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 Lauren Thoman, author of the recently-released I'll Stop The World.
I've started this letter half a dozen times, and I'm still not sure what I want to say to you.
Part of me wants to reassure you that all those things you're worried about—growing up, moving away from home, finding love, making friends, having kids, figuring out your career—it all works out. Not necessarily in the way you planned, and not simply or easily, but the biggest things you wanted in life, you have them. You fall in love and get married. You become a parent. You find something you are good at and work hard at it to make it into, well, I don't know if I can truly call it a bona fide career yet, but it's at least headed in that general direction.
You've done really well in the friends department, too. I know that is a big concern for you, and that you often worry you don't have much to offer. You wonder why anyone would pick you when everyone else seems to have everything so much more figured out. I know that every time you hear your friends refer to an experience you weren't part of, you secretly fear that it's finally happened, that they've gotten tired of you, that they've moved on.
Lauren as a teen
I'm not going to say you grow out of that—there's a part of you that will always nurse that fear—but you'll learn to manage it. And you will eventually realize that while some relationships will indeed wither up and trail off over time, others will grow and mature along with you. You'll learn to treasure those relationships even more than you do now, because the older you get, the more you'll realize that keeping a relationship alive as an adult takes work, and that the people who stick with you are the ones who have decided that you are worth the effort. And yes, it even includes some of the people you care about right now. Not only do they not tire of you in high school; you're still friends with some of them decades later.
(I know you've heard that most adults lose touch with their friends from high school and college after leaving school, but those adults did not have the technology that you will have, which makes it so much easier to keep in contact. Also, texting will change your entire phone-phobic life.)
Then there's another part of me that wants to warn you about all the hard things that are yet to come, because child, you are not prepared. I want to teach you all of the skills that could make it easier. I want to convince you to let go of all of the lovely fictions you choose to believe, so that you don't suffer so many deep wounds when they finally shatter. I want to give you armor, I want to make you strong, I want to form a shield wall around you and teach you to bare your teeth and scream defiantly at any who would dare to threaten you.
I want to give you the answers to your questions, while also helping you to let go of some of the answers you think you already have. I want to teach you all the things that took me too long to learn, and encourage you to ask questions instead of feeling safe in your certainty. I want to show you that the world is bigger than you can possibly understand. I want to help you see that being smart doesn't mean having all the answers, and that there is no shame in learning something for the first time. You will always be wrong about something, and you will never know everything that you're wrong about, so it's crucial that you always remain open to the possibility that you may have more to learn. I want to dissuade you from making some truly terrible decisions that will have long-lasting consequences, and making mistakes that you will regret forever.
I want to give you a list of every person that's going to hurt you, itemize every lie they will tell and promise they will break so that you can keep your distance and guard your heart. I want to protect you from all the meanness and cruelty in the world, all of the bigotry and hate and superiority and vindictiveness and jealousy and every other horrible thing that people feel and do to one another. I want to protect you from it all, because I wish someone had protected me.
But I can't. When I was you, I would have said that everything happens for a reason, and that I had to go through the hard things for my own good. I don't really believe that anymore (I know, this is unfathomable to you. Get used to it; you'll change your mind on a lot of things. Yes, even that. Yes, that too. Yes, even th—you know what, just assume you'll change your mind on everything. That's probably easier.), but I still can't save you from it.
Lauren as a teen