Today’s post is a part of a blog series hosted by Emily Freeman, author of a brand new book for young women called Graceful. To read the letters from other contributors including Ann Voskamp, Jeff Goins and Nish Weiseth visit Emily’s blog here. To win a FREE copy of the book, click the link to tweet this article below…
Dear Self –
I’ve started writing this letter to you a couple of times now, but no matter how hard I try, the words just aren’t coming out right. It’s like my natural tendency is to give you all this advice… Then I read it over and realize — to you, it’s just going to sound cliche and abstract.
So instead, I’m going to tell you a few stories.
Freshman Year of College
It’s Thursday night, finals week of second semester and you’re about to make a decision you’ll regret your whole life. You’ve been in the library all day studying for your Psychology 101 final. Its a cumulative test — your first big college exam — and you’re so nervous that you spend ten hours putting together a study guide.
It’s nearly midnight. You’re exhausted. But ready.
Then a classmate reminds you of the short assignment that is also due the next morning, 8am, just prior to your test. You were given an article and asked to read it and respond with a short summary and response. One page, single spaced. Easy.
But that could take an hour, and you need your sleep for the test…
At least that’s how you justify it.
So you “borrow” your roommate’s assignment (you know, just as a reference) because that’s how it worked in high school. Shortcuts were the norm — all the kids scrambling to finish fifth period assignments before the lunch bell rings.
You don’t even read the article, you just read her response and get an idea of what you want to say. Then you type your response, which starts out as a paraphrase, but turns into a word-for-word copy by about the second paragraph.
It’s not cheating, just collaborating. Right?
No one will notice. There are 175 students in this lecture. Right?
Wrong. Someone does notice, and despite your nearly perfect score on the exam the next day, you and your roommate (who didn’t even know that you were copying her response) receive a failing grade in the class, and are threatened with far worse.
Your friendship, your integrity, even your test scores are called into question.
That is how you learn the hard way that integrity is no joke. It isn’t about doing things sort of right most of the time, it’s about living your life as if someone is watching — because people are.
Trust is hard to earn, and easy to break.
Out of Hiding.
It isn’t until ten years after high school that you finally tell your parents what you’ve been hiding from them your whole life, that secret you promised yourself you’d keep quiet forever, the one you thought would ruin you if it ever leaked out.
You ask dad to have dinner with you. You procrastinate through the appetizer, then the entree, even until the waitress comes to clear the plates.
Then you let it just tumble out.
You were sexually abused when you were a little girl.
You’re not ready to tell him all the details yet, and you’re not sure if you even remember them, but as you talk there’s a slow release on a pressure valve that’s been building up for most of your life. You can finally start living for the first time. Not hiding or pretending but really living.
It’s amazing how lies leak into other parts of your life.
That moment is just the beginning of truth-telling for you. Sometimes, it hurts like hell to tell the truth because the truth sucks. I’d be misleading you if I left that part out.
But it’s also the passage to a much better world you get to live in, which is paradoxically identical and also distinct from the world where you were living — a world where you are not a victim anymore, you don’t live your life to please others, you get to lay down that heavy baggage you were carrying and really start to enjoy your trip.
In fact, you’ll often sit back and wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.
At A Funeral
Sometime after college you lose a dear friend to suicide. I won’t tell you which one, because I want you to feel the weight of it. Life is fragile. There are no guarantees. And the way you act toward people matters.
At the funeral, you’re approached by a girl who you don’t recognize, or remember.
In fact, even when she tells you her name, it takes you a really long time to place her face. There are vague flashes of memory, but nothing concrete. That is, until she starts to tell you her story.
Remember that day on the stairs? She tells you.
Remember what they said about her?
They were your friends, she reminds you. And you didn’t say anything. You looked at her, with eyes that said you wanted to help, and that you were sorry for the way they were acting, but you didn’t do anything. You didn’t say anything.
For a moment, you’ll have a flashback to that moment, and in a day that’s already filled with too many regrets and too many tears, you’ll have a few more to add to the list. You’ll wish you wouldn’t have been too scared to say something.
To sit at a different lunch table.
To see who sits with you.
Bold love makes a difference. Not a hypothetical, poster-on-the-wall kind of difference but a real difference in the real lives of real people. You can’t save anyone, but you can be the kind of person who acts out of love, not out of fear.
You have nothing to be afraid of.
By the way, I thought you’d want to know you don’t marry any of the boys you meet in high school, so you can stop worrying about them (and stop fighting with your friends over them). Trust me. The resources are not as limited as they seem like they are. Learn from them, be friends with them, even date them, but stop fretting over them.
What is coming is so much better.
Question: What would you say to your high school self? Write your own letter and post it on your blog this Friday to join the fun. Link to chattingatthesky.com and head over there to check out what the other bloggers have written.
To win a copy of Emily Freeman’s book Graceful tweet the following tweet by Friday 9/14 at midnight EST:
RT @allyvest What would you tell your teen self? Join @emilypfreeman writing letters to launch her new book Graceful: http://ow.ly/dC6eT — [click here to tweet that]
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