So, the bad news is you have a lot of growing to do. But no worries. That’s also a good thing. You’re in a bubble right now. It’s made up of what your parents think and what your friends think and what your community thinks. It can be hard to form your own opinions when the resources to learn from are limited. But you will.
Two words: The Internet. It’s a glorious—if sometimes frustrating—thing. But it allows you to read things you’ve never heard of and talk to people who have different experiences than you and take that empathy so many people criticize you for and apply it to a whole world, not just your corner of it. Never stop learning, and never let anyone tell you that caring is weak. It’s not. Caring about others is sometimes the most difficult thing to do. You have to be strong to take on the burdens of others.
I also want to tell you that popularity is a false god. It doesn’t matter which parties you get invited to or which of the “popular” kids talk to you today. None of that will change your inner worth, and you waste too much time chasing that illusion. Not being in the popular group doesn’t mean that no one likes you. It just means you don’t share an emotional connection with that group of people. And there are a whole lot of amazing people in the world so don’t limit yourself to one group.
Speaking of which, be sure to nurture the emotional connections you do have. This will be your single biggest regret of your teen years. Be the friend you want to have in return. Listen to their problems, go out and do stuff together, find out what their hopes and dreams are. Because they need you as much as you need them.
Tangentially, other girls are not your competition! There’s always room for more than one girl at the lunch table or the group of guys you’re talking to. It’s okay if your female friend looks prettier today or has better grades. You’re not in competition! You need allies, and they do too. So band together, because I can tell you one thing: none of us can navigate this world completely on our own. We need sisters at our side.
And lastly, I want to tell you that you don’t need to receive love from a guy to prove you’re worthy of it. I know you grow up in an emotionally repressed household and you spend your entire young life thinking no one really cares about you, but they do. And even if they didn’t, you’d still be worthy of love. That first serious boyfriend makes you feel like you’re finally somebody, you’re finally loved. It’s glorious and beautiful and you feed on that drug for years, but even if he didn’t love you, you’d still deserve it. He didn’t make you worthy. You always were.
So go forth, little Jennifer, and make the world a better place. Grow and learn and cry and smile. You’ll make mistakes that you’ll learn from, and you’ll make good choices that you’ll learn from too. There’s no one right way to become who you are, and no one right you that you have to become. You’re the reward at the end of the journey, but the cool thing is, you get to travel with your prize from day one.
The letter above is part of an ongoing weekly series featuring letters from authors to their teen selves. If you're a published author who'd like to participate in this series, we'd love to have you. Just click here and let us know you're interested.
About The Author: Jennifer Austin is a YA author, mother of 5, and failing housewife. (I'll get to those dishes, I swear it!) When she's not raising kids and writing badass females in space she's . . . well, she's reading about badass females wherever they can be found. Check her out on Twitter (@jlaustin13) where she tweets about writing, politics, YA books, and random thoughts that pop in her head.