Sometimes adolescence seems like centuries ago, and sometimes, at 34, I still feel like the same insecure girl I was over 2 decades ago.
Much has changed, of course, and many things are the same. Or better. A great number are still undetermined.
To celebrate growth and reflection, I thought I would write a letter to my 12-year-old self.
To My 12 Year Old Self,
It’s hard, isn’t it?
You’re in that great transition, floating in a turbulent “in between” with all its mystical, seemingly-endless uncertainty.
You’re awkward (let’s face it, there will always be parts of you that are awkward—but you’ll come to laugh at them), and you feel that your body is all wrong, your friends are leaving you behind, and you’re misunderstood by your parents and role models.
Relax – you’re not the only one!
It will get easier, in time, but you’ll struggle. You’ll go through some dark times, but as you grow older and come to know your purpose and the vastness of this universe, there will come a day when you miss this season of life.
That sadness and deep fear of rejection? It’s not a character flaw. Yes, it’s a part of you, but just a part. It’s anxiety, and it’s something you can work through with the right tools and support.
When you burst into tears from a misunderstanding or your throat dries like the Sahara when called upon, it’s ok to be cautious. Instead of blaming yourself, just take it one step – one word – at a time.
Though it may not seem so, it’s a blessing, not a curse, to feel deeply.
And can we talk about the physical?
You’re small – and muscular – and you’ll never look like a supermodel. That doesn’t make you any less worthy or desirable.
Your physical strength is an asset. You may wish you had the long legs, the blonde hair, and the clear complexion of your best friend, but she is not you, and as impossible as it seems, she probably has insecurities of her own. In fact, you’ll learn years later that her middle school days were pretty miserable.
Isn’t it exhilarating to be at the top of your class – always impressing your parents, teachers, and other grown-ups, fueling your existence with approval and validation?
You won’t always effortlessly land on top. There are many bright minds – and you’ll grow to admire them (through some jealousy and misjudgments, of course) and collect from the best parts of them.
Just know that, while your brain is a blessing, those “perfect” report cards, un-marked book reports, and gold stars are only one measure of your many assets.
You’ll achieve, and you’ll fail. You’ll be wrong, but you’ll learn that doubt is a gift. For when we do not question things, we become stagnant. Stale. Too comfortable in ignorance and void of empathy (just wait till the great circus of the 2016 presidential election).
On the other hand, when you feel like your brain is all you have, remember that you’re funny. You’re kind. You’re full of energy, passion, creativity, and desire to be a part of something bigger than yourself.
But you don’t have to hide your brain! You don’t have to purposely mark your answers wrong to fit in with the cool kids. In fact, you’ll later learn that, as unlikely as it seems, it’s actually the smart kids who ARE cool. The “cool crowd” is the kids – and adults – who own their quirks. Their obscure hobbies and interests. Their love of books and silly comforts.
The kids who make you question your hobbies, your other friendships, and your attractiveness to boys (speaking of boys – Devin Sawa will never know who you are, but you’ll be both fine and forever fond of Casper and Now & Then)? Those aren’t the kids (or adults) you want to emulate. Trust your gut and be kind. Kindness never goes out of style, even if horse figurines and clubhouses do.
In fact, hold on to the simple pleasures of childhood. Play one more time with your dolls. Watch one more Disney movie. Though you’ll travel far from those comforts, you will one day find a way back to childhood innocence (when you have a son of your own), but it won’t be quite the same.
You’ll be hardened. Cynical. More sarcastic than before. You’ll know things you didn’t know then, so hold on to the softness as long as you can.
Hardness is bold. Hardness imitates strength. But softness is where we understand belonging.
You’re going to make stupid choices (like cutting your own bangs and letting your mom take you to Glamour Shots). But you’re also going to hold back – and refuse to take risks – because you have an image to preserve.
Don’t. An image is just that – a representation of reality.
Take the risks. Make some tough choices. Though they may not always work out, they will lead you to where you need to be. Even the mistakes.
Travel. Ask questions. Give hugs. Eat food! Food isn’t something to fear. There’s a whole world to taste, smell, touch, and embrace. Do it all. Fully and with gusto.
Don’t be afraid to dance. You’re strong, not graceful, but that’s ok. Our bodies are meant to move with joy. Don’t punish your body by starving it, exercising it too hard, or deliberately hurting it. It serves you, you don’t serve it.
In fact, your body will one day amaze you with what it can do and create, so respect it now.
Get to know your family – ask your grandparents how to garden, how to fry Gulf shrimp, what it was like to be stationed in Italy.
They’ll be there for some really important moments – like gymnastics competitions and your wedding day – but they won’t always be there.
Tell your mom that you love her. That you’re sorry for all the hell you’ve given her and your father (and will continue to give). Respect that she’s just trying to give you the best life she can, even when she unintentionally makes you feel helpless, flawed, or unheard.
Have morning coffee and newspaper time with your dad – you’ll remember those mornings fondly even when newspapers are digital (and barely discernible from propaganda) and coffee is your lifeblood. And really think about letting him show you how to shoot a gun – even if you want nothing to do with them, so-help-you-god!
12 is hard. But I have news for you. 14 and braces and never having kissed a boy, they’re hard too.
16, feeling like an outcast among friends, and being afraid to learn how to drive? Hard.
18 and figuring out where to go to college and who you want to be for the rest of your life? Hard.
21 and sweating vodka and stumbling home in the dark? Hard. And stupid.
Marrying young, being miserable in a job where you feel unappreciated, unseen, undercompensated, and unable to assert yourself? Hard.
A new mom so overwhelmed you’re drowning in air, afraid to talk to your husband, your family, your friends, even your therapist, because you don’t want to be a burden? That’s really fucking hard.
But it’s life.
Be open to life. Laughter. Sorrow. Fear. Rejection. Surprise. Beauty. Ugliness. Truth. Human Touch. Be open to vulnerability. Be open to who you are and who you’re meant to be.
You’ll never regret any of it.
With all the love in the world,
Your future self ❤
Catherine is part of the Contributing Writer Network. To apply to become a Contributing Writer, please click here.
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