Dear past Natalie,
2015 is drawing to a close and you are turning 22 in a week. 22 seems so far away from where you are now, but trust me when I tell you this– time flies by without you realizing it. One day you are 16 and enjoying being a teenager; and the next day, you are 22 and mapping out your future to the T, just like the planner you will soon become.
I first write to my 13 year old self, who is always looking to fit into life as a teenager. My advice to you is that you should not try so hard. Do what you love, and love what you do. Being a teenager is not fun if you constantly put pressure on yourself to behave in a certain way just to gain acceptance into an in-group. You will make friends who are not exactly good for you, and you will lose friends just as easily. You will also make a lot of mistakes, but be easy on yourself for them. That is part and parcel of growing up. One day, you are going to look back at this moment and ask yourself, “What was I thinking?”, but make those mistakes anyway, and own up to them because that is how you mould yourself into the person you want to become.
Next, to my 16 year old self: You are slowly being shaped and sculpted into the person you will become at 22. You lose a lot of the habits, attitudes and behaviours you had at 13, and you develop new ones. For the most part, this is because of the environment you put yourself in, which is not a bad thing at all. You will make a lot of new friends, and a few great ones will even stick with you even when you are well into adulthood. These are the friends worth holding on to, not the ones you were so desperately trying to fit in with when you were 13. You also find your first love and heartbreak at this age– both found within the same guy who you feel might be your whole world. Let me tell you this, though; the pain of a heartbreak does not last forever. Wounds heal, and although they may leave scars– scars can fade with time if you allow yourself to let them heal with diligence and patience.
To my 17 year old self: You will go through difficult times this year with your family. You move out of your childhood home, and your parents will be at war with each other. It is a terrible time to go through hardship because it is your SPM year, but you have to soldier on for the sake of your future. Although you know you will be going to Form Six, don’t take your studies for granted in Form Five, because one day you will regret not trying harder. You are going to watch your friends slowly leave for their studies while you wait an agonizing five months to start Form Six, and that is when you learn who your real friends are. Also remember that whatever future you think you have in front of you is merely a construct. You might think that you need to abide by whatever the adults have planned for you, but that is not true. Your future is yours and yours alone.
To my 18 and 19 year old self: Welcome to the hell that is STPM. I know that you are probably miserable about being there– doing something that you don’t like doing and being bad at it at the same time. I know that coming home and crying every day because your self-worth is undermined drains the energy out of you, but please be strong. I promise you, better times are ahead. Realize and reignite your passion for writing and never give up on it because that is going to be a big part of your future, as much as you refuse to accept it. You are also going to fall in love with someone you would least expect to fall in love with; only because you are two very different peas in a pod. He will be your partner, best friend and confidante for the next three years, so enjoy the journey. He also changes you, but I’m still not sure if it’s for the better.
To the 20 year old me; 20 is the year you finally enter university. I know you have been waiting a good three to four years for this, but it’s not something you would expect at all. As much as you want to break out of your shell, you end up studying in a university just 30 minutes away from home. However, it is a blessing in disguise. You probably would not make it out of university alive (and sane) if you did not have the comforts of home, easily accessible and readily available at any time. You will feel extremely awkward, because people there are so different from who you are, but after a year, you’ll find someone you can click with seamlessly. You also learn the value of diligence, persistence and determination, and you finally get the chance to prove your worth. You’re also studying something you have a true passion for, even if you don’t see that just yet. A word of caution, there are many people out there who just want to ride on the coattails of your hard work, but be patient and you will reap what you sow.
And finally, to the 21 year old me.. You are a very different person from who you were as a teenager. Call it growing up, call it change– whatever it is, you’re on your way to being a full-fledged adult. You have become fiercely Type A, and more introverted than you used to be. You start realizing what is important to you, and you are on your way to self-discovery, something you have been struggling with for many years. At 21, I can safely say that you’re more self-assured, and I applaud you for that. However, there is still a lot you need to learn, and there is still a lot you need to shed. 21 is also how old you will be when you have to let go of your three-year relationship because of that change you see in yourself. Even though you are the one who calls it off, it is not going to be easy for you either; having to adjust to life without your best friend anymore. There is also going to be a lot of emotional baggage left over from this relationship because of the sheer amount of time and memories you shared with each other, but that is all right. At 22, you will be happy with someone new.