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Natalie Thomas Headshot

Letter to My 18-Year-Old Self

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I recently returned from a ten-day trip back east to spend quality time with some quality people.

As is ritual now, my mom and I cleaned out yet another part of the house together. My parents, nearing retirement, are in "downsize mode," causing my mother to purge, well, everything. I imagine on my next trip, I'll find my bed gone and a sleeping bag in its place.

This time, we tackled my closet. Among a plethora of tragic trends (bomber jackets, oversized overalls and twelve years worth of assorted gowns -- cheesy, satin prom and homecoming dresses, dated sorority cocktail confections and "I want you to be able to wear it again" bridesmaid dresses which were, of course, never worn again), were several file boxes stuffed with tattered love letters, rambling-filled journals and touching notes and cards from family and friends. As I picked through my past, analyzing each word, I was surprised and amused. Overall, I was comforted by and thankful for the wonderful relationships I had and have since lost and those that still remain. And, I couldn't help but feel a bit nostalgic as I began to reflect on who I am now compared to the girl I was then.

When you think back to your younger self and where you've come since then, are you satisfied or sad? Upon reflection, are you who you said you'd be? Who high school pals and ex-boyfriends saw you becoming? Who yearbook entries and superfluous awards painted you out to be? Have you measured up? Does it matter?

Despite our best intentions, we can't possibly fulfill all the promises we made, can we? The lofty ideals, supersized dreams and ambitious promises were heartfelt, sweet and apropos of a young life that has yet to enter the real world but, ultimately, things get in the way and we change, mature, make mistakes and sober up.

Despite all my years with a corporate, year-round job, I'm somehow still conditioned to think in terms of the school year. Maybe it's because we're currently in a season of change with school's cessation, graduation, commencement speeches and summer in full swing. Or perhaps it's all the more profound because my life right now resembles that of a collegiate: end of an era, period of transition, carefree days coupled with some deep reflection and the start of something new, foreign, intimidating and thrilling. Like a kid all over again, I have a few months off and am facing transition come September. Mine's a change in career, not a new home or school, but no less daunting. When I think back to my 18-year-old self and what she was going through: fear, excitement, anxiety and hope, the sentiments are the same. However, with fifteen years on her, I'm slightly more experienced and, therefore, more prepared.

With that in mind, I wondered, if I could do it over again, knowing what I know now, what would I do differently? What would I tell her?

I would tell her that the number on the scale doesn't determine her value. Neither do bad bosses, bullies or boyfriends. That the minute he makes her feel unworthy, she should leave and not to wait for the second, third or twentieth time, no matter the excuse he has or she tells herself. That her confidence, character and contentment within herself are what make her attractive and that's far better than the perfectly poised, leggy, busty, shiny-haired, designer-draped stunner who's pumped full of laxatives and secretly hating herself. I would tell her to love fully, live freely and speak kindly, to embrace every walk of life no matter what the cool crowd says, to wear sunscreen, stop when she's full, and know that five drinks are more than enough. I'd tell her to be honest (mostly importantly, with herself), to confess and confide in loved ones, despite what they say; that we're all in this together and sharing our struggles makes all the difference, to chart her own course and not be constricted by other's opinions, rules or ideals. I would tell her that her scars from those that are narrow-minded, insecure and unfulfilled make her far more interesting and compassionate. And, I would tell her to have fun, not to worry so much, not to be so hard on herself. I'd tell her that she'll be okay and that, ultimately, things work out and those that don't are one hell of a lesson, not to mention, story.

Then again, perhaps she could tell me a thing or two. Despite life's uncertainties, she was a confident, fearless dreamer, seeing the good in everything, not yet tainted by anything or anyone with a glimmer in her eye and on an insatiable quest for the best, taking advantage of all that life had to offer and making no excuses or apologies. She was actually quite impressive. I hope there's still some of her in me. I hope I've made her proud. The journey continues...