A letter to myself at 17…
Today, you are 17-years-old. I’m 36. In a few years, you’ll understand how much growth it took me to state my age. All you can think about is being older; that’s going to fade. There will come a time when you will wish you were a teenager again. YES…you will. You will not love adding candles to your birthday cakes. The obsession with staying young, however, also will begin to fade and you’ll be grateful for the privilege of the length of years. YES…you will.
You’re about to graduate from high school in a few weeks. I know it’s bittersweet. You didnt make the top ten percent and you weren’t named a superlative. Life doesn’t get more fair, honey. For what its worth, you are still graduating with honors and going to college where you will have a TV show that will make you famous (kind of…) in the end, high school just isnt the end all…you’ll see. Neither is college for that matter. Life isnt about swathes of time like it seems now.
You’re going to be sad to say goodbye to the friends you’ve made. Your flair for the dramatic has you worried that you’ll never see them again. This fades, trust me. And in a few years, there will be this thing called “Facebook” that will allow you to know just about everything about these folks—up to and including what they had for breakfast. So, no worries there. Plus, the people you meet later on are going to show you a life you’ve never even dreamed about. It’s important to know that you don’t have to forget the past to understand you don’t have to live there anymore.
Which brings me to something very important: You only have SIX YEARS left with Mom.
For God’s sake, make them count. There will be the temptation to exercise the rebellion you neglected to pursue when most people did. You’re going to want to avoid her so you don’t have to address the sexuality question. Please don’t do this. It’s going to cause you to spend your 20s and 30s beating yourself up needlessly. She’s your very best friend. She always will be, but it’s going to be a really rough time for you as you recalibrate your relationship after she’s gone. Here’s a tip learned after years of poor self-care: death is geography; it doesn’t end the relationship. Learn this early.
Speaking of taking care…. You are skinny now. YES you are. We gain weight. (Sorry) It happens. You will find your first gray hair in your 20s. Get over it. It’s just hair—L’Oreal will take care of it. Stay out of the tanning bed and for the love, don’t use baby oil in the sun. Just don’t. Skin cancer sucks. In a few years, they’ll make a decent sunless tanner. Wait for it. Of course I write this with plans to go to the tanning bed. Just make a point of taking care of yourself. Age sneaks up on you, sugar. You’ll have a doctor later on explain this to you in technical terms and charge you an office visit to tell you you’re getting older. Save the co-pay.
One day in the not too distant future, you’re going to drink your first beer. Mom is going to go through the roof and you’re going to think she’s an idiotic prude. She’s going to be right this time. You’ll know what I mean someday, I promise. We do some really stupid things with it—I’m sorry for the ways I let it hold us back. I won’t tell you not to drink—you won’t listen anyway. But try to slow down a bit. Trust me on this.
Turns out, Mom’s going to be right about other things, too. The last words she’ll say to you will be, “Be Careful.” You have no idea now how those words will resonate with you—how they’ll be the ones you refer back to over and over and over in the years that follow. I’ll save you the explanation—it’ll be more meaningful for you to figure that out for yourself.
Ellen’s going to come out really soon—and it’s going to change your life…This is going to floor you, too—about that same time, we’re going to live in Washington, DC. YES, we are. You believe that? (You’re welcome.) You’re going to work for a Republican (I’m sorry) and grow in ways you can’t even begin to imagine. You’re going to learn who you really are during this time. We have a blast—and get this…all that worry you have over your love life now? I fix it…sort of. Actually, I guess I make it more complicated when I start dating—wait for it—a young woman. You date a girl. YES, you do. She’ll break down barriers and help you see a brand new world. (You’re welcome.) And then she’ll be gone. Don’t worry; she resurfaces a bit later. Remember Facebook? You won’t love this one…but she is a life changer.
Hint: sometimes you are the changer, other times, you’re the changed. It’s fun to be both. You dont have to control everything.
You’ll sort of date another guy or so before realizing it’s not who you are. They’ll end up being some of your best friends as soon as you stop trying to fall in love with them. Be kind, but don’t worry too much about it—I work this one out for us. Stop wondering if you’ll ever throw caution to the androgynous wind and wear the ties, cargo shorts and t-shirts you envy in others. (We will….)
You’ll bawl your eyes out when you leave DC, but don’t worry. You’re going to be back a few years later—and it will lead to more wonderful experiences and to the person you will think is the love of your life. She won’t be The One, but she’ll have a pivotal impact on your life. When she breaks your heart–and she is going to– you’ll wonder if you’ll be able to love again. But know that the pieces you put back together are being arranged for the person to whom you’ll give your last name. Yes…you get married. (and you have two ceremonies in two different cities! AND…you wear a tie at both.) She won’t be like anyone you know now—or anyone you can imagine now. I picked us a keeper, though. She’s going to be good to you; be nice to her.
Don’t define your success by the amount of money you make. Your dreams now are centered around becoming a millionaire. It’s not going to mean anything. One day, you’re going to write for a living. Don’t quit that job to chase the dollar. You’re going to do it anyway, but learn from where you are sitting—and then get back into the game with a sense of urgency. But slow down. That seems contradictory—it’s not. You’ll see what I’m saying. Sometimes you have to be still. Learn how. (I’m still learning…it’s a process. It’s ok.) Life’s race is with yourself—you don’t have to compete because you’re enough.
You’re going to start drifting away from Dad pretty soon. It’s okay to spread your wings. Do that! But don’t let him become a stranger to you. You have just a few years left with him, too. You’re going to have some noteworthy ups and downs—but he turns out to be a pretty good best friend, too. By the way, you take up golf. Yes, you do. One day you’re really going to understand him in a new way, and in the process, you’ll understand yourself better. Remember this moment. You’ll take his death really hard, but you’ll be amazed at how you allowed yourself to be present rather than running away. You’re going to feel guilty about the cracks that form in your foundation and even your faith after this event. Don’t. You’re going to learn that of all the people who come in and out of your life, of all the things you’ll think you understand, only to find out you didn’t, your faith is carrying you—even when you don’t trust it. Try to feel it when you don’t trust it; it’ll make life a little easier.
Right now, you’re anxious about the future. Don’t be. Life is just beginning for us. It’s going to be full of adventures—good and bad. Learn as soon as you can that life’s about showing up. Don’t spend your life in regrets (it’ll be tempting, I’ll tell ya.) You’re going to experience some really sad things…but you’re also going to have so very many blessings in the form of people and experiences. If you’ll let them be, you’ll also find that endings can be wonderful beginnings. Even those who leave will leave a magnificent imprint on your life…let them, and then let them go. Give the heartbreaks their due. And then live in the gratitude of the rest.
Tiff, life’s going to surprise you sometimes (you become a dog person. You have SIX! Yes, you do. You don’t know it all and I still don’t; on top of that, not everyone’s going to like you. Crazy, huh?) And it’s not always going to be smooth. But it’s a beautiful ride, kiddo. Hang onto that when it’s dark. Your whole life will be spent listening to others tell you who you’re supposed to be. Be you and don’t be afraid of it. You’re strong and brave, so go create it.
Love yourself. Forgive yourself. Be your best friend.
And wear the cargo shorts ASAP. They’re fabulous. (Trust me.)
With high hopes and much admiration,
Your older self, your biggest fan and most diligent critic