A woman bent over in a chair with her hair falling over her face as a hand holds a plant toward her

Letters to My Younger Self is a series focused on wisdom and self-awareness. Just as you write letters to a friend to encourage and uplift them, here is the advice we would go back and tell our younger ourselves.


Your family tries its best to include you in their seemingly endless volleyball games. You’d rather sit in the shade and read than end up covered in sand, the least valuable player on the court. Yet, you try to play, every single time. The equation is simple in your mind. If you fit in, then you’re loved.

The only problem is, you don’t like the things you’re supposed to like. You try, but you just don’t get joy from the sports, clubs or music that your friends and family do. 

You’re too caught up in the imaginary worlds of books, words and art. Most of the people you love don’t see the value in sad songs, slow movies and oversized books. So you decide there isn’t any. Loving what you want to love feels wrong and that’s not entirely your fault. They could ask what you’re reading every now and then.

At the end of the day, it seems easier to keep those things secret, minimizing the other worlds in your mind and heart. You stop asking why. You find a sport that will take you, and you stop celebrating your academic accomplishments. It feels like they’ll love you more if you don’t stand out.

It feels like they’ll love you more if you don’t stand out.

Then, there’s the fact that your hair doesn’t do what it’s supposed to. Your body won’t fit into the sizes it’s supposed to, and you can’t quite figure out what to do with your makeup. (You didn’t even realize your best friend had a crush on you. Why would he? You don’t measure up.)

You understood the world in absolutes. A person’s worth lies in how well they fit a specific, narrow set of standards. It was like everyone else was a well-curated rose and you happened to be something else growing wild in the path. 

I don’t think you’d believe me if I told you those curls, curves and obscure favorite books are now some of your favorite things about yourself. In fact, all those things that made you different? They’re the things you celebrate the most now.  

All those things that made you different—they’re the things you celebrate the most now.  

After high school, you start to learn how to be honest about yourself. You start to form relationships where the fact that you bring up dead Russian writers in the first conversation isn’t a liability. Your passion for the things you love and your willingness to share those things is what keeps people coming back, even if they couldn’t care less about Dostoevsky. 

I bet you wouldn’t believe me if I told you there would be a boy who would listen to you talk about 200-year-old books and another who could finish the Dickinson poem you have half memorized. I know you won’t believe me when I say seeing yourself through their eyes was helpful, but it wasn’t everything.

And your relationship with your family? It’s real now. How could they know you when you spent years pretending? The more you value yourself, the less you need to see your worth in the eyes of others. You can approach the people who made you wilt once upon a time without fear. 

The more you value yourself, the less you need to see your worth in the eyes of others.

Now you’re better at showing off your gifts, but you’re also so much better at seeing the uniqueness in others. Now that you’re not blinded by what you think everyone is supposed to be, you can see the real people instead of some reductive stereotype. You won’t see it for years, but the world that feels so small to you right now is a whole garden, diverse and full of riotous colors more than you could imagine. 

I’m so proud of you for letting go of a mold that you never fit, but don’t take all of the credit. You’ve had plenty of help. Great friends and teachers who saw the value of your gifts when you couldn’t. You worked so hard to make yourself different that you ended up less, but I’m so glad to let you know that you don’t stay there.

Image via Ania Cywinska, Darling Issue No. 11

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