Dear 16-year-old me,
You’re about to make a lot of life-altering decisions. Some of them will pan out exactly like you’re hoping, but a lot of them are going to crash and burn. Do it anyway.
You’ll sign on to $40,000 of debt to attend a private university that provides no better education than your local and state colleges, where you could attend while still living with your parents. You wouldn’t have to worry about the costs of dorm living or on-campus meal plans. You wouldn’t still be paying off school loans twelve years after graduation.
Go to that university anyway.
You’ll rise to the occasion with your new-found independence. You’ll build greater confidence and strengthen your self-discipline. You’ll fail at plenty of things, but your failures will teach you lessons you would have never learned had you not tried in the first place. You’ll gain the knowledge and degree that will open a lot of doors to you. You’ll meet incredible new friends that will still encourage and inspire you twelve years after graduation.
In your senior year, you’ll fall in love. Hard. You’ll be absolutely convinced that you’ll spend the rest of your lives together. You won’t. After two years of marriage, he’ll blindside you with a divorce. You won’t see it coming at all. It will make you question the majority of your relationship together, and make trusting anyone, even family and close friends, a challenge for several years. It will sink your sense of self-worth to a new low.
Marry him anyway.
You’ll step up to the challenge and discover a strength within yourself that you never knew was there. It will be the pivotal moment in your life that you learn how to just keep breathing through life’s ugliest moments, and to hold on to hope for the future. You’ll use your experience to encourage literally thousands of others facing divorce. It will be the push that finally teaches you that your self-worth isn’t determined by what anyone thinks of you.
Years later, you’ll put in your two weeks notice to stay home with your newborn daughter. And depression will sink you to another low as you battle with a loss of identity. You’ll feel alone and secluded, and will regularly go several days without ever stepping outside. Your lowered self-esteem will make you feel awkward and self-conscious at every social event that you attend for the next year.
Put in your notice anyway.
You’ll learn that your identity is bigger than a job title or hobby or the number on the scale. You’ll cherish every moment that you spend with your daughter, and miss them before they’re even over. You will rediscover and pursue your love for writing. You’ll launch a blog, where you’ll learn to feel comfortable wearing your heart on your sleeve every day.
You’ll make friends that will later betray you. They’ll stop answering your calls and speak poorly of you to others.
Befriend them anyway.
You’ll accept jobs that you end up hating. They won’t pay you well, will abuse your outstanding work ethic, and won’t respect your boundaries.
Accept those jobs anyway.
Your negative experiences, while painful, will teach you much more than your positive experiences. They will test and refine your character. They will teach you first-hand how to navigate adversity without losing your composure. They’ll use others’ bad intentions to teach you how to stand up for yourself. In a respectful way, of course. You are an Iowan, after all. Every person that you meet, even if they hurt you later, will teach you something about life and about yourself. And you don’t want to miss a single one of those lessons. Because they’ll make you who we are today.
Don’t be afraid of failure. Don’t play it safe to avoid getting hurt. When you feel as if life is burying you alive, don’t panic. You’re just being planted. We’re learning, we’re growing, we’re living. It all works out in the end. So do it anyway.