I recently tackled a project I’ve been incongruously dreading and looking forward to for months, perhaps even years. I cleaned out my clown closet of doom. More on that later. If I remember. As if I could forget.
I came across some old school assignments, some notes passed between friends (and crushes), pictures, and various other tokens from my past, including a letter I wrote to myself instructing “Do NOT open until 1998!”
I had, of course, already opened it (in 1998, or sometime around then), but I read it again wondering what I had to say to myself. And that’s had me thinking, and wondering what I would say to myself going backwards. So, without further ado, I give you the letter I would write today to 13-year-old me.
I should probably introduce myself because I doubt you’d recognize me; I am nothing like you imagine. Although, I did use the silent Q when addressing you, and as there are a limited number of people who respect the Q for whom you also imagine a future, I’ll forego trying to explain who I am, and instead get down to the business of explaining who you are. Because that’s what you seem to struggle with most.
1. You feel different than the people around you right now because you are different than those around you. But that isn’t as terrible a thing as it sounds. There is an explanation for the way you perceive the world, and for how your mind works and processes information (which is wicked fast, by the way). It’s normal for you, and for people like you (YES! They do exist, and you’ll even get to meet a number of them over the course of your life.). So try not to get caught up in other people’s normal as being the “right” kind of normal. I am not going to ruin the surprise for later, though… if I did I might wipe myself out of existence. And I, quite selfishly, would still like to be, even if it makes life a little more challenging for you for awhile. You can handle a challenge, can’t you? Of course you can. A girl that joins the wrestling team and the academic games team is clearly asking for a fight… of some sort.
2. Self-confidence is a tricky thing for you. On the one hand, you are objectively and externally aware that you are intelligent, talented and sometimes full of wit and charm. And you do clean up nicely, too. You [intentionally] make people laugh. On the other hand,
you have a stubby thumb you don’t internalize that information. Truth be told, you aren’t really capable of it on your own. You know that negative internal voice that sounds like a broken record or an MP3 on repeat (hahaha… just kidding. You have NO idea what that means yet. I love that I can mess with you)? It focuses on all the mistakes you make and criticizes almost everything you say or do. It turns out that other people have an internal message that contains both positive and negative analysis, generally achieving balance when they reflect on their day. When they do something great, they internalize it and tell themselves “great job!” It’s remarkable. Now think about the times that someone else tells you that you do well. Remember how that also gets played on repeat in your mind and how it drowns out the noise of the other voice? That’s something that’s unique to you, and people like you.
If you get curious enough, you can go the library (teehee) and look up information on learning theory. Essentially you are hardwired to thrive in a positive reinforcement environment. It doesn’t mean you can’t take criticism; it just means you take it straight through the heart. Which also means:
Because you don’t naturally internalize the positive, it is vital that you surround yourself with a very positive support network. You need people you can rely on to help build you up internally. If you don’t, you will become susceptible to predatory individuals who will say what sounds like the right thing to you, and you’ll want to believe it, and you’ll want to hear more, and they will use that to take advantage of you in any way they can. Don’t let them. You have a great family (if not the greatest family). You have access to wonderful leaders and teachers who all have your best interests at heart. Choose your friends wisely. You will know who they are (you already do, in some cases). They are the people who will choose to be part of your life (as opposed to those who won the celestial lottery and get to be part of your life by default) and will stand by you and love you forever like your family. These people (family included, of course) are priceless. Once you have selected your core group, know that it is okay to ask openly and directly for positive feedback. If they don’t know you need it, they aren’t going to naturally provide it. Most of them probably have a balanced internal voice, so they don’t seek external validation. They aren’t going to intuit that you require it. So ask.
3. Guilt is a dirty word. I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel sorry for mistakes you make (especially when other people are hurt by your words or actions); I’m saying do not allow guilt to take over. It makes you feel bad about yourself rather than your action. Face it, you are going to make mistakes. You are human. It’s expected. You really, truly do not have the capacity to become perfect on your own in this life. And really? What would be the fun in that? Who would you interact with then? Then you really would be different than everyone else, and nobody would like you because you make them all look bad, but in a perfectly nice way. Perfection belongs to Christ. Let him have it. Quit failing after it. You can only do your best. Seriously. If you could do better than your best, then what you gave wasn’t your best, now was it? Think about it. I’m right about this one. Your best is far from perfect (trust me, I’ve read your work), but it’s good enough for today, and will lead you where you want to go.
Also, drop “should” from your vocabulary. As your mother says “neither should on nor allow yourself to be should upon” (has she told you that one yet? If not, she will) or as BB says “shoulds are shit” (pardon my French). Should is a terribly judgy, guilt-inducing word. The Commandments aren’t things you “should” do. In your particular case, they are things you committed to do. Or at least committed to try. No more, no less (no lettuce?… yup, still using that one. It never gets old). So try.
***END PART ONE. Based on an unofficial reader’s poll, this post is presented in multiple segments. Stay tuned for the exciting continuation.***