I love birthdays, and this is the last Fangirl Thursday before I turn the big 2-7 next week. Birthdays always seem to make me nostalgic now (Maybe that’s a side-effect of getting older.), so today I’ve been thinking a lot about who I was 10 years ago—the 17-year-old nerdy girl about to embark on her last year of high school before entering a big, scary future. And then it hit me—some of you reading this might be 17 years old right now (or even younger), and I suddenly knew exactly what I wanted today’s Fangirl Thursday post to be about.
Letters have been very important to me lately, so today I’m going to write another one. However, this time I’m going to write to a real person—the person I was 10 years ago. Maybe—hopefully—those of you reading this at a similar point in your life will find something good to take away from it. And maybe those of you who feel like sharing could write some advice you’d give your younger self in the comments.
I feel like I’m writing this to you from the other side of a canyon. So the first thing I want to say to you is simply this: You make it to the other side. There are times when it’s going to be scary and lonely and difficult—times when you feel like you’re going to crash if you look down—but you make it. You reach a place where you feel comfortable in your skin, where you feel proud not just of what you accomplish but of who you are—all of who you are. Your life isn’t perfect 10 years into the future—and it’s certainly not what you think it’s going to be in 2005—but you’re happy. And trust me, you’re going to reach a point where that becomes the most important thing, even though it’s going to take you a lot longer than it should to reach that point.
You’re a nerd, Katie, and you need to stop acting like that’s something you need to hide from people. It’s a part of you—the part that cries when you think about Alias ending, the part that downloads fan videos about Charlie from Lost, the part that still reads Star Wars fan fiction (You never stop doing that, by the way.)…Being a nerdy girl isn’t something to be ashamed of; it’s something to own with pride. Ten years from now, it’s going to be the way you define yourself to the world at large, and no one who matters is going to think less of you for it. In fact, proudly calling yourself a nerd is going to draw people to you like never before.
You care a lot, and I know that sometimes it bothers you to feel things as strongly as you do—especially when it comes to how much you care about your favorite movies, TV shows, and books. It makes you feel weird sometimes, so you try not to show how much things matter to you. I’m here to tell you that it’s okay to care about things. It’s okay to love things deeply and to never want to stop talking about them. It’s okay to spend hours reading Harry Potter message boards or memorizing your favorite Disney World planning book. What’s not okay is making fun of yourself for it in front of other people. There’s a line between not taking yourself too seriously and not taking yourself seriously enough. It’s going to take years for you to figure out how to walk that line, but people are eventually going to respect you for the things you’re afraid they’ll mock you for now.
The world isn’t kind to teenage girls. I know you feel like your passion for things is a joke to people older than you, but forget them. Don’t listen to anyone who wants to make you feel small or silly for liking what you like. Don’t lose that passion, and don’t be afraid to show it more often. Don’t let people silence you because you’re afraid of being made fun of for talking about what you love. I know it’s scary to be sincere, but it’s worth it. There’s a whole world of people out there talking about what they love with the same passion you have. Find them. Hold on to them. Join them.
I know you read those SD-1 message boards and dream of being a part of the kind of community you’re too afraid to join right now. I’m here to tell you that one day you’ll stop being afraid. It’ll be another few years and another few TV shows from now, but you’ll stop lurking in the shadows of fandom. And it will make you so happy. You’ll find whole communities and chosen families of people who understand you and support you. With their help, you’ll become more comfortable showing your whole self to the rest of the world.
That’s the biggest thing I want to tell you—it may seem like you have to jump over the canyon on your own. But that isn’t true at all. There will be times when you have to take leaps of faith and go it alone. But most of the time, you’ll find people who will want to help you make a bridge from one side to the other. You don’t know what this means right now because you won’t meet Leslie Knope for a long time, but “no one achieves anything alone.” You’re going to meet so many wonderful people in the next 10 years, and you need to know that most of them come into your life and stay there because you’re a nerd—not despite it.
