This is a letter that I wrote a few years ago, to my teenage self. When I wrote this, I was in a place of feeling like I had finally fully ‘arrived’ in my own life. Since then I have made another new and exciting experience: How it feels like to start creating the life you really want to live, to really make it yours. Too many times I see and hear narratives of teenagers ‘going off the rails’ or ‘getting in trouble’ and then ‘back on track’. And I know that my slightly crazy journey from ‘school drop-out’ to ‘PhD student’ could easily be caught in this box too. So today I thought I’d share my letter, to resist these narratives, and as a tribute to my teenage self who got me to where I am right now, as well as to everyone, no matter your age, who might relate to her. Forget the rails, it’s totally OK to create your own path.
Hey there :)
This is your superhero self from the future. And I really need to tell you some things that you really need to know.
First of all: I know how you are feeling right now. I know all these moments when you think you have ultimately car-crashed your life. Disappointed everyone. Failed. Really fucked it up. I know that you feel like everything is your fault. That you feel like you'll never be good enough. That sometimes you feel like you're the most horrible person in the world. And yea, even this feeling that you're not part of this world, that you are so different, like an alien, kicked out - not only out of school but out of the race of human beings. I get it.
I hear all the stories other people are telling about you. Your parents, your teachers, that annoying guy in the job centre, even complete strangers. Somehow they all manage to magically agree on the same simple narrative: That you are going off rails, that you are misbehaving, acting out, that your are making trouble, that you are seeking attention, that you are crazy, that you are messing up your life. Whenever they get to the part in which you are apparently doing all this out of a weird attitude of teenage rebellion gone overboard – I just wanna travel back through time and shout it in their faces how absolutely wrong they are (or at least find a way to make them shut the fuck up).
But today, in this moment, all I want for you is to hear my voice through all that noise. I want you to know: You are OK. You are absolutely awesome just the way you are. There is NOTHING wrong with you.
These stories you hear about yourself, are just that – stories. Made up by other people. Fairy tales they tell themselves to make their life easier. Comfortable narratives that they can use to deny their own shit. A thick protection blanket they created so that they don't have to change anything in their life.
I know that none of this is YOUR story and that this blanket is not protecting you – it's suffocating you. So here's what I want you to do:
Peel yourself out of this blanket. Shake it off, throw it away or leave it with the people it belongs to. Feel the ground under your feet, breathe, and start walking. If you don't know where to go, if you get scared, just put one foot in front of the other foot. If you don't know your own story yet, don't worry, I know it is out there and I trust you to find it.
It's OK to be searching, it's OK to be lost, because eventually you will find this place where you can be free. Trust me, I know, because I'm there right now. Where people love you for who you are. Where your voice is heard, your story makes sense, and your anger changes the world. Where your mess of emotions creates the most wonderful fountains of colours. Where there are no rails and where you can walk with other people who all create their own path. Where your pain can float out into the air and write a graffiti across the sky. Where you can lay down in the grass on a summers day and watch it dissolve into the clouds.
Maybe you come across this phrase that 'it gets better'. I used to very much doubt that. And today I know it's not true – it doesn't get just 'better', it actually gets pretty amazing.
Ten years ago, I was you. Kicked out, literally. Sitting in the job centre office for fuck-ups. Being told I was just trouble. Being shelved as a hopeless case.
Today, right now, ten years later, I'm sitting in my own living room in my own flat in London, after coming back from work, which not only pays my rent but allows me to live my dream, fulfils me, and makes me happy every single day. Today I am surrounded by creative, open minded, supportive, and inspiring people who I call my friends and who feel like my family.
Today, I want to thank you. For going off the rails. For being the angry, vulnerable, crazy, smart, radical, lost, strong, passionate, rebellious, troubled, beautiful person you are. I want you to understand, that I'm here today, not in spite of you, but because of you.
Everything I'm good at, I learned from you. And I will always love you, respect you, learn from you, and keep you very close to my heart.
PS: Anyone who dares to call you a bad phase or a mistake, can expect to be kicked out of my life. I do own my story now. And I'm proud of it.