Advice to My Teenage Self

Posted: November 13, 2011 in ADHD, Life, living
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

If you could write a letter to yourself when you were sixteen, what would you say?

Joseph Galliano, an editor, has compiled a list of letters from people many of us know, and has created a book from that collection, entitled “Dear Me.  A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self”.


What would I say?

It would go something like this:


Hi there.  There’s some stuff you should know.

First off:  trust your instincts.  Remember how troubled you felt when that guy came to pick up your sister for a date?  Remember how normal he seemed, and yet you couldn’t shake off a feeling of danger?  Well, sadly, you were right.  Your sis was OK and everything, but it got pretty dicey for a while there.  The man was dangerous and you were right to be afraid for her.   You have an instinct that borders on ESP.  Don’t worry that it sounds all airy-fairy – just go with it.  Trust yourself.  It doesn’t mean you should quickly judge everyone.  You’ll get older and wiser and soon you’ll be able to differentiate between prejudice and empathy.   You have the empathic spark though – don’t forget it.

Oh, and to help you along:  here’s one indicator of the difference.  Empathic awareness is insistent and relentless and often has no bearing on perceived logic at the time.   Prejudice on the other hand, isn’t nearly as urgent, and it tends to rationalize – usually based upon someone else’s opinion, presented as fact.  It’s almost a form of laziness.  You’ll understand.  It’s just a matter of time and unending curiosity.

Which brings me to another point.  Remember how your dad criticized you for thinking all the time?  Remember how weird that seemed?  Well he was wrong.  This is actually one of your best qualities, and it will serve you well.  Though you’re not great at school (and by the way, forget about trying to memorize names and dates – I’ll tell you why in a minute), your curiosity will take you through life in an amazing way.  You’ll learn so much, just because you thought to question.  And you know what else?   This is a side benefit of your curiosity:  people love to talk.  Especially about themselves.  So ask them, and just enjoy their experience.  It’s sort of what makes you tick.

Which brings me to another point.   If you’re curious enough, and ask the right people, you can probably avoid a lot of years of spinning your wheels in frustration.  Start slowly, but work on it constantly.  Ask questions from people who don’t share your religious beliefs.  Get to know what life is like for people who don’t go to your church. It’s important.  Read some of the great philosophers (if you can – I know how hard it is to get into intricately detailed books.  There’s a reason for that.  More later.).

There is such a great value and such pleasure available to you when you learn to open your mind up a bit.

Oh, and something else:  remember how you sought out the advice of a school counsellor during those times when your father was creating a living hell on earth at home?  Remember how you sat in her office and told her about how he would get so drunk and so angry, and everyone was afraid – and about how you called the cops on him?

Well that was a good starting point for you, but it wasn’t the end.   In between all of that crap you sort of got lost.  You thought your identity was with the church, because people there were really nice, and they welcomed you so gladly.  Their hearts were real, and they really did like you, but you made a tiny little mistake:  you thought you had to be like them.  I mean, exactly like them.  You mimicked them so closely that you really had no idea who you were.  Oh, I know you think you did, but trust me, you didn’t.  You tried so hard to be the social chameleon out of habit:  you knew that in order to survive in that hellish house, you had to figure out what The Beast wanted at any given time, and manoeuvre yourself accordingly.  You learned how to placate and accommodate, as this is what your eight year old self figured out, to survive.  You knew if you did this, maybe The Beast wouldn’t hurt anyone.  You had no idea back then, that what you did didn’t really matter.   He was looking for an excuse to lash out.

I think you should take the time to see a doctor and get yourself sorted out.   You lack one major thing right now – self awareness.  Once you have that, you’ll be on your way.

When you’re talking with the doc, also share with him about how much you hate school projects, and why.  Tell him too about all of your clumsiness and accidents.  It’s important.  Tell him about how you daydream all the time, and forget so many things.  Tell  him about those comments in your report cards, where the teacher says “could do better if he applied himself”.  About how you’re always late, and always always ALWAYS have to run to school every morning to get to band class, because you’re just not able to ever leave on time.   What you’re going through is not normal – and hopefully the doc will pick up on that.

Pay attention to what you like in school, and what you don’t like.  Indulge your love of music and dramatic arts.   It’s part of who you are.  Find ways to get more involved.  Forget about what others tell you that you *should* do, relative to class courses.  Take up the drama class, and join the drama club too.  There’s a brilliant teacher there – get to know him, even though he’s a little frightening, because he’s abrupt and cold, and because he’s really big, like your dad.

Even though your history teacher is amazing – because he brings history to life so well, – you’re going to find yourself hating it in Grade 13.   The new teacher will want the class to memorize names and dates for everything – and you’d rather get into a fight with a school bully than do that.  The daydreaming at this point will be your downfall and you’ll want to give up.  And maybe you should.  But not for long.   Being a kid, you think that you should be able to do everything, or nothing.  You’re kind of black and white like that.  It won’t occur to you (which is why I’m telling you now) that everyone has strengths in certain things, while they suck at others.  You’re never going to be an academic – you’re intelligent enough, but it’s just not who you are.   You won’t work in the trades either.  You don’t know it, but your strength is in people, and in entertainment, and in the arts.  This is not a bad thing.  These are the things that excite you, and get your heart racing.

There are other things to tell you but they should be a surprise.  You’re going to go through some heavy stuff, but if you follow all of the above advice, you’ll at least establish a firm and trustworthy foundation for dealing with them.  Some of the harsh stuff will bring some interesting surprises that you’ll love.