The world wants to tell teenage girls like you that it’s not cool to care. But I know that you know better. You’ll never be cynical, but you’ll waste too much time trying to be because you think that’s what adults need to be in order to be taken seriously. I’m here to tell you that’s a bunch of junk. Love Disney unashamedly. Hope every single year for the Bills and Sabres to have great seasons. Talk openly and honestly about being moved by the stories and characters you love. You’re a nerd. And here’s a little secret—so is everyone else. Most people are still just too afraid to embrace their ability to care about things. I know you don’t always feel brave, but embracing your nerdy side makes you braver than you ever thought you could be. It changes your life in ways you’ll never expect.
You’re a nerdy girl, and your future is infinitely brighter because of that.
This is beautiful, sweetie. Thank you for sharing it with us! And while it won’t be the only time I say it, happy early birthday ❤
I'm a couple years short of being 10 years out from the letter that my younger self needs the most. I think I was doing pretty well heading into my senior year. Between the cheerleading and relationship-related issues, I was doing alright on embracing the things that made me different. I was the girl who rocked the jeans and heels combo in high school and was very well known for my love of CSI and Sara in particular.
My advice needs to go to my 19 and 20 year old self.
I know you're hurting right now but are too proud to admit that to anyone but yourself. You're feeling let down by most of the people you had once considered friends and wondering if there is something wrong with you. There isn't.
I know this friendship meant a lot to you. And it sucks that it's over and while I can't say that the hurt ever fully goes away, you gave each other what you needed at the time. You came back together so you could move past the much older hurt because that was what you needed to do. Future you can't afford to hate them.
But as vulnerable and broken as the ending of this made you feel, please stop believing that everyone is eventually going to leave you. You already have friends who have proven that it's not true. I promise, years later though all of life's challenges, they are still standing here with you.
You are getting so close to the start of a new chapter in your life. You are going to rediscover who you are and find your confidence again (even though I know you don't think it's gone anywhere). You are going to find a new group of people who are so different than the people you grew up with. You are going to find a place where you fit. You're going to find a way of looking at the world that makes so much more sense than what you were taught.
Some of this will be a result of school. You're going to take a class soon that shows you something that you can be really excited and passionate about. Don't be embarrassed about the topic. Embrace it. It'll be good practice for school in the future and it makes you happy.
A bigger part will be because of something you've always been though I don't think you have much of a name for it yet. Babe, you're a nerdy fangirl. You are part of this huge community of people who love things and spend hours reading fic and theorizing about more shows and relationships than you currently know exist. You've seen some of that with Grissom and Sara and the YTDAW boards. You're going to find out that goes so far beyond that and it will change your life. It's going to give you new friends and a new hobby and a life you haven't imagined for yourself. Embrace it and love it because it's going to help make you into a person you love and are proud of.
All of this is going to sound ridiculous to you because you don't know you need it yet. You're so focused on looking back that you can't see what lies ahead. So start looking toward your future. Leave the past in the past and move on to a new and better you. It's pretty great over here.
Love, Future You
It is pretty great over here, isn’t it? 🙂
And just so you know, I love you and am proud of you too—today and always. ❤
I loved this Katie! I am glad you were able to embrace your nerdy side.
I was always pretty comfortable with my nerdy side. I earned my “weird girl” title in about the 6th grade but I didn’t really care much. I liked Bill Pullman and I didnt care who knew it.
