Letter to my 16-year old self

I recently read a book called “Dear Me” in which various personalities wrote a letter to their 16-year old self. Figured I may as well do the same. Here is the result.

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Dear Louise,

Let’s start with the good news: in the future, you are happily married. You also benefit a lot from your self-control regarding sex before marriage (the ‘stay as far away as possible’ theory is a good one – your husband is even more grateful than you are), as well as alcohol etc. On the other hand, you would be a more balanced person if you were a little less concerned about resisting peer pressure and a lot more concerned with enjoying life – and even fitting in with the crowd. Shave your legs; wear jeans; spend more time on your appearance; listen to secular music until you figure out what you like; show off your legs and waist (both are great, and the boys around you will not die of lust).

Most people are driven by pleasure. You are not. You are driven by meaning. Unfortunately, changing the world takes more than hard work – it takes a certain amount of luck as well, which you don’t have. Make pleasure a higher priority – whatever you enjoy, do more. Stop trying to protect your mum and sister, and protect or save everyone you meet. Make friends with people because they are interesting and mentally healthy and enjoyable company (even if they seem too good for you) not because they’re insecure or you think you can help them in some way.

You’re correct in your knowledge that writing will never make a career. But since it’s fun, keep doing it. Incidentally, it will save you a LOT of pain if you keep these two things in mind: for children and YA books, the protagonist is a few years older than the target age group, and they stay that way for the whole book (ie no epic YA, and no growing out of YA into an adult eg with marriage and babies – it’s just not relevent for a fifteen-year old reader). Children’s books are about 30,000 words (depending on the target audience, of course), and YA is usually 60,000 to 80,000 words. Don’t stray too far from that (a 50,000 word first draft works well for you).

Despite what church culture tells you, God is not your best friend or your boyfriend. He’s more like a boss – a truly excellent boss, who would literally die for you, but one who leaves you to bumble along and figure things out yourself to a surprising extent.

That being said, there are two things God said to you that you should have listened to more. First, you need to keep saying, “I MIGHT become a missionary to Indonesia” rather than, “I will become a missionary to Indonesia” (but you’re absolutely right about that six-month trip you take when you’re 18 – nothing else in life will ever be as hard, and the experience is well worth it). Second, you need to take advantage of your youth while you have it. Travel, spend money on stupid things, drink cocktails, and stay up all night. Learn to live in the present.

Speaking of church culture, you need to accept that people don’t take the Bible as literally as they think they do – and that’s a good thing. Ask yourself why everyone is so pleased with your parents’ marriage (when divorce and remarriage is so clearly and emphatically condemned by Jesus himself), but so angered by gay marriage (which gets a couple of passing mentions in Paul’s letters). God is love, and it actually is that simple. I know how much courage it takes to stand up, seemingly against the entire world, and say, “Homosexuality is wrong.” Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately), that courage is based on ignorance of God’s kindness.

Being single gets easier, not harder, as you get older. Even when things get much worse (which they will, and I’m sorry), you will be happier the older you get.

From Louise (age 30)

PS Make sure you go to the Pirate Ball in September 2006, dressed as Jack Sparrow (you’ll know who that is at the time) with Chris Northey (ditto). It changes everything.

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Explanation of letter: To some extent, I felt I had to be careful not to give away too much (you’ve seen the time travel movies; you know why). Other than marriage and a gorgeous baby (each of which changes everything), I feel like my life is a pretty awful prospect for anyone to envision as their future, so it took a while for me to think of what to say.

Ultimately this letter aims to alleviate my own future/past pain – the guilt of giving up Indonesia and wondering if my life has any meaning (or if God is out to get me), the pain of mental illness (perhaps if I’d lived a more chilled out life I’d have turned out okay), and the lack of major novel publication – which would have happened years ago if I’d known then what I know now about basic YA dos and don’ts. But the pirate ball was where I met CJ, so THAT needs to still happen.

And here’s a pretty picture, just because:

4 thoughts on “Letter to my 16-year old self

  1. I think if I wrote a letter to my 16 year old self it would start with ‘Guess what! You are totally right that the majority of people in your small town existence are totally, completely, wrong in every single judgement they make about you, so stick it out and finish school so you can get out of there and meet the much more exciting people who are waiting in your future.’

    I remember struggling terribly with the failure to understand why everyone thought I should join in with the games, boys, drugs and booze that littered life outside school. I’m happy to say that a decade or more later, my judgement has been vindicated and I am actually amazingly content with my lot (despite a couple of major plan/hopes not coming to pass). I am so far removed from the person I was then, that faced with a 10 high school reunion last year, I didn’t have the slightest desire to dig up and past, and stayed home.

    To all the 16 year old kids out there. Its much more important to do what feels right to you than to give in to the ideas of anyone else. Not being popular in high school wont kill you. In fact, I sometimes think its a prerequisite for being particularly happy in the real world – it teaches you to suck up the sh!t and get on with life. A truly worthy lesson.

    • Ann: Solid calls on so many things. It’s interesting that you also mentioned not having plans/hopes come to pass. One of the peculiar reasons I love “How I met your mother” is that all the characters (well, except barney, who’s too busy being awesome) are struggling with how they’re not where they thought they would be. Ditto all my friends. . . I have to keep reminding myself that everyone my age is feeling the same thing.

  2. The very short version:

    Dear 16-year-old me,

    It gets better… eventually.

    W

    I’m tempted to write a longer version, if only to consider what I remember about being 16. Off the top of my head, it’s very blurry, and it’s not because I was drinking/high (which I definitely wouldn’t have done at 16).

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