You Get Better: An Open Letter to My Teenage Self

It Gets Better

Dear Me (age 13):

I can’t promise you that it gets better. I’m 26 now, and those life decisions that center on everlasting happiness never do bring us exactly that. So, I don’t want to lie to you: You probably won’t get exactly what you want. And if you do, you will somehow change your mind. The shiny objects we reach for tend to rust in our hands. It’s not a generational thing; it’s a human thing.

I could get cynical about it – in fact, at one point I did – but cynicism has become too fashionable for my taste. People who want to seem smart think that smartness is about doubting everything, so if you’re cynical, you’ll be in good company. You just won’t be original, which I suspect is what you actually want to be. Every cynic becomes his own paradox.

Don’t be surprised if at 24, you suddenly have the world figured out. (This temporary enlightenment happens to most people, so don’t get smug.) What you might figure out is kind of ugly, and either leads to wholesale acceptance of every adult cliché you had once rejected – or leads to a slow-burning rationalization of each adult cliché as it lands in your lap and grafts to your skin. You might think the latter is better, that it somehow paints you as more resilient, as a rebel among sell-outs. Still: You’ll be boring before you know it. And it’s not the gray hairs that make you old. The dead giveaway that you’re dying is that you fret over those hairs and refuse to tell people your real age. Not that it’s anyone’s damn business. But c’mon – when did an inquiry about age suddenly seem so nosy? My guess: When we turn 29 for the second time.

Alright, I’m going to get serious on us.

I’m writing this letter to you because I wish just one adult in my life had tried to protect me by telling the truth. I wish someone had said, “I can’t promise you that it gets better.” We’re all thinking it, aren’t we? And the people who promised me better didn’t stick around long enough to find out if things actually got better, so as far as blank checks go, this one bounced.

So, I’m not going to tell you that It Gets Better. That would be irresponsible of me. I’m not going to tell you that the sadness disappears, that the acne won’t leave scars, that tomorrow you’ll become the most popular kid in school. I’m not going to tell you that these things stop mattering next year or even twenty years from now. I’m not going to tell you that eventually, you’ll have it all figured out. Because I can’t promise you the above with any certainty that they will come true for you. What I can offer you, however, is absolutely true, and is as follows:

If you survive – and survive, and survive – you will be someone who makes It better. The world (in some small way) will get better, because of You. Your survival is the greatest defiance, the bravest rebellion – and originality – you have to offer. If you somehow arrive at your post-pubescence unshackled from cynicism, liberated from the hunt for everlasting happiness, embracing your own melancholy and even using it to save another life – You will have made It better. 

Yes, it is about You, but you get a pass for the part that seems self-indulgent, because it’s also about more than You. And that’s kind of the whole point.

So, survive. Because You Get Better. (And so will It.)

Sincerely,
Me (age 26)

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21 thoughts on “You Get Better: An Open Letter to My Teenage Self

  1. Some say that the world is rudderless–that it is essentially a chaotic mess. Me, I think it’s the result of the collective efforts of so very many. Yes, we can make a difference one way or another and we should choose…

  2. I think your comment about feeling that you had it figured out only to find out that you don’t is spot on. Some people find that frustrating and some find it thrilling, personally, I’m not exactly sure where I stand on that spectrum.

  3. I have to echo Kristan and say that line is amazing. It is currently my google status.

    One day I will pawn those words off to some girl at a bar as my own. 😀

    Joking aside, I love your writing and was also in love with your Asian American piece of life in a vacuum.

  4. If you survive – and survive, and survive – you will be someone who makes It better. The world (in some small way) will get better, because of You. Your survival is the greatest defiance, the bravest rebellion – and originality – you have to offer. If you somehow arrive at your post-pubescence unshackled from cynicism, liberated from the hunt for everlasting happiness, embracing your own melancholy and even using it to save another life – You will have made It better.

    —-
    SO GOOD!

  5. Irene, you are already making it better for people through your writing….And yes, the line, “The shiny objects we reach for tend to rust in our hands” really hits!

  6. Thank you for this beautiful piece.. and please continue writing.. I’m definitely going be reading all your posts! Love IT!

  7. Stumbled across your blog reading the excerpt from Ang Lee…boy, did I ever stumble across a jewel. This is a beautiful piece. The dictation, the timely pauses, the emphasis on certain phrases..makes it even more so touching, and thought provoking, and honest. Well-done, will definitely share this

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