I am going to get a little serious here, but if anything I wish I could go back and tell my younger self that its ok to admit to others that you are hurting and need help. 17 for me was the fall of 2001, and it was a very dark time for me and the nation as a whole. What brought it on is a long painful story I wont get into, but the way I dealt with it was to cut myself off from my immediate family. School was my refuge. I tried to avoid being home as much as possible, and when I was home I distracted myself with TV and my message boards. I didnt want to tell my friends what was happening because I am a stubborn pisces that doesn’t like burdening others with my problems. My friend picked me up and took me to school, my boyfriend’s family fed me and he was kind enough to make the 30 minute drive each way every night (I didnt have a car). My boyfriend kind of knew what was happening, but his parents were obviously not keen about me staying at their place, and it took 3 months of dreading going home every night, and crying myself to sleep before I gathered the courage to go see the counselor at school. It was right before Christmas break and I was terrified of having all that time with no school, and I finally got up the courage to go see her. I cant tell you how proud I am of me on that day. I am pretty sure I just spent the hour crying, but the fact that another adult understood that I was hurting and I needed help was such a relief. Ive actually never been able to ask my parents if the counselor called them that day (we still dont really talk about that time in our lives), but that night when I came home from school my mom came and apologized to me, and we were able to start working on putting things back together. I always assumed the school had called, because the coincidence just seemed too crazy. I didnt feel betrayed, I felt relived that they must of had the conversation that I wasnt brave enough to have myself. If I could say anything to my 17 year old self, it would be not to wait so long to get help. I could have saved myself a lot of very very hard days. And if I could give advice to any other teenager that has a hard time at home, I would encourage them to find an adult that they trust and ask for help. Feeling scared and alone and not having family you can turn to is really really hard. It makes me sad to think that when budgets get cut, these are the first things that go, because I honestly don’t know where I would be today without my school counselor. Ive definitely had times in my life since where I have found myself back in a therapist’s chair, but I have my 17 year old self on that day in December of 2001 to thank for making sure that I knew the importance of asking for help long before I was ready to give up.
I know it’s been over 10 years, but I’m proud of you for that day, too. Asking for help is so hard, and it’s something I still struggle with. So reading this actually means a lot to me. If I was writing another letter tonight, I’d write it to the 18-year-old version of me who was drowning in her anxiety but was too afraid to ask for help. I’d tell her to learn from your example and admit that she doesn’t have to always fight things on her own. I’d tell her to stop hurting herself and scaring the people who love her because she doesn’t know how to handle all the changes happening in her life. I’d tell her it’s okay to be scared and it’s okay to tell people she’s scared. You don’t have to shoulder this on your own.
So thank you for reminding me of the importance of knowing when you need someone’s help and being open enough to talk about what’s weighing you down. It’s something a younger version of me took too long to learn (and something current me is still learning very VERY slowly), and I’m so happy you discovered that important truth at such a formative age.
Katie this was so wonderful to read, thank you for sharing this. When I read this I had the idea of picking up one of my old diaries and I found an entry that hit me pretty hard today.
Dated 1-31-2006 when I was 16 years old
“Today at lunch, I started humming, smiling and laughing and (I was eating a fruit salad), when Michael asked if the celery fried my brain. I know he was only joking, but it hurt me a little because the thought that came to mind was “what if I’m grim all the time and that’s why people don’t like me?” I know its silly but its still important to me in a way I keep hoping there’s a miracle cure for socially impaired people, but that’s just what I don’t need. A Quick Fix.”
I haven’t thought of the phrase “socially impaired” since I wrote this and yet its exactly what I would call myself in my moments of doubt, when my anxiety and depression are at the forefront making me leave my work building with a smile on my face but the second I sit in my car and lock the door I break down crying and I don’t stop till I pull into my garage usually around a half hour later. I’ve spent most of my life using books, my favorite tv shows and films and music more than anything as an escape hatch from these issues and more than anything if I could write a letter to myself at this point in time I’d simply tell her
first off you are right on the point in that there is no Quick Fix to anything in life, because its complicated and messy and difficult a lot. But it can also be wonderful, inspiring, joyful, and make you laugh so hard your sides hurt and you end up drooling on the floor (yes that has happened to me a lot). I know you’re going to always be hard on yourself, but let me tell you a secret. As insecure and shy or “socially impaired” you feel most of the time, you’d be surprised how many people are feeling exactly the same around you, even if they put on a better front. Sure you aren’t the person people come up to smiling and crowding around, but having a group of people around you doesn’t mean they’re people you trust to tell you the truth when you need it, that you can count on as a true friend. I know you learn the hard way (and trust me I have), but how many people you have around you isn’t what matters its the quality of the person. Believe me when I say having two close best friends you know you can absolutely trust to be yourself around is worth far more than a thousand acquaintances.
