For my English class, I instructed students to write a letter to their younger selves to see what advice they could give, and what they might learn from the reflection. To be fair, I thought I should write one myself. I am publishing it here for your entertainment. What would you say to your younger selves?
Dear Seventeen-Year-Old Jacob,
I hope that this finds you well. I imagine it will be quite surprising because in 1994, time travel hasn’t been achieved yet. I want you to know that I’m writing this to you now because you are finishing up high school and preparing to leave home to go to college. And I know you are scared.
Looking back at your life so far, I know that there have been situations that bothered you. I remember the peer pressure and the bullying; I remember how you worked hard but you feared the repercussions of other people’s ridicule. I remember how you resented the conservative rules and upbringing that your … our … parents put on you. I remember how you thought there must be something wrong with you because you did not know who you would marry and Mom and Dad were high school sweethearts. I remember how you dreaded leaving home but Mom and Dad said you could go to a local school but you could not live at home.
I am writing to you today because I want to tell you that it will all be okay.
When you get to college, you are going to form relationships, some good and some bad. You will know who is who before long so I will spare you the details. Much like high school, do not put too much value on the people others say are important. Some of the “cool” kids are not that cool, and some of the kids no one else wants to talk to are absolutely amazing, creative, intelligent, compassionate people who will be your friends for life. Do your best to love them all equally.
You will be homesick but how you handle it will change your college experience. Instead of worrying about yourself all of the time, try to find ways to give back to other people. Get involved and better the life of someone else, whether it is in the dorm or through an organization. You will need reminding but don’t worry, Mom will do that over fall break.
This will surprise you, but I will tell you now that you will be fine going to all of the parties. You will know when to leave, just be smart about who you leave with. Do not put too much pressure on what your relationships look like – you do not need to find a wife right away! When you date someone and she’s not who you marry, let that go, too.
In college, and when you get a job, work hard. Do your best and be responsible. Respect your work and respect your teachers, and your bosses. Show up on time and dress the part. It might be nice to sleep in when you stayed out too late the night before, but you will miss opportunities when you do not take it seriously. Speaking of which, get some sleep before the SATs – they are kind of a big deal. Your mom is going to try to help you be prepared for them; even though you will want to, do not blow her off.
When it comes to getting a job, push aside any doubts you have about what you are ‘too good’ for. You will learn plenty from people you never expected to, in situations that you never thought you would be in. Looking back, I can tell you that I found plenty of the jobs I worked tedious but I learned to appreciate the good jobs because of the bad ones.
I could have written this to you at any age, but I know there are some rough patches coming with Mom and Dad. There is a fine line between standing up for yourself and acting out disrespectfully. I am still trying to figure out the balance! Without predetermining what will happen, let me say this: they love and support you no matter what. When they take you where you are going, stop yourself from taking out your frustration, sadness, or irritation on them. [It is generally a good idea to not take out your frustrations on the people who care about you, but I digress.] How I have responded to Mom and Dad is one of the few things I would go back and change if I could. But here is one of those big life lessons I fully believe in – you cannot change what you have done or said after the fact, but you can make the future different for yourself and the people around you.
By now, your head is spinning so one last thing before I go: go for it. When you know she’s the one, buy the ring and ask her. When you know you are supposed to speak up, speak up – and learn when to shut your mouth. When you have the chance to share about Jesus, do it. When you can help someone, be all in. When you trust God and your gut, you will be alright.
Your Thirty-Eight-Year-Old Self
P.S. Call your mom whenever you can. She will miss you, and Dad will want to talk with you, too – no matter how old you get.