world out there, and I want you to know that you have permission to go out and take the biggest bite you can out of it. Just because you come from a small town and didn’t march to the beat of the same drum as everyone else does not mean that don’t have just as much right as anyone else to dream big and expect success. Laugh often, speak truthfully, and expect more from yourself than anyone else will.
Your thirty-three year old self.
PS: Don’t be afraid to tell that one guy to f#$& himself with a lemon dipped cactus. The absolute worst that’s going to happen is that you’re still going to write a book and he might end up learning to breathe through his nose (don’t hold your breath — he did have to drop his pants to count to eleven).
Author’s Note: Although this blog was addressed to me from me, it’s advice that I would want to give to any young person; it’s advice that is best absorbed when it’s not given directly. The world is so big when you’re young and people will often choose misery because it’s familiar. Please learn from my years: the potential to be happy in a strange place is much better than misery in a familiar one.