One last thought: some of the best plans never work out.  What is true for you today might not be true tomorrow.    Trust yourself, and trust your instincts.  The one seed for your tree of life never changes:  you must live.  Not just survive, and not just tolerate.  You probably have no idea what I mean by this, so search out a book, called “Jitterbug Perfume”.  Read it one time so that you satisfy your curiosity about the plot.  And when it’s done, read it again.


So.  What would you write to yourself?  Better yet – if you feel like it, write a blog, and provide a link to it in the comments here.

  1. Wow, now that is a well thought out letter to life by.


    • wolfshades says:


      You know – in reading the book that inspired this, I noticed a number of common themes. Many of the personalities wanted their younger selves to take better care of themselves, ranging from “don’t smoke” to “go easy on the illicit drugs” to “don’t take any drugs at all, because you’ll find out you’re easily addicted”. Many of them (mostly the women) said their younger selves needed to relax more, and not get so caught up in other people’s judgement. A few were gay: one of them said “don’t shy away from who you are – enjoy your freedom” while another said “for now, keep quiet and don’t let anyone know. You’re in a dangerous setting and it’s best that you wait until you’re done with high school – when this too shall pass.” (All paraphrased)

      It was a fascinating read.


  2. Koopa says:

    hi wolfshades, thanks for the good post. I’ll try to create a post to this topic…


  3. What a great fun post — I was thinking I’d write a letter to my teenage self, but the only thing I’d want to tell myself is: “Hey Carmen, buy stock in Apple and buy LOTS of it!”



    • wolfshades says:

      *grin* Quite a few of the people who wrote their letters in the book said the same. One said “look for stocks with child-like names and buy them up. Like Yahoo! and Google and Apple.”


  4. I actually did this already. Initially posted on Myspace, then later on my blogspot. You can find it here: – if you want to read it.

    I enjoyed your letter to yourself. I wouldn’t have listened back then. Too headstrong… Would you have listened at that age? Teens are so complicated and I am sure we were no exception!

    I’m looking forward to reading some more. I’ll check back.


    • wolfshades says:

      I think if it was me saying it to myself, I’d have listened for sure. That’s the beauty of it – the exercise presumes you can get past that dynamic common to most teens.

      I’ll go read your blog now. By the way – did you maintain a place on MySpace or did you do as so many of us (including me) did and kill your account there?


  5. This is great, Doug. I could certainly relate to the daydreaming and ‘if he applied himself!” Grr!! That’s all I did and the harder I tried the more panicked I got and the less productive I got. Wash, rinse, repeat. I was even physically abused for not being able to pay attention in the 7th grade by the principal that was a nun of all things! A supposed representative of God or love or Christianity or whatever, slapped me repeatedly and told me “get my shit together!” That pretty much set the tone for the rest of my failed school career. Until 25 years after I was supposed to graduate. I’m busy writing and living that chapter of my life as a student now. :)


    • wolfshades says:

      Wow. Really! You went through that too? Man, that stinks doesn’t it? So I have to ask: did you ever have a discussion with the doctor about all of this? Hint: I did, and found out I had ADHD all of my life and didn’t know it.

      The main thing for you now is that you’ve found something you love to do. I think that’s great. What are you studying?


  6. I love the way you differentiated between empathetic awareness and prejudice. Nicely done.

    And the last bit where you say to trust yourself and remember that you must live… It touched me to the core, Wolf.

    I see you. :)


    • wolfshades says:

      I know you do. :)

      You know – I’m once again going through The Book (not that one. Jitterbug. :)). It’s why you’re seeing more quotes showing up lately. Going *really* *slowly* through it this time. It’s a little tough getting around Pan sometimes (Robbins is sometimes not the easiest read), but there’s a hell of a lot of truth in there. Just reading it invigorates me, like a spiritual shot of B-12. The air seems fresher somehow. I know you know what I mean.

      Took me a while to sort out the empathy/prejudice thing. Still have to check once in a while though – and that’s probably as it should be.

      So….are you going to talk to the teenage BFG?


      • It’s been so long since I’ve written anything… I’ll think about it. :0)

        I’ve gone through Jitterbug several times and each time I go more slowly than the last. I, too, get bogged down at times, Robins has a wondering mind, but it’s so worth the read. I’ve been enjoying reading your snippets on fb.


  7. I adore this post. And i’m comforted that i wasn’t the only one who “thought too much.”



    • wolfshades says:

      I know, right? Like “thinking too much” is a bad thing. I didn’t get it then, and I don’t understand it now.



      • I used to feel oddly ashamed of being someone who was constantly chastised for thinking too much, but I also felt vaguely sorry for all those people who apparently weren’t thinking. Now when I’m accused of thinking too much I typically respond with, “Perhaps the problem is that you don’t think enough…” :)


  8. Momma Fargo says:

    Great post. I guess it got me thinking about myself. Never have given these things much thought until you brought it up. Bravo!


  9. izziedarling says:

    I absolutely LOVE this post. Love. I was struck by the statement “some of the best plans never work out” … I like to think that they weren’t the “best” plans at all, lessons instead.


    • wolfshades says:

      Agreed. And one of those lessons might be an understanding that we’re not as static as we think we are. Thus, our “best plan” presumes that the way we are right now, the person we are today, will be true tomorrow. And that’s not always the case.

      Glad you stopped by, Izzie. Haven’t seen you in a while. :)


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