Dear 17-year-old Sahaj,
Congratulations! You just graduated from high school at the top of your class, as VP of the student body, captain of the soccer team, President of the French National Honor Society and second team all regional/first team all district field hockey player. I know you’re feeling really good and accomplished and as though there is nothing you can’t conquer. Well, I hate to break it to you but the conquering won’t happen until later down the road. Don’t worry. Don’t be frightened. The experiences and trials you will face over the next few years will solidify your strength and your individuality - both of which you currently lack.
Don’t be offended when your father jokes at your high school graduation party that the real celebration is going to be when (or if) you graduate college. You won’t graduate college in four years... or five. Very soon, you will even compare yourself to Steve Jobs in an attempt to convince yourself that a degree is worthless or a societal pressure. Don’t be stupid. You’ll learn very quickly how much you need a college degree -- both for your dignity and for your future.
You'll say, “I care about other people more than myself.” That's your excuse for ignoring your demons, allowing family to navigate your route, bowing in meek submission, running at the pace of your friends and losing control of yourself, sprinting out of form to keep up.
Read on. It becomes worse only to get so much better.
Sahaj, everything you know will fall apart. You will fall both hard and over and over again. You’ll experience something so traumatic –- something people only hear about because a friend of a friend knew somebody who experienced the same thing. It will break your spirit. You’ll shut out anyone who cares about you. You will question the meaning of life on the deepest level where the only two answers to choose from are either a) it’s worth it or b) it’s not worth it. When you are convinced that you’ve hit rock bottom, you’ll sink even lower. Later, you'll find it funny how that happens.
I’ll spare you details of the months to follow and say this: though you’ve left me with the scars, you emerged as a new person from this worldly Hell. You began to create the person you wanted to be. You wanted to be strong, so you became strong. You focused on the love in this world, so loving life defeated feeling defeated. You wanted to be fearless. While you’re still working on that, you’ve walked a long way.
Sahaj, you don’t know how to do this yet, but one day you will stop letting everyone else tell you who to be. After balancing the inauthenticity that came from all of the above, you will demand more from yourself, family, society and men. You will teach yourself how to be who you want to be. Through the next six years, you will be your greatest enemy, but you will learn to become your best friend.
I’m sure you think you are happy now, but truthfully, you’re only pleased because of how smoothly you’ve coasted through life so far. In six years you will truly be happy. You will love yourself in a way that you’ve only known to love other people. You will be at peace with how hard life is because you will know how equally, if not more, rewarding it can be. Most importantly, you will stop seeking validation for your path or your life from anyone else.
So, today on your high school graduation day, know this –- trust your instincts. Follow your vision. Know that it doesn’t matter if your parents try to protect you or your friends try to save you. You need to believe in yourself.
The question to come is: when you take everyone and everything else away, who do you have left?
I know you don’t know the answer to this yet, but I do. Character doesn’t waver, no matter who or what you encounter. You will be strong, persevering, humble and kind because that’s your character. You will break, but you will understand that only you can mend yourself. You will fall, but you will learn that you have to have the will to get back up. You will fail, but you will not stop trying. You won’t let your struggles or your past define who you are going to be. For that, I’m so proud of you.