I know you also have a penchant of sorts, for apologizing to people, and while its may seem like its a way to get along with them, in truth its a mechanism that I know is easy to rely on to make yourself feel like you aren’t constantly feeling like a burden to the people around you all the time by just talking to them. Trust me when I say you are not a burden, you are not someone people are going to automatically hate, you are hardly even someone people get annoyed at all the time, you are simply you. Kind, loyal to your friends (fiercely if you mess with them I’m breaking out the pitchforks), funny on accident a lot, enthusiastic endlessly about what makes you happy, from giving gifts to your friends at Christmas to squealing when your OTP has a great moment and everything in between. Truthfully I would just stress, please, do not ever be afraid to be yourself. If people do not like you or laugh at you, they are not worth your time or effort, and trust your instincts when it comes to figuring that part out, (they’re sharper than you give yourself credit for darling). Find your happy moments, and when the anxiety and doubt rolls in I’ll give you a Peggy Carter secret “I know my value, anyone else’s opinion doesn’t really matter.”
25 year old Sarah Elanor Thomas
PS. I’ll be honest I’m still working on a lot of this but I do have that Peggy Carter quote on my cube at work and having the chance to write this was more helpful than I can say so for the opportunity Katie, I thank you! 🙂
Thank you so much for your openness and bravery sharing this with us. You are 100% right when you say that other people are struggling with feeling shy/awkward/socially impaired too, so you’re never alone, Sarah. Remember that Peggy Carter quote and hold on to it forever. It’s the absolute truth. ❤
I’ve done an awful lot of crying today. So here goes:
First – Katie, you are a lighthouse. Your beacon is far and offers the promise of safe shores. It was a light that helped bring me out of a darkness. And your brave, optimistic soul never ceases to amaze me.
Second – Ladies of NGN – your bravery, beauty, and souls humble me. It is such an honor to be a part of this wonderfully weird chosen family. I am fuller, happier and inspired more each day because of it.
My 12 and 22 year old self were very self reliant, self assured and sometimes self destructive. They bred confidence and when fear crept in, bravado to get me through until I could find solid footing. A pioneer in my family, the one who went left when everyone else went right I relished being alone and found self love to hide the self loathing. So my letter is also to someone 10 years ago. My 32 year old self.
I know you are terrified. Life has dealt you a hand you could have never envisioned. It doesn’t matter that the summer you were 11 you had recurring dreams that you would be a single parent. It doesn’t matter that everything decision you made a year ago when you moved to Washington, DC was to eventually become a parent. What matters is you were right. You were right the moment that you decided to shut down the noise and listen to your gut. Your choices today, this summer will set up a path that is hard, is confusing, is riddled with second guesses and fear of failure. You will make choices you would never make if not for the fact that you have a child to raise. But you will discover in the quiet moments that your instincts today will pay vast dividends. It will take some time. But try not to lose sight of the fact that your strength comes from knowing you walked through the fear, in spite of feeling paralyzed.
The decisions you make will be the right ones, for you, for your daughter and for your self worth. You will live with an open and free conscience because you are honest and see the world and this moment for what it is, not what society and norms have told you it is suppose to be. That knowledge will also leave you free of bitterness. Even in the sadness and loneliness, and there will be plenty of both, you will not be bitter. I know you feel uncertain of how you are going to take on the responsibility of this life growing inside you. But you just need to remember, that your gut, your instinct has always told you life would be unfinished if you weren’t a parent. As Sondheim would say, You’re finishing the hat.
