The Letter to Teenage Me

As most folks get older, they tend to get somewhat wiser (somehow I seem to have missed the gene which facilitates that). For many people, this is often exemplified by those “letters to my teenage self” that folks tend to write at some point after hitting a certain, relatively advanced age – once they think they have seen it all – like, say, 35. 🙂

Of note: do I have a doozy of a letter to write to my 18-year-old self; he ain’t gonna believe some of this stuff.

That said, in an interesting twist, it seems as though I may have done this whole process backward. See, I was rummaging through some of my life boxes – you know, boxes and bins of all those things that no rational human being would have kept (I’ve got my ticket stub from the Blazers’ final home game of the 1981-82 season if anyone needs it – a 119-114 W over the Sonics, for those curious). 🙂

In these boxes, I found a few pages of random writings from 13-year-old me. These were not part of that required (emphasis on required) Junior High journaling project (and, no, it’s still not a diary!) where I wrote about 9th-grade life. No, these docs were from a couple of years prior.

Hmm. This should be interesting. I mean, think about it – an early teenage boy, alive, at large, and on the loose in the late ’70s. Wait. Maybe don’t think about it.

I stopped, regrouped, and pondered whether this was really a road I wanted to go down. Considering the age, the era, and, importantly, the individual, this could be incredibly disappointing. Thinking back on 13, I recall that I could be a pretty different duck (hey, ease up there on the ‘not much has changed’ jokes!). Anyway, maybe I should leave the potentially distorted memories of my awesome adolescence intact as they live on in my mind. 🙂

With a bar set so low that even my ALS-addled body could clear it – and fully expecting the worst – I started perusing a couple of papers.

One of the first things I noticed is that I tend to ramble (ok, some things don’t necessarily change much). 🙂 But through the doodles and scribbles and hieroglyphics (bet you missed that one on the Spelling Bee) I found a couple of recurring messages. A theme developed. A tangible philosophy emerged.

And I was befuddled. The more I read, the more questions I had. The most pressing of these questions was… who the heck wrote this stuff?

Missives such as: “Where do I fit in? Maybe I might not fit in with the rest of the world, but I fit in with me. To me that is all I need, to fit in with myself.”

Excuse me? What wise old sage dropped these docs into my lifeboxes?

Or how about: “What do others think of me? I do not need to know what others think of me. Or if they like me or not. All I need to do is to be myself.”

I mean, there was no way these were written by some quirky, uncertain, and definitively unpolished 13-year-old kid who was desperately searching for his place in the world… or were they?

Forty-five years later, I contemplate the surprising depth of these random jottings with a mixture two parts disbelief, one part fascination, with a dash of awe. I’ve been incredibly stupid countless times in my life (no, I don’t need a detailed recap, but thank you). How was I so insightful at 13? What possessed me to document these thoughts? And why on God’s Green Earth did I keep them?

As I reread those notes, I recalled one of my favorite pieces of advice I ever received. These words of wisdom were given to me when I was a young, floundering professional, by a hard-driving, high-energy dude named Chuck, who calmly, but emphatically, told me…

“Want, but don’t need, people to like you.”

Ding, ding, ding. Bells rang and lights came on. Now it made some sense to present day me. These writings from teen angst me had established a base philosophical viewpoint, which was… that I was ok. I was a good person. It didn’t matter what others said or thought. I simply needed to be true to myself and be good with who I was. Chuck had galvanized my earlier thoughts into a few simple words.

It seems these random, long-lost notes, scribbled into existence by a kid who may have simply been trying to convince himself that he belonged and was likable as he was, might have actually been the nucleus of a lifelong philosophy.

I truly believe other people can add a distinct flavor to life’s journey. But if someone is determined to spread negativity on me or mine, I have absolutely zero qualms to immediately shake off their dust from my feet and move on. (Matthew 10:14)

Long before I was afflicted with this terrible, terminal disease that is ALS, I believed that life was indeed too short to be anything but seeking happiness. Now, with that belief being more than validated, it is assuredly way too short then to dwell on what others think of you or say about you.

To think I wrote about these beliefs more than forty years ago as a freshly minted teenager, (and better yet, kept the docs), creates a strange sense of admiration, and a begrudging respect, for that youngster.

For now, I’ve decided not to write that letter to 18-year-old me. No, let him live his life, let him learn on his own. Will he bask in great victories? Yes, absolutely. Will there be days when he will be discouraged and heartbroken by painful, bitter defeats? Unfortunately, yes.

But based on his ability to rationalize and articulate his feelings in what he wrote way back then, not to mention his foresight to keep the writings for posterity, I doubt current me would have much to add for his benefit (except maybe a couple of World Series or Super Bowl picks he might find quite profitable). 🙂

Living and learning through these moments will undoubtedly make him a better person. And now, having read the notes he unknowingly wrote back then to 58-year-old me, I think he’ll be just fine in his life journey… no matter what anyone else thinks or says about him along his way.

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