Have you ever written a letter to yourself? More accurately, have you tried to write a letter to yourself, except to a you who were only 16 years old?
A friend told me of the book “Letter to My 16-year-old” a year ago when I was in the midst of my worst times. This book is an aggregation of famous personalities’ letters to themselves when they were 16 years old. This serves as a way for people to confront some of their past issues in order to move on, but also, simply entertaining for us to get a glimpse into other people’s growing pains.
I wrote a letter to my 16 year old self a year ago, and it recently got published on the book’s website, which invites people to submit their letters too.
Coincidentally, 16 years old was the age I started studying the science stream at school. Back in those days, under the Hong Kong education system, we had to pick to study the physical sciences (i.e. physics, chemistry, biology, calculus etc) or arts & humanities (i.e. history, literature etc) subjects in order to prepare for the public exams. Science stream was somehow considered the “elite” stream, and obviously, I was coerced to take that route, given that my scores were good enough for it.
Deep in my heart, I yearned to study the French Revolution or the glorified Chinese Empires of the past, and recite some Sylvia Plath and William Blake. I was told I could switch back in two years if I didn’t like Sciences, but that Science would pave the way for me to become a doctor since these subjects were prerequisites to taking medicine in university. I didn’t think I wanted to be a doctor. I wanted to be a lawyer then, or I had it in my head, I would do something different, something that would let me fly around and have fun, and just deal with people (thus why I was elated to do the job I did for the past 7 years).
Well, I trusted that they knew what was best for me. After all, I was only 16 years old – how much did I know?
In fact, I think 16 year-olds do know. In fact, anyone younger can also know.
Why doubt ourselves? Listen to that little voice inside.
I failed miserably in a lot of my subjects. Well, ok, fail is exaggerating, but Ds and Es on my public exam results can hardly be called flying colours? I felt completely worthless and didn’t know what to do. Fortunately, I stubbornly refused to be put down and conquered in many other ways afterwards. Perhaps that was my drive to achieve for so long, just to prove to the world I could do it too.
But 16 years old was a long time ago – I just had to let go of the bitterness and insecurity I felt for myself. A letter to myself at 16 years old is not a bad way to do so:
You are not a disappointment.
The fact that you can’t do your physics or calculus problems does not make you a failure. Teachers and parents make a big deal of your grades but a few years later it won’t matter at all, and certainly will not matter when you are grown up. You place so much emphasis on achieving those grades and making everyone else happy, but there is no need. Trust me on that.
Soon you’ll make your own decisions and you will realize that pursuing your interests and passions are more important than any grade or 8-figure income you receive.
If you want to write, study literature and history, you should defy all your seniors and do so. Honestly, redox actions have no relevance to leadership and people management in this real world, nor does momentum help you in your negotiation skills.
Do what you do best. Do what you like.
Dwell not on those grades. You know in your heart what is it you want to do – insist on it.
It’s ok. You do not have to live up to anyone else’s expectations of you, and you do not need to feel you have disappointed them if you don’t do what they suggest.
You owe only to yourself.
Please change your course of study when you can. I don’t want you to end up like me 14 years later, and I don’t want you to have to go through depression and suicide attempts like I did, because you felt you have let the whole world down.
Write your poetry and your stories now; forget those math problems. Follow your heart.
Don’t wait till you are 30 years old to do that.
Listen for once to your heart, and not your mind.
It’s ok, you are not a disappointment.
Writing a letter to your younger self is provoking and could open a whole can of worms. However, the fact that it does, means that there are past issues to be dealt with.
This exercise a year ago triggered suppressed thoughts and emotions that needed confrontation. I will not lie. I cried and sobbed uncontrollably. I felt way better afterwards though, and even manage to smile as I type this today.
For the better.
I encourage everyone to read this book, and write a letter to their 16 year old selves.
(disclaimer – if you buy the book through clicking this page, i get maybe USD0.04 referral fee via Amazon )