Letter to my 18-Year-Old Self

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What advice would you tell your fresh-out-of-high-school self? I sat down and wrote a letter to mine and here’s what I had to say.

Letter to my 18-year-old self

Today is my 10-year high school reunion.

It’s one of those events you think about and joke with friends over the years, debating how people will change: who’ll be married to who, who’ll be living where, and blah blah blah. 

I suppose reunions aren’t what they once were. It’s a little different now that Facebook has us all connected and intertwined so much that it feels as if you know everything people are doing – even if you haven’t spoken since graduation day.

I recently moved a couple thousand miles away from home, so sadly I’m not able to go to my reunion. (The PNW is bit too far from Minneapolis to casually swing on by.)

So instead of reconnecting with old friends and sharing stories from the past decade, I’m going to reconnect with myself.

Hmmm… that came out weird.

What I mean is mingling isn’t the only purpose of reunions. It’s also a place to remember who you were back in high school.

As I reflect on the last 10 years, I realize that I’m still the same person in a lot of ways, but there are so many more ways I have grown and changed. And when I think about who I was and what I valued at 18, I realize there’s a lot I wish I knew about myself and about the world.

I certainly don’t have it all figured out and I hope I never do because the moment you stop learning and growing is the moment you cease to really live. But I do wish I could impart some wisdom and valuable lessons on my 18-year-old self.

So here it goes – a letter to a younger me…

Dear 18-year-old Katie,

By law you’re an adult now. You can vote, buy a lottery ticket and smoke cigarettes if you really wanted to. I know you think now that the wearing the title of “adult” means you know everything. You think you have a plan. You think you know yourself and how the world works. But let me tell you, you’re never going to know it all or have life all figured out.

And that’s okay.

But there’s a few pieces of advice that I’m dying to share with you. So humor me, younger Katie, and listen… 

1. Learn to live in the moment because you’ll never get this time back. You’re never guaranteed tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the day after that. So make today a good one.

2. Get to know yourself. Your opinions, your passions, what makes your heart pound faster. And pursue those things fervently.

3. Try sushi. You’re gonna love it!

4. Don’t underestimate the power of kindness. Even a small act or simple words can make someone’s day a little brighter. You’ll experience many forms of kindness over the next 10 years. Make sure to give back.

5. Technology is going to advance in ways you can’t even imagine, but don’t forget to go old-school every once in a while. Call instead of text. Send a handwritten note to a friend.

6. Experiences are worth more than material things. In a few months that trendy new top you just had to have will be out of style, but the memory of an impromptu 2-hour road trip just to visit a friend will last a lifetime. 

7. Listen to others. Like really listen. Especially if they have opinions different than your own.

8. You know all that stuff they say about sunscreen? It’s true. Wear it. Every damn day.

9. Study abroad. Never in your life will you have an opportunity to live in another country with new friends and with near to no responsibilities.

10. You’ll learn to love your freckles. Yes, really. (And your future husband will think they’re cute.) 

11. Be kind to your parents. Soon you’ll see that they really do know best (most of the time!).

12. Believe in yourself and try not to compare yourself to others. It is the least constructive thing you can do.

13. Success means different things to different people. Find out what it means to you and pursue it, even if it’s not the traditional definition.

14. Spend time on your hobbies. Try rock climbing and painting with watercolors. Learn how to cook Indian food and practice yoga. And remember that you don’t have to master it all.

15. You don’t have to have your entire life planned out. There’s something beautiful about the possibilities that come when you don’t have a plan.

16. Disappointment is not only part of life, but it is healthy. Things won’t always turn out as you plan, and you’ll have to learn how to live with that and get stronger instead of discouraged. Things have a tendency of working out in ways you may not expect.

17. Ice cream fixes everything. EVERYTHING.

18. Don’t worry so much about money. Don’t spend it recklessly, but don’t make decisions solely based on dollar signs. Take that camp counselor job, even though it pays $1.50 an hour. Fly home for important events, even if you’re halfway around the world and the price makes your eyes water. Managing your finances is important, yes, but don’t let it dictate your life.

19. Relationships are the best investment you can make. Be there for your friends when they need you, and stick to your word. Pay attention to who your real friends are and make sure they know how much your value them.

20. Learn about the world. Read global news. Study geography. Learn about cultures and religions different than your own. Learn another language. Don’t give up on Spanish…

21. That silly redheaded boy you’re so smitten with will make one hell of a husband. (But please, dear God, tell him to shave off that ridiculous chin beard. He won’t be able to grow proper facial hair until his late twenties.)

Katie and Ben's Chin Beard

22. Be kind to your body. It can do amazing things, like climb mountains and swim across lakes and run marathons. Speak to it with affirmation and be mindful about what you put in it.

23. Be brave and don’t be scared of change. Take risks (like buying a one-way flight to Colombia or teaching English in South Korea or moving across the country to work at a ski resort).

24. As beautiful as change is, cherish the things that stay the same – like friendships that you can jump back into like no time has passed, or Minnesota sports that, without fail, always disappoint. (Except for the Lynx, because women rule.)

25. Live up every minute of college. Have fun. Be irresponsible. But work hard too. Cherish the time you spend living with friends. Once you graduate, there’s far fewer mornings spent rehashing the previous night’s blurry events. And weirdly, you’ll miss those moments.

26. Take some fun college classes. Yoga, jewelry making, wine tasting, gender and sexuality… Take ‘em all! And get to know your professors.

27. Perfectionism is boring. Stop being so hard on yourself and know that it’s okay to be vulnerable and show weakness.

28. Understand the ripple effect of your actions. Be wary about what your money is funding, and try your best to support companies that are doing good things in their communities. Educate yourself on ethical travel, sustainable living and shopping locally.

29. There’s more good in this world than bad, even though the headlines may not make it seem that way. Focus on the good. And try each day to bring just a little more light into this world.

The next 10 years are going to be amazing. Get excited, get nervous, get curious. Get ready to feel all emotions, because that’s what life is. And yours is a beautiful one.


Your older (and hopefully sorta wiser) self

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