Dear 17-year-old me,
Well, here I am, coming to you from the year 2016! You’re doing the math. Yes, that means you’ve nearly doubled your years on this planet. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe (for me too).
So, first things first. Please stop smoking—it’s really not cool at all, and it will take you the next decade to finally quit. And those big poufy hair scrunchies? They’re bad, really bad. Throw them all away!
And now for the really important stuff….
You’re not nearly as alone as you think you are. And life really does get better, or, rather, you’ll get better at it. It’s okay to feel fear and anger and sadness—those emotions aren’t bad and they don’t mean that you’re a weak person—just don’t let them hold you hostage. It’s okay to be happy, too. You’re allowed to feel good, allowed to enjoy things, and allowed to celebrate your successes.
So, here’s the part where you’re probably going to get annoyed and roll your eyes…but listen, anyway.
You know that saying “Shit Happens”? Well…it’s simple, and kind of stupid, but true. Sometimes shit really does happen, sometimes really bad, painful shit. But shit happens to everyone, not just you. There will always be challenges and yes, sometimes awful things go down—you’ll get your heart broken, you’ll experience loss and disappointment, you’ll get knocked down and sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to pick yourself back up—but none of these things mean that you’re doing anything wrong. You can do everything “right” and still have things not turn out the way you’d hoped. But more often than not it’s those “wrong” outcomes that end up paving the way for the unexpected—those truly great moments in life that help you grow and be grateful and see things differently. You can’t control every situation no matter how hard you try, and you can’t control other people’s behaviors either. The only thing you have any control over at all is yourself—it might not seem like much, but I’m telling you… that’s everything.
You don’t have to try so hard to fit in or to even be different. Just be yourself—your true self is good enough. Don’t be afraid to let people in—you have so much to offer and to be offered in return. You will find those special people who understand and love and respect you for who you really are. One of the most beautiful things we’ve learned in the second half of our life is that there is a place in the world for people who feel like they don’t have a place in the world. The world needs those people too, and that includes you.
Don’t play small. Take more risks. Don’t settle. Use your voice. Be kinder to yourself. Ask for help. Honesty and compassion are your strengths—they are more far important than creativity, talent, and even intelligence—embrace them, because these are the things that will make you whole. You are worthy of all the good things life has to offer. Let go of anyone and anything that makes you feel any different. And, lastly, you are infinitely stronger and more capable than you realize.
Amber Smith grew up in Buffalo, New York, and now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina, with her two dogs. After graduating from art school with a BFA in painting, she earned her MA in art history. When she’s not writing, she is working as a curator and art consultant. She has also written on the topics of art history and modern and contemporary art. The Way I Used to Be is her first novel. Visit her online at AmberSmithAuthor.com.