I love to read.  I love to talk about my reads.  I love to share my reads.  This is one of those ‘shares’.  There have been some books make me laugh, some that make me cry and some that make me wonder.   Isn’t it wonderful that books can do that to a person?  I read today, while wearing my HR professional hat, that 2 out of 5 Millenials (those born between 1981 and 1995) have not bought a single book in the last two years, besides school text books (2011 Cicso Connected World Technology Report 2011).  So sad.  Anyhoo, besides the books that make me laugh, cry and wonder, there are also those books that make me tremble andd shudder – more so because it is NOT a textbook – here’s one of them:

Dear Me is a book, an anthology of letters, written by famous present-day people to their 16-year-old selves. Compiled and edited by Joseph Galliano, the UK-based book contains the letters of such notables as Elton John, Yoko Ono, Jackie Collins, to name a few, to their younger selves.

If they could travel back in time to meet themselves when they were 16 years old, what would these Oscar winners, pop stars, best-selling authors, comedians, musicians and one Archbishop say to themselves? What advice would they give themselves? What would they warn them about and against? Well, some are short and sweet, while others are honest and heartfelt anthropological essays.  Just a few excerpts:

Liz Smith (actress):      ‘never mind if they laugh at you – hold on to your dreams to the very end’

Anne Reid (actress):   And stop thinking you’re an ugly duckling  You look great!  I wish I looked like you.

Debbie Harry (singer-songwriter):      That the most obvious is often the best choice and can lead to something wonderful and satisfying.

Alison Moyet (singer-songwriter):      You marry and have clever children and mess up just like your parents did.  Forgive them. You will soon need forgiveness.

Elton John (singer-songwriter):           Never chase love – it will find you when you least expect it

Archbishop Demond Tutu:      Don’t be infected by the cynicism of the ancients in your midst.

Roseanne Cash (singer songwwriter):            You deserve a lot better than the guy you are going to meet next year.

Adriana Trigiani (author):       16 is the new … toddler.

My oldest is about to turn 16.  If he were him 32 years from now, what would want to say to himself? What would his 16-year old self want to hear?  No, of course, he wouldn’t listen, anyway.

What would I say to myself, with now some 32 more years of experience on this earth?  Somehow reading this book (and it’s a short, quick read), I thought this might be an incredibly inspirational exercise. Then again, why would anyone subject themselves to reliving the torture of teenagehood?

If I thought for a moment that my 16 year-old(s) will take this letter to heart, I’m as delusional at age 48 as I was at age 16. But if for no other reason than it allowed me to remember and perhaps be a little more compassionate as they live through their teenage years.

Dear 16-year old me,

So you’re Sweet 16. What a birthday party you’ve had having a dinner party you planned and prepared all by yourself around the theme “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” from Billy Joel’s album which I know is your favourite album of all time, right now.

I know you like to cook. While many of your friends were drinking beer under the bleachers and ruining their parents’ knives heating them on the toaster, you put together some amazing dinner parties . Newsflash:  you will never be a chef. Sorry, I had to break it to you. But fear not, you’ll continue making messes in the kitchen for years to come and your kitchen will be the happiest place in your adult home.

Is there a reason you work so hard to be perfect? Stop now!  It’s annoying to others and bad for your self-esteem.  No matter how much pressure is put on you and how much more you put on yourself, you will never measure up to every person’s version of “perfect”. At the same time, you’re no better than the rest of them.  Stop try to be so high and mighty. It only serves to highlight your insecurity, which people will mistake for snobbiness.

YES!  FINALLY!  Contact lenses!! Not wearing those coke-bottle-glasses WILL make a difference in your life!

You’re about to take your very first airplane ride to New York City and vow that one day you’ll live there.  You will.

Later on this year, you’re going to quit ballet. You shouldn’t do that. It’s your only form of exercise. Who cares that you’re not going to end up in Les Grands Ballets Canadians. It’s fun and you like it.  Why do you want to give it up?

On that note, it wouldn’t hurt for you to put those textbooks away and get out and get some exercise. Those “Freshman 10” (oh – you might as well know now – it was more like the Freshman 20) might never happen if you embrace fitness sooner than later.

