Dear Eighteen Year Old Me,
There are a lot of things you will learn over the next twelve years. Some lessons will be good and some not so good. I didn’t always make the right choices in every situation, but every mistake, every stumble, and every fall has made me stronger. At thirty years old I have gained a voice that I wish I used years ago. What I will say is that I do not regret anything that I have been through.
However, I do wish that someone would have told me at your age how much life will truly test you. Not in the way of schooling, friendships, work, or just becoming an adult. But in the way that life tests your character and what you stand for. In the way that it forces you into uncomfortable situations and makes you choose between someone else and yourself.
You see, character is the only thing that matters. Not wealth, not status, not popularity. Character. It is what defines every action you take in your life. It is what molds your ideals, values, morals. It is what separates you from everyone else. And it’s an extremely hard thing to come by. You will find that it won’t be built to perfection overnight and many times it will be tested. But the beauty of character is that it’s what you make of it. Never let anyone else mold your character but you. They won’t live your life or make your decisions. You will. You will also have to live with those decisions. Make sure that you can look yourself in the mirror after.
Find your voice early and utilize it. You were not born to be silent. You have a unique perspective that not everyone has. You were born into two worlds, but exist in the middle. Your world is not just black and white. It is grey. Own it. Understand that it makes for a beautiful life. It makes for a stronger will to do better. To do what’s right. To be the best version of yourself. If you let it, it will teach you that your struggle is no better or worse than anyone else’s. That we are all human and should be treated as such. Use your voice to stand up for those who cannot stand up for themselves. Use your voice to create common ground between those who have yet to find it. JUST USE YOUR VOICE!
Do not wait until later to keep current on what is going on in the world. Start now. Know what is happening within the world you are living in. Not just America. Humanity is a choice. It starts with knowledge. Knowing what is happening to other humans around you. It flourishes through actions. Showing compassion. Showing sympathy. Having unity. You don’t understand it yet, but you have a great deal of compassion for others. You feel more than most feel and you are struggling with that. Embrace it. Don’t shy away from it. Hold on to it in the years to come. I beg you not to let the world make you jaded. Don’t believe anyone when they call you naïve. Hoping for the best in others is not naïve. It’s simply believing in humanity. What you do with that belief is what matters.
Love unconditionally. I know the idea is frightening to you now. To love someone no matter what their shortcomings are. You’d rather have the wall you built. But it’s important. It’s a lesson that you should learn now. Your heart is tough. One of the toughest I’ve seen. It can withstand heartbreak. It WILL withstand heartbreak. But it has taken twelve years to understand what unconditional love is. No strings. No ultimatums. No contingency plans. Do this one favor for me. For us. Let someone in without conditions. No one is perfect. Not even you. There will be mistakes. There will be fumbling, but it’ll be worth it. If you love unconditionally now you’ll save yourself a lot of pain in trying to mold someone into a person they aren’t. You’ll SEE them for who they are. And you’ll learn the most important lesson of all. Acceptance. And with that acceptance you’ll know when the time comes for you to walk away. When it is no longer working. You won’t hang on longer than you should. You won’t wish for change. You’ll let go.
Spend more time with your family. You don’t know it yet, but let me tell you a secret. Your cousins are AMAZING. Don’t miss out on any chances you get to spend with them. I know you weren’t raised around them on a day-to-day basis so you haven’t gotten to know them as deeply as I have now. But they have been the biggest supporters of me for the past six years. At times they’ve been my rock. They should be yours as well. So many years will be wasted not knowing them. Don’t make my same mistake. Do better when it comes to the relationship you have with your brother. You’re going to go off to college soon and you’ll live separate lives. Don’t let the distance make you distant. You two are a lot more alike than you know. Trust me in that. There’s a bond that you two share that you have discovered, but don’t quite understand. Nourish that bond. Don’t let it slip away. There are going to be many times that you’ll wish he could have been there. And there will be times he’ll have needed you. You only have one brother.
It may feel like it now, but I want you to know the world doesn’t end when you lose friendships. Not everyone you meet is supposed to remain life long friends. Some people come into your life to teach you a lesson. To help you grow as an individual. Feel the loss, but do not dwell on it. Do not place lifetime expectations on seasonal friendships. Learn to cherish and love the parts of them that enhanced the parts of you, but let go of the rest. Trust that God has a plan and if that friendship is meant to be, you’ll see them later, when you’ve learned what you needed to learn. Your true friendships will be with women/men who challenge you. Who force you to take a closer look at yourself in the mirror. Who do not enable you. They will be individuals from all walks of life with all different life experiences. They will become your tribe. Your family.
Lastly, but most importantly, know that to truly love yourself is to accept all of yourself. To accept all of your flaws and imperfections as what makes you beautiful. I know that the beauty others see in you doesn’t always go skin deep. It stays more on the surface. I know you also don’t agree with them. I know how long you’ve battled the voices in your head that tell you all the reasons why you aren’t good enough. All of the reasons why you are different and how bad that is. Well let me tell you something. Its twelve years later and I still hear those same voices. The difference is they aren’t quite as loud. They don’t have as much power. And I no longer believe in them. The secret. I learned to believe in myself. I’ve learned to define myself and not let others define me. I TRUST my instincts. You will too eventually. But for now when the voices get so loud they try to drown you out, remember this, the only opinion that matters is yours. You have to live with yourself. So why not love yourself.