“Letters to My Younger Self” is a series focused on wisdom and self-awareness. Just as you write letters to a friend to encourage and uplift them, here is the advice we would go back and tell our younger selves.
Dear 17-Year-Old Self,
In just a few moments, you’re going to close your locker and begin your walk to Physics. Then, right in the middle of the crowded hallway, something big is going to happen. Don’t look now. Just play it cool.
That boy over there (the really tall, really cute, really popular one), is going to call out your name, in front of everyone, and say, “You’re beautiful!”
You don’t know him well so you’re going to be skeptical.
“Me?” you’ll think.
You’ll scan his face for sarcasm, tasting but unwilling to digest the compliment balancing on the tip of your tongue. Yet, your mouth is watering and when he smiles, you’ll realize he means it. So you’ll swallow the words whole. You’ll savor their sweetness until you get a tooth ache and your belly hurts, but that won’t matter—you’ll still spend far too long craving that sugar rush.
You’ll still spend far too long craving that sugar rush.
Here’s the thing: I didn’t really mean it when I said that something big is going to happen. It’s only going to feel that way.
The truth is this moment will make you think that your appearance just might be the most important thing about you. You’ll start spending a little longer in the mirror each morning. Self-consciousness will slow your pace as you eye your reflection passing store windows. Concern over how you look to others will distract you from your strengths, your dreams and your talents. You’ll begin to value the words and opinions of others more than you do your own.
You’ll begin to value the words and opinions of others more than you do your own.
When people are nice to you, you’ll take it to heart. You’ll graciously accept superficial compliments, collecting them, polishing them and placing them deep in your pockets. You’ll get used to the weight of them against your thighs until you mistake them for muscles and praise them for carrying you throughout the day. You’ll start to think that it’s their words, their approval that pushes you forward.
Don’t worry. This won’t last forever, and I’m happy to say that you’ll be grateful for this misguided detour. It will teach you that the words you speak about yourself are important. And the words you say to yourself? Well, they will shape your whole world.
You’ll discover that when you put the opinions of others on a pedestal, you invite negative feedback to shape your self-image as much as the positive. Insults will sound just as loud as compliments, they’ll even ring in your ears a bit louder.
When you put the opinions of others on a pedestal, you invite negative feedback to shape your self-image.
Soon enough, you won’t stand for this. You’ll realize that others may praise you, demean you, support you or tear you down, but none of it will mean anything at all until you assign value, until you make your own statement—to yourself—about what it all means. You’ll take a deep breath and accept this realization with open arms. It will feel like freedom.
You won’t learn this beautiful lesson all at once. It’ll happen in a series of light bulb moments, strung together with the glow and cheer of holiday lights as they illuminate the self-esteem napping in the shadows of your mind.
You’ll read a poem by Nayyirah Waheed and you’ll cry. There is you and you. This is a relationship. This is the most important relationship of your life. It will give your soul deja vu as it remembers what it’s always known.
Love, speak kindly to yourself. Always. Always. You are going to believe whatever you tell yourself, so make your words honest, hopeful and true. Fill each declaration with an abundance of love. By all means, embrace the physical features about yourself that you find beautiful. Celebrate yourself when you feel confident in that new dress or shoes, but remember that the mirror is going to miss some stuff too.
Love, speak kindly to yourself. Always. Always.
Know in your heart that you are brave. You are smart. You are strong. You are capable. Know that God loves you. Know that you love you, you always have. Know that I love you, and I’m so proud of you.
Have you ever longed for the approval of others? What advice would you give your younger self whose self-image is attached to people’s opinions?
Image via Raisa Zwart Photography