The diary you’ve been keeping?  Your daughter’s going to find it.  You should find a better hiding place or practice poor penmanship sooner than later.

It’s a few years off but don’t bother rushing sororities in university. You know it’s not “you”. The sooner you stop sucking up to people you already know are full of it, the better. On the other hand, being a “little sister” in a fraternity? Good one.  Free beer.

In a few years, your parents are going to tell you you’re making a big mistake by quitting a perfectly good job and high-tailing off to Europe for 5 months with your loser boyfriend. You’ll second-guess yourself, but don’t worry about. They’re wrong. That trip will turn out to be the best ‘mistake’ you’ve ever made. And that loser boyfriend has provided over twenty years of love and laughter, not to mention a lifelong security net.  But your wanderlust, however, will never settle down.

Friends really do come and go.  Sometimes you don’t take care of them, and this is a big mistake. You’re going to regret falling out of touch with some of those with whom you shared Life’s richest moments. Some of your friends will love you more unconditionally than even your family.

Love, Me (You)

There. I did it.  And now that I’ve done it, I think I could easily edit it another dozen or more times.

I can’t say that this was a life-altering exercise nor can I say that I relived all my life’s so-called regrets, either.  But for a moment, however brief, I do remember what “16” felt like…and I pray that sentiment helps me parent my own 16-year olds with a little more empathy.  Not ‘understanding’.  No.  There is no way they’ll believe you understand them.  No. Way.

What would you say to your 16 year-old self?

19 Responses to Dear "16-Year Old" Me

  • This was a precious piece…Wow, I wouldn’t be 16 again for anything! (or 26 for that matter! lol) The bit from Alison Moyet is BRILLIANT…and something I’ve lived now full circle – once when I became a mother myself, and then now that my own daughter is a mother 🙂

    Maybe I’ll write my own letter…Not sure I’ll post it, but you’ve inspired me today. Thanks!

    • Thanks for visiting, Janece (I’ve never seen this name spelled this way; so wonderfully unique!). I scratched out more than half of my letter before posting it! Glad this proved to be inspiring and hope we’ll get to see your letter too 🙂

  • Great post Astra. I’ve heard about this book and wondered as well what I might say to the “me” of back then. Like you, my advice would change on a daily basis, depending on how I felt about the “me” of now. Thankfully most of the advice would be encouraging. I’ll let you know what I say once I’ve written my letter.

    • Hi Mindy, thanks for stopping by! YES! I hope we will see your advice once written! Sure made me think a little (and laugh … and groan …)!!

  • Astra, I just loved this! Can’t say enough about how wonderful this is. You may not think life-altering, but I think in some ways it helps to define…to remember what was important then and what still holds true today. I love how the trip to Europe changed your life…how rushing a sorority was not you, but learning that “the sooner you stop sucking up to people you already know are full of it, the better. On the other hand, being a “little sister” in a fraternity? Good one. Free beer.” A priceless lesson. I also got a kick out of Roseanne Cash’s remark. The book sounds like a fun read. Since I am not a Millenial, I will buy more books and make up for their slack! I guess we should hold onto your bookshelves…they are going to be vintage when Millenials start buying homes. Thanks for a very enjoyable read.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed this piece, Annie, as I seriously did doubt whether I should even post it! It wasn’t until after I’d written it (and scratched out a good psrt of it!), that I realized the point you make: it is imporant to remember what was important then and what holds true today. One of the writers even wrote something along the lines of, “…all that stuff you’re worrying about? Forget about it! None of it happens!”. Thanks as always for reading and for your wonderful commentary!

  • I would tell my 16 year old self to start therapy right away instead of waiting! I would also tell her, much to her shock, that she is intelligent, gifted, artistic, and worthy of love. I would encourage her to go to Art College and recommend she find herself before marrying or having children.

    • I haven’t ever met a 16-year old who wouldn’t benefit from therapy…it’s such a confusing time in one’s life with so many conflicting messages. I’m happy that you know now that you’re intelligent, gifted, artistic and worthy of love and am sorry it wasn’t evident to you at 16! I think, in many ways, i DID find myself through having children, but I do appreciate and remember it can also be an exhausting and isolating experience. Thanks, Elizabeth for your perspective and for visiting.

