I’ve always liked the blog posts in which authors write letters to their past selves. I like the glimpses of life experience, the nostalgia, and the lessons learned. And I really enjoy Brad Paisley’s musical version of the same idea. In fact, that song has inspired more than one writing prompt given to my students, and every time it comes on the radio it makes me think about my high school experience. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I’ll give you a minute to listen to the song so the rest of my post will make sense (and also because Brad Paisley is just plain awesome). Enjoy.
I’m a naturally introspective person, and I’ve thought a lot about my high school experience over the years – analyzing and picking apart my formative adolescent years, trying to fit together the pieces that have made me the person I am today. I’ve often thought about writing a letter to me when I was seventeen like Brad did, but every time I sit down and write, my musings end up taking a different direction. It’s a letter I can’t write for some reason, but I think I’ve figured out why.
I like that I didn’t know.
I flash back to who I was 10 years ago – the valedictorian who struggled in class every time her brother went to the hospital, and also the paradoxical prom queen that no one asked to the dance (trust me when I tell you that’ll mess with a teen girl’s head). Suffice it to say, high school was weird for me. But I am glad I didn’t know back then the paths I would travel. I don’t think knowing that one day I would be confident would have helped me overcome my secret insecurities then. I don’t think knowing that my career would be turned upside-down just one year after college graduation would have helped me in studies then. Maybe it would have been nice to know back then that I would find a wonderful man to marry, but part of the story is that he took me by surprise when I wasn’t looking – so if I had known, if I had been looking for him, the story would be different. I’m glad I didn’t know about all my travels, either. Maybe it’s because I’ve been through so many changes in the last ten years, but I’ve discovered that I actually like the surprises that come with change. I still feel the fear of the unknown, but now it’s sort of a nervously excited anticipation, rather than a dread of change. Knowing what would happen a decade in advance would change how I experienced it all.
Of course, I’m sure that when I was 17, if I had been presented a letter from a 27-year old me, I would have read it. In a heartbeat. I remember that sense of not knowing, and really, really wanting to know who I would become. I remember feeling like my sense of self was determined by a set of external factors, instead of being determined by me and who I was on the inside. I remember thinking about college, and deliberately deciding to go to school far away from my home and everything that defined my teenage existence. I wanted to leave in order to find out who and what would be left when everything else was stripped away. And it worked; I’m really pleased with what I’ve found over the last ten years. I like who I am – but it’s been quite a journey to get me here, and I’m glad I didn’t have any spoilers ahead of time. I think it would have changed things if I had.
So to all you teenagers out there, dancing on the edge of the unknown, unable to see past Friday night but still dreaming of an intangible future to come – enjoy it. Enjoy that not knowing, the sense of possibilities and limitless dreams. But don’t be passive observers of your own life, either. I didn’t become who I am today by waiting for life to happen to me. Explore the possibilities, choose what excites you, and make those possibilities realities. And Brad is right – the teen years are nowhere near the best years of your life. Being an adult is pretty awesome.