An Open Letter to my Teenage Self

So I’m turning 20 tomorrow and feeling nostalgic about no longer being able to call myself an official teenager. In the past I used to be pretty sad the day before my birthday (I was an emotional child; Toy Story 2 ruined me and I used to get paranoid that my toys were upset I wasn’t playing with them). The thought of getting older was always an intimidating one, and I didn’t like the idea of with each passing year moving further away from a carefree childhood into the realms of responsibility. I have become accustomed to said-responsibility now, and so am not feeling sad about no longer being 19 – 20 is just another number to get used to – but I am very aware that I’m closing the chapter on an important part of my life. Adolescence is a rollercoaster of an era, and as I say goodbye to the teens I thought I’d look back and write a letter for each year to my teenage self.

Dear 13-year-old Tess…

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(Actually 11 here but this photo is hilariously awful)

  • Your period will have started for the first time 2 weeks ago today, and you feel world-weary, as though your childhood has come to an end. It hasn’t, I promise. You aren’t automatically an Adult now, and you have plenty of opportunity to make mistakes. Periods will be an inconvenience (and a sucky one at that) for the next 40 years or so, but it’s an inconvenience you share with 50% of the planet’s population. You get used to it and will share so many period-related stories at sleepovers that make you cry with laughter you won’t feel as alone as you do now either. Keep playing with the kids next-door, they’ll be your friends for life, and spend time with your brother. The Twilight Series is awful; Team Jacob is the wrong choice, and so is Team Edward. Seriously. Team Bella is the way to go because Kristen Stewart is a babe.

Dear 14-year-old Tess…

  • Teenage angst has set in in full force for you. Lots of writing long-sprawling entries in your diary in very very small handwriting when you’re sad, and big loopy letters when you’re happy. I’m pleased to report that the acne will clear up over the next year or so, but you probably should invest in a cleanser. The little notebooks dedicated to healthy eating, smart books to read and ‘extra-curricular academic expansion’ won’t come to anything, but that’s okay. Self-improvement isn’t documented in to-dos and checklists. Don’t worry so much about school. I know it’s hard not to when the homework feels endless, but perfectionism is only going to make it worse. I know you think you’re appalling but take up a sport. Stick with Girlguides too, even if it feels a little lame right now.

Dear 15-year-old Tess…

  • GCSEs are not the end of the world, school work isn’t the end of the world (I know, the parents keeping banging on about this and you keep telling them they don’t ‘get it’ but they do). Don’t feel guilty about passing notes in Chemistry, because in the long run being best friends with the girl sitting next to you is the best decision you’ve ever made, and far more valuable than knowing about ionic bonds. Embrace Maths for all its futility, because Miss Hitchen lies and you really won’t ever need trigonometry after Year 11. Please don’t keep hating your body, it serves you so well. You’re healthy and strong and being gawkily tall is really going to come into its own one day. Your 16th birthday is going to be a lovely warm one, and you should wear shorts like everyone else at your party, but I know you won’t.

Dear 16-year-old Tess…

  • The cliques feel insurmountable at such a late stage in schooling, but try talking to more people in your year group. You’ll end up feeling impossibly fond of most of them by the time you leave and it is worth getting to know them now. Keep writing for fun – you really aren’t as bad as you think, and you’re only going to get better with time. Stop comparing yourself to others academically, it can be done and you’ll wish you started so much earlier. Romney doesn’t win the election, don’t panic. Unfortunately, someone so much worse than him is going to be worth your rants in the future (spoilers). Don’t give so much of your heart and time to people who don’t return the favour; you’ll save yourself a lot of sleepless nights. Listen to Mum on that one.

Dear 17-year-old Tess…

  • There’s a lot of pressure on you right now. More pressure and responsibility than you ever thought possible, and you will sometimes feel like cracking under it. Don’t feel like you’re an embarrassment, or letting people down – you’re doing the best you can, and that’s all anyone can do. Jumpers and yearbooks and dinner invitations are not going to define the rest of your life. When it gets too much, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Teachers are human (anyone in a position of authority, is, ultimately, human) and they are going to be more understanding than you know. That being said, when said-teachers say dumb things, don’t be afraid to call them out on it. Adults, as you are learning, have plenty of flaws. If we’re being honest, they are really just big kids with wrinkles and debt. Enjoy your History lessons; you won’t meet any lecturer at university who can hold a candle to Eadie. Embrace self-deprecating humour as a self-defence mechanism, it works wonders. Remember that you can’t always fully understand people, no matter how much you want to.

Dear 18-year-old Tess…

  • You enter adulthood in the middle of A levels, but will have a chance to celebrate with family and friends after. You’ll be pleased to know the hard-work pays off, and you were right to go with your gut feeling when it came to UCAS options; Exeter accept you, and it’s one of the best feelings in the world. I’m afraid that your first year at university is going to be very hard, but not in the way you think it will. In fact, it’s going to be the hardest year you’ve ever had, and you’ll cry on Christmas day because you don’t think it’s going to get better – but it will. You read ‘Desiderata’ by Max Ehrman and you get through it. Choosing not to drop out is the right decision. Those nerds who live two floors up are so worth trekking up the stairs for, and they’ll stick with you and give you dorky feel-better gifts. Keep on keeping on. You’ve made a great stab at university life (even if you’re a complete plonker for being too scared to go along to the basketball team taster session.)

Dear 19-year-old Tess…

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My beach bday

  • Your 19th birthday starts in the exam hall and ends on a beach at sunset, with one too many ciders and surrounded by your friends. It feels like it’s too good to be true, but it is true. You feel so proud of making it through, and you should be; you’ll still be proud a whole year later. Your whole last year of teenage-ness is stretching out before you, and I’m happy to say you make a lot of good choices. Dragging Molly along to the basketball taster session in Freshers’ Week is one of them; a guy there will give you his business card, and you should say yes in a heartbeat, because you’ll fall in love with the sport more than you would have thought possible. The study abroad placement works out just fine too; so try not to bore everyone to death with your worries about it. In your final year of adolescence, you learn that honesty isn’t always the best policy, and it’s a hard lesson but an important one.

Dear Teenage me,

Life is not going to go the way you currently think it will, at least, not all of it. Some things go to plan – and in a lot of ways, the quote ‘I can remember the days I used to dream of all the things I have now’ is very applicable. However some things don’t. You’re dreaming of a whole lot of things right now; of stopping growing when you hit 6 feet, of being model slim, of having someone fall head-over-heels in love with you before you hit your twenties. None of those things will happen, but what happens instead is worth all the more. Try not to worry so much. You don’t need to measure everything in certificates and achievements. Life is worth so much more than schoolwork (though hard work pays off), and fun things can just sometimes be for fun. Don’t beat yourself up at not meeting your own standards; no one holds you to anything.

Always remember how much you are loved.

Love,

Tess x

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