I hear you up there in your room, trying on first-day-of-school outfits and organizing your binders and locker decorations. It takes me back to when we were deciding what you should wear for your first day of preschool and making sure your name was Sharpied into your backpack.
I’m a little nostalgic, thinking about those days, but I don’t wish we were back there, because where you are right now—staring down this enormous first in what will be a long line of them—is exactly where you’re supposed to be.
Along the way, you’re going to learn lessons neither of us can imagine from where we’re standing at the moment. But here’s what I want you to know even before you put on that outfit you’re working so hard to pick out.
There’s more than one “right” way to do this. Lots of people will tell you to make the most of these years, but what that “most” looks like for you is up to you.
Some disappointment is inevitable, but it’ll be a lot easier to swallow if you don’t pile regret on top of it. You can’t always control the outcome of things, but you can control your input. So take a chance on friendship, try out for the part, study hard for the test. You may not like the results, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you tried.
Kindness, grace, and compassion are always good ideas. They’re even better if you put them into practice.
Meanness, gossip, and back-stabbing are always bad ideas. They’re best never put into practice.
At some point, your heart will probably be broken. Guard it the best you can (but don’t harden it).
Try something new. You might end up loving something you don’t even know you like.
Believe in your own beauty. You are lovely in ways that have nothing to do with your hair or your skin or your makeup or a number on the scale or what you wear.
Take care of yourself. I know you run remarkably well on a few hours’ sleep, a bottle of water, and an energy bar, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea day after day.
There are lots of different kinds of “smart.” Your intelligence is not dependent on—or necessarily reflected by—your GPA or your class rank or your SAT score.
Weird can be wonderful. I understand that you want to fit in. But don’t be afraid, sometimes, to stand out.
You are valuable, and you matter. Your worth is not tied to being class president, first chair, or the most valuable player on some team.
Some days, you’re just going to have to blame the hormones. Might as well make them earn their keep.
You don’t have to figure out your whole life in the next four years. Your future happiness does not hinge on whether or not you’ve found your life’s passion or know what you want to be when you grow up by the time you leave high school.
The best kind of friend knows about your rough edges—and likes you anyway. Try to find this kind of friend. Try to be this kind of friend.
Trust your instincts. But also be open to the wisdom of other people.
You are likeable and loveable. These things are true whether or not you ever go out on a date or get asked to prom. They are true entirely apart from how many friends you have or how many people follow you on social media.
Who you are is not outside you. Who you are is not something you have to wait for someone to give you. Who you are right now is already a gift. Treasure that gift in yourself, and then give it to others. Someone needs who you are—and who that is, only you can be.
And one last thing. In what will feel like a blink (at least to me), you’ll be looking for a dress to wear under your graduation gown. We’re going to go through some rough waters together between here and there, but never forget this: I am on your side . . . first, last, and always.
Elizabeth Spencer is mom to two teenage daughters who regularly dispense love, affection, and brutally honest fashion advice. She writes about faith, food, and family (with some occasional funny thrown in) at Guilty Chocoholic Mama and avoids working on her 100-year-old farmhouse by spending time on Facebook and Twitter.