Erick Rommel

Dear Teen Me,

When people ask about your education, you think they mean school. You think they want to know if you’re getting good grades in math, if you’ve read that book by the author who’s been dead for 200 years, if you can point to Dubai on a map.

You’ll be happier once you realize that education and school are not interchangeable words.

Don’t get me wrong, school is important. Many lessons will serve you the rest of your life. That’s expected. It’s the unexpected that’s even more important.

Soon, you’re going to quit your job. Then, you’re going to go home, close your bedroom door and tell yourself, “I can’t believe I quit.” You need to get over it. You were doing too much. You didn’t quit. You prioritized. You can’t do everything, and if you try, you won’t enjoy anything. Don’t feel guilty making time for what you enjoy.

Don’t let labels stop you. If a book looks interesting, read it. You’ll be amazed to learn that a good story is a good story, regardless of genre. One of those books may be titled “Dear Teen Me: Authors Write Letters to Their Teen Selves.” In it, authors write letters, just as I’m writing to you now. You’ll think it’s not for you, but it is. Listen to what they say, including some of the following stories from that book:

As a teen, Sara Polsky worried about being lonely. “Sometimes it will take you a while to make friends and to feel like you’ve found your place; each time you worry that maybe this time you won’t. I promise you will.”

Lizzy Charles’ lesson to her teen self is shorter. “Stop living with your brain and start living with your heart.”

Looking back, you discover truths that your younger self refuses to see. “You will absolutely not believe this, but people will tell you years from now that you were cool at school,” Kim Curran writes to her younger self. “I know, I don’t quite believe it either. But apparently, you were.”

That’s a message you need to hear every day. You need to repeat it until you believe it and then keep repeating it in case you forget. Others have a more positive view of you than you have of yourself.

Every day you challenge yourself with the motto, “Do the impossible perfectly.” As the older you, I can tell you that last word is nowhere near as important as you imagine. Do the impossible. It may not be perfect, but few things in life are.

This isn’t just a letter to you. It’s also a letter to me. I’m writing it because I need to remember these lessons as an adult. I need to think better of myself. I need to have more confidence. I need to accept praise and believe I deserve compliments.

One evening, soon, you’re going to come home an hour after curfew. It’s going to be one of the most bizarre and memorable nights of your life. Don’t panic. Your parents trust you. You won’t get in trouble. Just don’t do it again.