I want to tell you to be careful and to CARE FOR YOU. You won’t, you will put every priority ahead of yourself. You’ll feel compelled to and it is a mistake. You are not less of a parent, when you nurture the person that is you. You will spend the next 9 years spiraling into a hole of inadequacy and slowly allow for circumstance to chip away at the gut check you once heard so clearly. Fight that urge. Hold onto the things that make you uniquely you – your love of travel, your appreciation for the simplicity of a quiet Sunday morning and a hot cup of coffee, your passions for theater, for sports, for friends who not only know you, but who see you. Not for being a single parent, but for being Dalissa, who became a parent. Embrace joy, not just the joy your daughter will give you, but the joy you are capable of giving yourself.
I know in the spiral you will abandon your health. You will believe yourself to not be enough. You will hide under work, weight and ultimately a crippling depression that leaves you helpless. When you see the light flickers, know that they are hope. They are friendships awaiting you. They are the instincts you’ve muted in order to survive. Look for them when the darkness comes. Because life will always bring dark paths and the most important thing to remember is that it is your job to find the light.
When you do that, in the smallest of ways – engulfing yourself in the comforts of Castle or LOST, revisiting your love of writing, movies and theater or giving into whimsical ideas you will find that the light will begin to grow stronger. People will tell you you’re crazy. They will tell you to be practical. They will tell you to move home because you can’t do it your way and need the help of your family. They will tell you to stay in the safety of a job that you loathe because it offers financial security and certainty. Your gut will tell you opposite. When you trust it, what you will discover, is that just like when you were 12 or 16 or 21 or 26 you can do whatever you set your mind to if it is important to you. You will discover that your family can be made. You can find love and acceptance for your flawed beautiful self. And when you begin to do that, you will discover you are in fact enough. Your shame will not define you. Your insecurity will not define you. Your commitment to being authentic to the person reflected in the mirror is what will define you. And then you will begin to see yourself the way your beautiful, smart, old soul of a daughter sees you. You will feel whole again and the voice in your head will reconcile with the voice in your heart. And then, your gut and instinct will be so strong that confidence will return and trusting it will be your only option. And interestingly enough, the echo you will hear will be those standing alongside you cheering you on.
This is beautiful. You are beautiful. I feel so honored and humbled and amazed by your bravery right now. Your little one is lucky to have a mom as strong and courageous and loving as you are. I’ve read this comment/letter multiple times, and I’ve cried every time. You’re such a wonderful person, and I’m so glad you found NGN and—in the process—became my friend.
I just wanted to say I have been moved by everyone’s letters to themselves. It makes me a tad upset with myself that I just don’t think I can handle talking directly to who I was back then. I still have to distance myself from it. But it’s a good reminder that there is still a wound there that needs some healing, and hopefully one day I will be able to face myself directly, and I am going to remember this exercise and try again.
You’ll get there, Shauna. There are times in my own life where I still wouldn’t feel comfortable directly revisiting like this. I always say that healing is a process, and it’s a process I don’t think we ever really “finish.” All we can do is work through those things in our past we’re still trying to deal with, or at least that’s how I approach those moments in my own life. Writing letters has always been a very therapeutic thing for me (which is probably why it’s the medium I chose for my book now that I think about it), so I think it’ll be a great thing to revisit any time you need it.
Good for you. It takes wisdom to recognize this. Timing is important. If you need to wait, you need to wait.
In the mean time, consider yourself hugged.
Shauna, when you are ready you will address it. Your mind and heat don’t take on a job they can’t finish. Forgiveness of myself has been the toughest navigation and lesson for me personally when life has gone off the rails. I liken what I wrote to an anology of emptying out a keepsake box. Sometimes all you have in you is the energy to unpack it and remind yourself what you’ve been keeping. Sometimes that is enough for now, because eventually you will go back and decide what to put back in the keepsake box and what you need to remove from it in order to make room for what’s to come.
first of all, you had an awesome idea and I really loved your letter. It took me a little bit of courage to go back to ten year ago, let’s just say that emotionally, it wasn’t exactly my best year.
it’s 2005 and you’re 23. I’m afraid to tell you that it isn’t going to be a great year for you. You are going to have your heart broken and you are going to realise that some friendships won’t last forever.
