A Letter to my Thirteen-Year-Old Self

Dear Thirteen-Year-Old Rachel,

I imagine you are reading this on your thirteenth birthday. At this time, you are probably nervous, but excited for your Bat Mitzvah, which is a few days away, jamming out to One Direction’s Up All Night album, and still annoyed that someone spoiled for you who the first “A” was on Pretty Little Liars. Nevertheless, you’ve learned a valuable life lesson: never check social media until you’ve seen the latest episode of a TV show you love. But aside from the different pop culture obsessions that all teens go through, there is also a lot of self-growth that occurs during the teenage years. As I’ve thought about my teen years coming to an end for the past few months, I have also reflected on how much in my life has changed, as well as how much I’ve grown as a person. In this letter, I hope to impart some wisdom on you that will hopefully make the teenage years a little less painful.

In seventh grade, I know that school comes pretty easily to you. You don’t have to study extraneously to achieve good grades, which makes you not ready to deal with challenges. However, as you take harder classes, begin to struggle with your health, and experience certain life events that will turn your world upside down, It’s okay to open up about struggles and ask for help. There will be quite a few instances during your teenage years where you keep to yourself  about something that is upsetting you or don’t ask for help with a class you are struggling in. You have too much pride and think that seeking help is a sign of weakness. You will come to understand that asking for help or opening up to someone isn’t an act of weakness, but rather a display of maturity. No one knows the answer to everything, and you will feel so much better if you just let people in. Your friends and family want to help you, so let them.

The teen years are a time of heightened self-consciousness and loss of self confidence. I know you pretend that certain mean comments and labels don’t bother you, but deep down, you internalize all of it. Something I learned recently is you have to learn to define who you are on your own terms. Sometimes you unconsciously think a certain way about yourself all because someone put an idea in your head years ago or a certain life experience altered the way you see of yourself. The past does not define your present, nor does it carry over to the future. Certain experiences perhaps shape why you are a certain way, but that does not mean you cannot evolve and change. In fact, if you continue to use old labels to describe yourself, you do not allow yourself to see all the progress you have made towards bettering yourself. Once you come to Barnard, you will learn how to feel more comfortable in your own skin. Through a journey of self love and care, you will start to outgrow all of these past labels that used to hold you back.

Now, let’s talk about friendship. Since loyalty is one of your strengths, I know it can be disheartening when you feel betrayed by someone or realize someone seems more interested in befriending a person who is “cooler” than you. Over the next seven years, there are certain friendships you will keep because they make you happy, and there are others that you will have to end because all they do is bring you down. Letting go of toxic friendships will oftentimes be difficult, but it will provide room for better ones to come into your life. After all, certain people will never change, and it’s not your job to fix them. Some people are meant to be there for a lifetime, and others are only meant to be there for a season in order to teach you a valuable life lesson. My advice to you is if someone does not make you happy, let that individual go. You’ll learn that real friends support one another through successes and hardships, and you shouldn’t settle for anything less. I’m happy to report that you still have some amazing friends from home by your side who are super supportive, alongside some awesome new college friends that I am excited for you to meet someday.

Lastly, let go of what you cannot control. I know you have a lot of ideas in your head of what you think you want your life to look like in 5, 10, 15 years from now. Striving for perfection all the time, whether that comes to grades, appearance, or life plans will only drive you insane. All you can do is try your best. It’s okay to make mistakes and not know exactly what you are doing with your life. Everyone is on their own journey, and it’s important to trust that what’s meant for you will not pass you. Certain events will happen over these next seven years that will confuse and upset you, but you will see as time goes on that not only did these experiences make you stronger, but they will also redirect you onto the right pathway. Everything always happens for a reason, as the cliché saying goes. Sometimes, you just have to let go and trust that everything will work out.

A lot can change in seven years. At this point in life, you think you are going to stay in California forever, have never been to New York City, and do not know what Barnard College even is. You think you are going to be a pediatrician and have no idea what a migraine, or chronic migraines for that matter, even is. Although I’ve given all this advice on how to do your teen years better, I definitely would not go back and redo middle school, high school, or the first semester of college. The idea of turning 20 used to scare me. I kept feeling guilty that maybe I didn’t live my teenage years to the fullest. I’ve realized, though, that this past semester leading up to my 20th birthday has been the best time of my life. I’ve never been happier and more comfortable with who I am as a person. Even though the teen years have come to an end for me, my life is only just beginning. I wish you the best of luck, thirteen-year-old Rachel. I’m ready, though, to bring in the roaring 20s!


Twenty-year-old Rachel