A Letter To 16-Year-Old Me From 23-Year-Old Me

Jeffrey Wegrzyn

I won’t bother to ask how you’re holding up; I already know the answer. Life for you has been cruel and unfair since a young age. Before pain and suffering capture your good heart, I hope you know that even when you’re pushed to the very edge of defeat, everything will be okay.

To be fair and honest, the last seven years of life have been a challenge. The hopes you had for your future did not go as planned, and you’ve been detached and derailed on more than one occasion. Your most prominent adolescent concerns seem minuscule to me at age 23. I wish I could tell you about a bigger world ahead, greater obstacles to overcome and valuable lessons to learn. But at age 16, you, and most others your age were mostly concerned with the social aspect of being a teenager and fitting in with a far too judgmental crowd.

What a small world you live in, confined by the walls of a 3-story building amongst 1,200 other high school students. Back then, that was the only world that mattered. Opinions outside those doors were irrelevant. What would come of your future seemed too far out to consider on a deeper level. Your days were directed by a class schedule, a part-time job, and a curfew. All you had to do was play by the rules. Stay out of trouble. Do your homework. Be safe.

I remember despising the limitations you faced on a daily basis as if teachers and figures of authority were dictating your every move. Where was your freedom? What happened to learning from your mistakes? I wish I could say the lack of boundaries and the independence you have now made everything better. Quite honestly, I wish I could revert back to a restricted way of life.

The harsh reality of growing up will surface over time not only through your eyes, but also in the lives of your peers. You’ll hear drug overdose take the lives of classmates you’ve known since grade school. The news will tell you of a multi-year jail sentence for students who smiled and waved as you passed in the hallway. You’ll run into an old friend who suffered when life hit hard. He’ll drop out of college before the end of his freshman year and he won’t return.

Becoming an adult can take its toll, and more often than not, you’ll feel lost and out of place in a world that wasn’t meant for you. All you can do is breathe. Remind yourself to feel lucky for having the strength to persevere.

Life will deliver difficulties you could have never anticipated. Heartbreak will injure you when you were certain it wouldn’t. You’ll never be the same, but your strength will slowly redevelop as life continues to steer you forward.  Though I hoped otherwise, I’ve found that time does not heal all wounds. The phrase neglects to share that a cut with enough depth will certainly scar.

And although nothing truly gets easier as you grow older, life will still be wonderful. In the years to come, you’ll be blessed with love, laughter, and wisdom. Spontaneity will enrich your soul. Adrenaline will occupy your blood. You’ll travel through life and learn that you must love yourself before you accept it from someone else. You’ll understand the boundaries of friendship, and life itself will challenge the comfort of family. I hope you know that your existence will be both blissful and tragic, but either way, it will remain beautiful. Life is short, but life is sweet. My only advice? Don’t ever give up. TC mark

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