Please know that it’s not your fault. It’s not because you are too shy and introvert, it’s not because of that “nerdy” side of you. It’s just that it wasn’t the right time nor the right guy. Please don’t let that wall you have built around you shut people out. You will get over it, I promise you.
Looking at the bright side…
You are about to enter the working class, you are going to love it! Sure, it’s going to be tiring and stressful at times but you will feel that you have found your place in the world.
You have watched Lost for the first time, haven’t you?
You know, the curiosity you have felt initially for this show is going to turn into something greater than you’ve expected. That tv show and those characters are going to be so important and special, so much that you will always care for them. You will visit Fan Forum and Dark Ufo like crazy, you will chat and theorize with people all over the world, some of those people are still in your life ten years later.
Lastly, I need to ask you a favour. When people are going to judge your nerdy side, please don’t hide it. When people are going to tell you:”Oh no, please not that tv show/character/book again!” or “You are so strange! How do you get so fond of that fictional character/story…”, please, please, please don’t stay quiete, don’t let them make you feel like you are an alien. Protect your passion, protect what makes you feel good, protect that nerdy side of you, embrace it, fully. It’s going to take some times but I know you will and I’m proud of you.
“Protect your passion, protect what makes you feel good…” – This is such fabulous advice for anyone, and I’m so grateful you shared it with all of us.
This letter was lovely and inspiring and touching to read. I’m so happy you feel like you’ve found a place in the world and a sense of passion to hold on to. I feel like that’s what life is all about, and I’m thankful you shared this part of your journey with us.
Wow. Just wow. So impressive, fellow ngn-ers.
Here goes — advice to a younger me:
Take a deep breathe, and I’ll tell you how it is.
No one really knows what they’re doing. You know all those people who seem to have their lives planned out? They seem to have direction? They seem to have it together? They don’t. (The operative word is “seem.” There’s a lot of seeming. The reality is different. You’ll have fun with this concept once you hit your Shakespeare class.) None of those people will live out their plan. Their lives go in different directions. So, it’s ok that you’re willing to admit you don’t have it together; it’s ok to admit you don’t have it all figured out. Just keep taking your classes. Keep enjoying learning. It’s ok not to know.
You’re going to make some cool friends. Evidently there ARE other people who geek out over these stories just as much as you. Ohhh, there’s some fun stuff coming.
And yes, you will eventually figure out what you’re going to do. It’s not what you think. (No, I am NOT telling you. That would be cheating.) You are going to love it. You’ll wonder why you resisted. And yes, Mom was right. Also, you’re not going to be stuck in that one job forever. I know it’s frustrating, but don’t let it stress you.
No lies, though: the career path is going to be tough. Hard work and some soul-crushing moments. But evidently, you’re really good at this. People say you make a difference — a good difference. So that makes it all worthwhile. (It’s also crazy amounts of fun and fulfilling, so there’s that, too.)
Keep finding the fun. Keep the loud laugh. Carve out those small moments for yourself. (Oh, and grab that extra Mrs.Tea teapot that’s on clearance.) Enjoy the stories and communities you’ll find along the way.
Ask questions! I know you think you’re supposed to know some of this stuff, but that’s just you. Others don’t have those expectations. So, just ask the questions already. It will make your life easier.
Are you still breathing? Good. Take a deep one — and jump in.
I loved this so much. (Everyone has left me in awe in this comment section.) I especially loved the bit about not being afraid to ask questions. That’s something that takes so long for us to learn—it’s okay to admit we don’t know something. It’s something I definitely still struggle with.
I also loved what you said about people seeming like they have it together but actually not having it together at all. It’s so true. “Fake it until you make it,” is one of my all-time favorite pieces of advice for that very reason.
Man, learning that adults have no idea what they are doing is one of the most relieving and terrifying parts of growing up. The older I get and the more I learn just how hard being an adult is, the more I am able to forgive my parents. I was so angry at them for a long time because I felt like they should have been better parents with all the answers, but they were struggling right along with me.