The letter below is part of an ongoing 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. Today's guest is Soman Chainani, author of Beasts And Beauty, which comes out this Tuesday!
A Note From Soman: As a teenager, I think my biggest mistake was to think I was in control of my life.
There is so much talk of personal responsibility at that age and self-determination that you can easily get suckered into the idea that your life is solely of your making. Instead of letting yourself evolve naturally, instead of patiently watching how life opens up to you, you can instead grab hold of it like a bull by the horns and try to will it in another direction.
That was my biggest error.
By fifteen, I had some grand life plan — working at a consultancy or investment bank, going to business school, then working for my dad’s real estate company — that in retrospect not only seems insane, but utterly self-denying. There was no understanding of who I was as a person or much patience for finding out, only for achievement, stability, and sticking to the path.
At first, I was going to write this all as a letter to my teenage self, but I don’t think my teenage self would even begin to understand the enormity of this shift in thinking — that life can’t be wrangled into a plan or a track, but instead has to be surrendered. So with that in mind, if I did have to speak to my adolescent past, here is what I would say:
There are some things I need you to do for the sake of your future happiness. For the sake of all the readers you’re going to entertain someday. Yes… you will have readers. But don’t get hung up on that. Right now, I know you’re focused on getting into Harvard and your grades and test scores and all the things that won’t matter one bit when it counts, but your ship is on its own course, so I’m not going to try turning it around. Instead, just do the following things without question. Your life depends on it.
1. Exercise more. Living in your head might seem like the only place to live but if you can get the blood churning out of it, you’ll start to see new possibilities. At the age of 35, you’re going to suddenly morph into a pretty incredible tennis player, so I encourage you to commit to it a lot earlier… For all we know, this might send you on course to be a professional. And then this letter will disappear in the space/time continuum, because it never would have happened. But no matter, onto the next…
2. Learn to meditate. You can’t do homework without the television on. You can’t go anywhere without listening to music. These might seem natural to you, but it’s because you’re trying to hide from your own brain. From silence. The sooner you learn to sit in silence and let the feelings and pain and suffering and all the things you’re holding down come up, the sooner you’ll be free.
3. Don’t try to be popular. For one thing, all the kids you are trying to impress will be out of your life forever very soon. For another thing, you are not popular. It’s not who you are. You’re edgy and provocative and difficult and you have a very singular taste. You will have less friends than a lot of people in life, but they will be ride-or-die friends. Look for people who love you.
4. Worry about the gay stuff later. Yes, you’re gay, but honestly now is not the time to deal with it. You’re ahead of your time. Let’s talk at 21.
5. Make a list of your flaws. All the things you list are the things that someone is going to love you for later.
That’s it. A super simple list, all very doable, with no cosmic significance in your moment, but like a good three-act-structure, it will all pay off later.
Just know the world is rooting for you, and no matter how much you try to fight against it and will its orbit in another direction, it will conspire to make you happy, successful, and loved.
About The Author: A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia University’s MFA Film Program, Soman Chainani began his career as a screenwriter and director, with his films playing at over 150 film festivals around the world. He is the author of the bestselling The School For Good And Evil series, which has been translated into thirty languages and sold over three million copies. Soman lives in New York City.