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Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self

Hold you head up, girl. It’s going to get better.


By Nikki H. Huang


LOOK AT ME NOW Life has turned out fine

I was basically 17 only a year and a half ago. But it feels as if a whole decade has passed since I was in high school, anxiously going about life, praying that someone or something would rescue me from my unpleasant reality.

Now, looking back at the incredible year that has passed, I feel compelled to write a letter not only to my younger self, but to other young people out there. I know only too well how it feels to be adolescent and uncertain: It sucks.

Here are a few things I would tell my 17-year-old self, if I could go back in time.

The girls who gossip, laugh at, compete with, and exclude you in the cafeteria and at parties will be figures of your past in a matter of months. These girls aren’t your real friends so stop letting them get to you. One was only nice to you in biology class because she wanted some of your Mentos gum. Behind your back, she would say mean things to all your friends. In fact, she hated you but couldn’t even be bothered to give a reason why. You’ll see her at a company event a year later and she won’t be able to look you in the eye. Perhaps now, you are too full of life that no nasty comment (or two) would break you down.

In fact, you’ll go from crying over the tiniest criticism to learning that if no one is hating on you, it probably means you’re not doing anything significant with your life. Let people talk while keeping your head up high and trailblazing your own path—all done with love, of course.

In a year, the boys who harass and mistreat you now won’t even get to you. You won’t be paying them any mind as some will try to message or hit you up. But you’ll be on an entirely different wavelength. The naïveté and insecurity they preyed on will become a mysterious strength they now either want to be around with, or be pretty intimidated by. The things they did to you won’t hold you back. They’ll be lessons learned, part of a rocky past that has equipped you with a resilience and mental fortitude you never thought yourself capable of at 16 or 17. They’ll teach you what it means to be a woman, and you’ll go forth in life with a wise caution that will serve you well.

The schoolmates, who made fun of your first forays into the business of fashion, will soon run up to you at nightclubs and pretend you were best friends in high school. People will turn around and be friends with you because, by now, you’ve made a few connections. They’ll comment on everything they’ve seen you accomplish this year, and say that they are happy and so proud of you. You’ll be nice because you’re a lady, but you’ll see the situation for what it really is. You’ll keep a safe distance, and you won’t regret it one bit.

You have new friends. You’ll be happy. You’ll have so much fun. You are not meant to spend a lifetime trying to fit in and repress who you are. You are meant to be with people who make you feel alive because they let you be the truest version of yourself. At 19, you’ll start to discover who these people are.

You are not the status quo, so stop trying to be.

You are working incredibly hard, to the point of sickness and depression, for a big dream that will not come true. It will be the ultimate goal of your academic career, and you will not achieve it. In fact, it will fall flat on its face. It will feel like life’s biggest betrayal, and your loved ones will not be disappointed for you, the way you have hoped. Instead, they’ll be disappointed in you, and your heart will break into many pieces. No one will be there for you in this time. You will not get an explanation as to what went wrong. You’ll get many questions, many comments, lots and lots of people casting doubt.

You will meet so many people. They will awe you, inspire you, interest you, disappoint and disgust you. Some of them will even hurt you. Others will be the reason you happily lived to see 19.

But this dream didn’t come true in order to make way for your gap year. It was in this year you lived experiences so incredible, you couldn’t even have dreamed about them in the first place. You will find empowerment, happiness, and peace from within yourself, rather than from an acceptance to an institution based on how you present on the pages of an application.

It will set you on fire.

At 17, you have been expertly conditioned to believe that your worth is determined by the university that accepts you come senior year. You and your peers believe there is no higher tier of approval. All that repeats in your head is “Ivy or bust!” Your familial and academic authority figures reinforce that notion. By 19, you will realize that only you determine your worth. Your character and inner truths are all that you will ever have at the end of the day, and it will take you farther and higher than any admission to a university ever will.

You see your future only one way: Graduate, pack your suitcases, and head to a school on the East Coast that will make your parents so proud, they’ll plaster stickers all over their car. But what is really going to happen is the complete opposite. You’re going to travel the world, dive headfirst into the business of retail, live and nearly die on a remote island, finally become a writer in the way you’ve always wanted but never had time for during school. You’re going to spend as much time crunching numbers at a desk as you will be making memories after midnight with friends. And this new group of friends will be comprised of people of all ages, occupations, backgrounds, and nationalities. You’re going to be offered world class internships that most people would kill for by having good conversation over espresso with CEOs, directors, and presidents. As all of this is happening, you’re going to be rejected from the universities of your dreams. And it’s going to be okay!

You should eat more. It’s better for you in the long run. At 18, you’re going to go to Paris. One of the happiest memories of your life will be eating freshly baked croissants and drinking black coffee for breakfast on the balcony of your hotel room with your sister. Every calorie and every gram of sugar and carb you ingest will be worth it. You’ll regret what you did to yourself at 17 when you’re 19 and your body is hellbent on growing into a more womanly shape. Working out will help you rebuild your metabolism, if only you started sooner.

The way you look will change and you will absolutely cringe at the way you dressed at age 17. Fashion and beauty will open doors for you at 19. Your “look” will evolve on the daily, the journey reflecting how much transformation you’re going through. And within, you will discover, to quote Sophia Loren, that “beauty is how you feel inside, and it reflects in your eyes. It is not something physical.”

Therefore you will have moments where you feel drop dead gorgeous, and other times when the sight of yourself makes you want to vomit. But you know that you are basing your self image on more substantial things than external appearance, and it will fill you up inside. You will feel so human.

You will discover guys and dating in a way many of your peers will not be able to relate to, by the very nature of your life being so different. The uniqueness of it all will be equal parts isolating and exciting. You will make some mistakes but you will have great triumphs as well. Most of it will be quite thrilling. Everything will be something to remember. You will lean greatly on someone whose mistakes have made him wise in the world of relationships, and he will keep your feet on the ground.

You will go from wishing you had the privilege of being male at 17, to worshipping the power of being a woman at 19.

You have no idea that by 19, you will have learned that falling in total trust with someone will screw you over greater than falling in love.

You did know, though, that you wouldn’t fall in love so soon. It won’t happen by the time you’re 19, and you’ll be so glad you guarded your heart.

You will meet so many people. They will awe you, inspire you, interest you, disappoint and disgust you. Some of them will even hurt you. Others will be the reason you happily lived to see 19.

You will end your gap year, in some ways, as uncertain as you were when you started it. Life is changing course yet again. You will be removed from everything and everyone you’ve grown to love. You’re moving far from home, and you have absolutely no clue who you’re going to turn into or what is going to happen next. And that’s okay.

You will realize just how small your world was at 17, how it grew at 18, and how much larger it can still get, now, at 19, and beyond.

At the end of it all, my 17-year-old self, I wish you knew sooner: Life will turn out to be more than fine. It will be beautiful.

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