17 July 2011

Dear Clueless Youngster

At the end of the school year, I was chatting with two of my female grade 12 students.  They were relieved, yet sad, about high school coming to an end.  They were also excited, yet nervous, about university starting in the fall.  They were mainly anxious to get on with the next phase in their lives.

It struck me that we often try to zoom through our lives, yearning for the next big moment or experience.  Sometimes, we forget to enjoy the present, to savour the moment.  Conversely, we often don't think ahead enough.  You only have to look at how many people are in a financial crisis because they didn't plan ahead.  I guess we all need a balance of "living in the moment" and "preparing for the future."

So, I suggested that they write themselves a letter containing how they felt right that instant and what they wanted for themselves in the next few years.  The letter should include what is important to them, who is special in the their lives and where they look for inspiration.  It would also lay out the path they intend to follow to reach their goals.

The young ladies lit up at the suggestion and began to write for the remainder of the class.  I hope they finished those letters to themselves.  I hope they keep the letters in a safe place, so they can reflect on their thoughts over the next few years.  Most of all, I hope they mature into the fine, strong women that I know are inside of them.

I wish I would have written myself a similar note.  Although I can't turn back time to when I was 17 and write my future self a letter, I can reverse the process.  I can write down the few things I wish I had known when I was a teenager about to embark on the road to adulthood.

Dear Shannon,
Okay kid, listen up!  Take off the Walkman, turn down the Depeche Mode and pay attention.  There are two things that you can do today to make yourself happier in the future:

1.  Start contributing to a RRSP now.  Don't wait until you're in your late 20s - do it now.  Even a small amount of money contributed each month now, will add up to big bucks in the coming years.  So, stop buying crap and wasting your money.  Instead, take a portion of that money and invest in the future.

2.  Wear sunscreen every single day.  I know you mainly avoid the sun now, but sunscreen is so important.  You will be pretty happy with the condition of your skin at 41, but a daily dose of sunscreen might stave off the tiny wrinkles you'll see starting around your eyes in your early 40s.

So, did you get all that?  Good luck and I'll see you soon.


P.S.  Stay away from John during first year of university - he's a jerk and he'll end up breaking your heart.

So, what would you say to your younger self?


Amy said...

Ha. I'd say, "Stay away from John in your first year of college. He's a jerk and he'll end up breaking your heart.". Oh well, I learned a lesson and made an excellent choice when it really counted.

What-I-Found said...

I'd suggest you write one of those letters to yourself NOW. Just as you are and list what's happening and what you think about now.
You will get older too, life will change and it will be good to go back and see who you were "back then".

Louise said...

I was going to post a comment and then realised that it would say exactly what What-I-Found just said. Write that letter now or you'll look back in ten or twenty year's time and comment on how clueless you were as a youngster of 41.

Unknown said...

My parents got divorced when I was 16. Soon after I stopped seeing my dad as he was being nasty and violent. So:

To my 16 year old self,
It'll get better I promise. I know things seem bad right now, but soon you'll find strength in your family and you'll be happier than ever.
p.s. hold onto Dom, he's a keeper ;)

Thanks for this Shannon, I realise now just how far my life has come since 4 years ago. Sometimes its nice to look back, as it makes you realise how good you've it *now*. So thanks :)
Ashley x

Carol said...

I don't think there is enough paper in the world to hold all the things I would like to tell my teenaged self. I've just made and am acting on some decisions about my future. It's taken me until 48 to do what I really want to do and I wish I had someone tell me all of this 20 years ago. I hope your students did finish their letters and keep them. I think we all had a John we should have stayed away from, but didn't. You made me smile today, thanks.

Annie Jolivet-Vilbois said...

I love that post! It is a great idea to have given them, Shannon. Moreover I think life often make us lose the will to do what we really love. We end following conventional paths for fear of getting lost. Having a list of the things we really loved at this age could help later to get a really meaningful life.
You must be a great teacher.

Clio said...

Oh man, there's always a John, isn't there? My "John" was named "Alfonso". Same warning would have been good.

I'd also say "Mistakes are part of life and learning. Try to forgive yourself for the ones you are going to make along the way to becoming the person you want to be."

Anonymous said...

I had a friend who moved to out your way from the GTA at the end of Grade 8. I knew it was coming and I decided I would write letters to her and then I could give her this big whack of letters of our last year living near one another. I never found the courage to do it then and I'm okay with that because now I do have a record of what Grade 8 was like. I did a similar thing with my "John" (although I think he was in the end good for me) over summers in university. I read those from time to time and I can bring up all the specifics of events I might have forgot about and how desparately I missed him and how hard it was to go home after living away.

So I say do both. Write letters to yourself, keep a journal, and look back. Some of the advice I'd give to my younger self I think is still true. I redefined myself going to university, shook off what perceptions I felt people had of me to just be me. It was kinda risky, and I think I should take more risks like that to be true to myself. They pay off even if they are scary at the time.

a little sewing said...

That was funny, especially the warning about John.
And I think I feel about the same way you do. It boils down to saving a little money and sunscreen. The rest of life tends to a.) work out ok despite too much or too little worrying or b.) make you stronger.

If you are lucky, anyway. We all see people who seem to make bad decisions and pile more bad decisions on top of the mess they have. That is sad, when it's a loved one, but you can't worry too much about that either. It's their life.

ReaderRita said...

It occurs to me that "John" is like that old saying about (and pardon my language here) a$$h*le$- everybody has one...

(well, I guess the original quote is actually about opinions, but the latter part suited my nefarious comparison...heh,heh,heh)

Mine was named Scott.