An illustration of a person covering their eyes and mouth

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 ourselves.

Dear 17-year-old self,

I see you.

Every morning, you wake up at 5:30 a.m. and struggle through an hour of trigonometry homework. You scarf down a bowl of cold cereal and stress about what you will eat for lunch—a full seven hours later.

You slip into your cheerleading uniform and paint your face in liquid beige foundation. Then, you hop into your car and turn on some very, very angry music to listen to on your 10-minute drive to school. This music, which you will eventually learn to hate, is the only thing that makes you feel calm. 

After zero period, you rush from class to class, re-applying makeup on breaks. You’re starving and anxious. Yet, you only allow yourself a small handful of trail mix to fill your stomach.

You have a lot to juggle, don’t you? Looking pretty, getting straight A’s, managing your relationships with your boyfriend and your friends. When did you last breathe?

Looking pretty, getting straight A’s, managing your relationships… When did you last breathe?

Your world has been built on fragile ground: your accomplishments, your GPA, your weight, the state of your skin and your social status. 

I see you in moments when that fragile ground shatters beneath you and a failed test or a fight with your boyfriend sends you spinning. I see you when you want to cope by turning on yourself, by hurting yourself. You think that you’ve failed—and failure is not an option.

Over the next 15 years, you will learn that failure is sometimes the only option. Failure is what will finally humble you. Failure is what will make you feel human. 

You will fail to attain perfection by your current definition. You will fail yourself and your friends. You will fail to meet the expectations of your culture and society. In that failure, you will find sweet grace and freedom.

You will find grace for yourself though it will feel hard to come by sometimes. You will learn to look in the mirror and embrace imperfections. You will learn to determine your worth not by your accomplishments but by the very fact that you are human and to be human is to be worthy.

You will learn to look in the mirror and embrace imperfections.

You will find grace for others, too. You often think of yourself as hard, but you will become kinder and more patient. (Although, you will remain just a little bit feisty).

Best of all, you will find freedom, freedom from your obsession with control. Do you know this about yourself?

Freedom from the need to be perfect. Do you know this is rooted in pride?

Freedom from fear of the unknown. The unknown will change you more than you thought possible and bring you into great purpose. 

To the 17-year-old who feels she must be perfect to be happy, lovable and whole: You will not be perfect, but you will be free. 

Sincerely,
Kelsey

Have you ever felt pressure to be perfect? What freedom have you found in making mistakes and showing yourself grace?

Illustration via Agata Rek, Darling Issue No. 22

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