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Dear 17-Year-Old Natalie

Part I: the general stuff you need to know right now

Dear 17-year-old self,

Eleventh grade stinks just as much as you think it does. At 17, you feel like an adult (sometimes), but you still have all of the rules and regulations that comes with being a high schooler. Though you feel like the people around you should be with you forever--and the thought of being separated from them feels like torture--you will realize that moving away from those closest to you is an inevitable part of growing up. Don't worry: you will grow apart from your high school friends, but you will always, always keep them in your heart and think of them fondly as you all go to the right colleges for each of you, begin your careers, move far and wide, and start families of your own.

First day of school, 2001. Embrace the uniform!
The gang, 12th grade year. Shannon's 18th birthday. (L to R) Sims, Stephanie, Liz, Shannon, Katrina, Claire, me, Nicole and Anna-Kate
Don't worry so much about finding a boyfriend...and especially don't waste time mooning over those boys who don't pay you an ounce of attention. While I acknowledge that crushing on a boy sometimes has to be done, make sure you remember it's called a crush for a reason--because you'll sometimes feel like your heart is an aluminum can in a trash compactor. And, for heaven's sake, don't tell half the school who  you're crushing on. Trust me on this one; knowledge can only lead to complete and utter embarrassment when you know your crush has no hope of returning your affections. There will be other boys, boys who return your affection, boys who like you for all of those quirky oddities that make you feel like you're completely unlovable right now. They won't care that you're tall and gangly and completely un-athletic, that you'd rather read than play video games, that you're smart and have plans; in fact, these boys (the good ones!) will be proud to be your boyfriend because of these traits. Then one day, in about two years, you'll find that boy, the one that changes everything. And then the two of you will never feel whole without the other from that day on. He's worth the wait.

Landon and Natalie, summer 2004.
Love your parents, even though doing so can feel very, very difficult at times. These are the people who loved you and comforted you through thick and thin, so trust them when they advise you not to get a tattoo before seriously thinking about it. They were right about the six or seven ear piercings you want right now--when you grow up, you'll be glad you only stuck with the two. Your mom and dad are right to watch over who your friends are now. Even though you think that everyone is good and honest like you are, Mama and Daddy know better. Don't get mad when they ask where you're going and who you're going with and what time you'll be back. They want to be safe and healthy so you can go to college, get a job, get married, travel and have kids of your own. Appreciate your little sister: she will grow to be your very best friend if you let her. Even though the two of you fight sometimes now, you will miss her like you didn't think was possible when you go off to college in a year.

Family Christmas card, 2011.
Cling to that wild, adventurous self that you have deep inside. You will have so many opportunities to travel, so never be afraid to go somewhere new or try something difficult. Sometimes all you need is a little bravery. I promise, even if your world seems small right now, you will do so much by the time you're 27: go to England 4 times; study abroad in one of the greatest cities in the world; eat a chocolate croissant in Paris; see a real conch on Andros Island; go ziplining in St. Martin; see where your ancestors are from in Loch Lomond (Scotland); meet Johnny Depp, Brittany Murphy and Elton John; go scuba diving in Key West; commune with William Wordsworth at Tintern Abbey; and visit Lucy Maud Montgomery's house on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia. Fight for these opportunities, as they will put your entire life into perspective.

San Juan, Puerto Rico. August 2008.
St. Andrews Cathedral, St. Andrews, Scotland. November 2011.
Work hard in school. I know you hear it from Mama and Daddy constantly, but all of that studying will be worth it. You'll be completely prepared for college, and, when you go to Clemson, you rock the socks off your classes! You'll graduate Clemson magna cum laude and with Calhoun honors, and you'll get to wear lots of fun medals and stuff at graduation. If nothing else, work hard for the rock star gear at that ceremony. You'll eventually go to a great graduate program in English Literature, which will, in turn, land you a fantastic job when you're 26. Keep studying!

Clemson Graduation, May 2007.
Know that failure sometimes is an option. Law school--the place you've been working towards since you were twelve--is not actually where you need to be. Knowing when to quit something, whether it be a course of study, a job or a relationship, is more important than just about anything else. It's okay to say "no" sometimes. You'll go through some messy breakups, and you will be called selfish and hurtful and many other things, but realize this is the other person's hurt coming through. Ending a relationship is selfish because you are putting your feelings over that of the other person's, but if the relationship's not working, it's just not working. You will both feel better after the dust settles again...and, in the long run, the break-up will be better for all involved.

And above all, know that life is a journey. Don't rush one part because you're trying to get to another. It's not all wonderful, but it is all a learning experience. People will come and go in your life. You will change your own perspectives on the world. But through it all, love your family and love yourself. You are an amazing person.

Love,

The 27-year-old Natalie

(Update 9/15/2012: Linked up with Chatting with the Sky's Dear Teenage Self linky party)

Wnat to see what the almost-30 year old Natalie has to say to 17-year-old Natalie? Read here.