  • This was a lovely post…I may just turn it into a writing assignment for my freshmen students! Thank you!

    • Thank you mamawolfe! I think it would be a interesting assignment for your students. Im fact I think one of the letter-writers in the book DID revisit a letter he’d written long ago to his future self… maybe that might be a more interesting twist on the assignment 🙂

  • First, thanks for the book recommend. Afavorite hobby of mine is writing letters. My favorite line was ‘I’m as delusional at age 48 as I was at age 16″. I sometimes feel this way, OK, I feel this way a lot. 🙂 I know we grow and we’re wiser, but why do we sometimes feel as silly? I’ll probably never know the answer.. As for your letter. well, I think everything you lived through up to this moment has made you – you, and there is nothing to be regretted ( I am big believer in not looking back and dwelling on what ifs and if onlys). I liked Elton’s post. My daughter tells me all the time, ‘don’t look for ‘IT’, if you look you wont’ find ‘IT’. With ‘IT’ being whatever you are seeking at the moment. I really enjoy your writer’s voice. When you write, it feels like we are sitting in a cafe, talking.

    • Brenda, I adore your letters! And yes, I cannot help but sometimes revert to the silliness of 16-year olds: singing at the top of my lungs while driving comes immediately to mind! Your daughter is wise: if we long for and search for “IT” too fervently, “it” will always remain just out of our grasp! Thanks, Brenda – I hope we come across each other in a cafe someday 🙂

  • What a great life-writing-exercise. I think it is so important to take time to reflect, assess, affirm and to sometimes rewrite the life that unfolds (often before we’re ready). I think writing is a super-power. To heal the places that might have hurt more than we thought and to celebrate things we might have not noticed quite enough. Great piece…great advice for ALL sixteen year olds. MMF

    • Thank you Meagan! I too believe writing is a super-power but not one suited only for super-heroes! As I said in my reply to Elizabeth, I never met a 16-year old who couldn’t benefit from therapy given all the conflicting messages delivered unto them! Writing is one form of therapy for sure! I appreciate you dropping by!

  • Astra, I love the exercise of taking a trip down Memory Lane–deciding if your decions and actions beniffited you in the long run, or if they’d have been best avoided. I can imagine the smiles, the chuckles, as you penned this post! At least that’s the reaciton I have of my teen experiences. If I were given the opportunity to be 16 again, I’d take it in a heartbeat! I ruled my clique! High school was a wonderful time in my life. I was king of the world! That said, I would probably tell my 16 year old self to not be such a mean girl at times; that karma has a way of coming back to bite you in the ass. Also, to save old jewelry, accessories and shoes since “vintage” will be all the rage in the future. Dear Lord, I try to get around being shallow, but most of the time, I fail. hee hee! 🙂

    • Bella, I’m sure a big part of the reason you had such a wonderful high school experience but due to your confidence and self-assurance, and there is no sin in that. I cannot imagine you being a mean girl!!!
      So hrue about that vintage wear: If only I’d known in the ’70’s that those flannel-lined jeans would come in handy in these cold arenas as a hockey mom (but I’m pretty sure that’s not what you had in mind!). Thanks so much for dropping by, Bella!
      Now about that karma …

  • Hi! I’m 16 years old and this sort of thing is very interesting to me. After reading this I am thinking about writing a letter to my 32 year old self..(double the age). Thanks! 🙂

    • Thank you so much for stopping by and taking the time to comment. It thrill me to know that you found this letter interesting. You might enjoy the book (I borrowed it from my library!) too!! This exercise inspired me to starting writing a letter to my oldest child, my son, who turns 16 next month!! I hope to post it later (unless he’ll be too mortified – then I’ll have to seal it and but it in his treasure box!)!!

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About Astra
Ottawa mom of 3 poking fun at myself, motherhood, and minor hockey! I am steering through life dodging stinky hockey gear and empty wine bottles.
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