Note to self… age 16.

Posted: January 3, 2011 by writingsprint in Memories, postaday2011, postaweek2011
Tags: , , , ,

I was inspired to write this after reading a blog post by Rebecca Cantrell, author of A Trace of Smoke and A Night of Long Knives. If you could write a letter to yourself at age 16, from the present day, what would it look like? After five tries, I had to come at it in a different way: if you could write a letter to someone age 16, today, who is just like you were then, what would you say to them? The reason why I had to pitch the original version is that I wouldn’t change anything that I did back then. I was headed in the wrong direction: I was going to be a mechanical engineering major and turned into a writer instead, and there were deeper things that came to the surface too. I learned a lot in the years that followed, and those experiences, that learning, shaped me in ways that still echo today.

That said, if I knew someone else who was about to live through the same things I did, there’s no way I could just stand here and let him walk into a brick wall like I did.

Hey dude,

I wanted to offer a few words of advice as you go forward in high school. First, listen to that little voice inside you, the one that’s thinking about taking psychology and drawing class, instead of AP bio and AP chem. That voice is you learning to think for yourself. High school is when you want to try things out and see what they feel like, and see if they’re different directions you want to grow in. Your brain is a 3-lb organ in a 150-lb body. You can be a good scientist, and be a well-rounded one, too. Believe me when I tell you that learning to trust that little voice and follow it has been the source of more right decisions in my life than anything else.

So take a look at them. Maybe you can split the difference and take one of the AP courses, and one of the others. Give it some thought and see what you want to do. Oh, and yearbook, school newspaper, learning a musical instrument… those are cool ideas too. Hell, musicians invented the word ‘cool.’

Next, take it easy on yourself. I know it isn’t easy, but you have to learn to take care of yourself, and at the rate you’re going, as hard as you’re working, you’re going to kill yourself before you’re 30. It would mean losing a few A’s and getting B’s instead. You’ll be happier, and you’ll learn to set up a balance between work and your life that you’ll need to later.

Finally, it does get better. A lot better. Being yourself and proud of it, and the hell with everyone else, is cooler than “being cool” will ever be. If you want to make changes, fine, but smile at the guy in the mirror. He’s doing the best he can. Believe it or not, there are people out there who think you’re cool already. Girls will like you; some already do. You can overcome your stuttering; it took me three years of speech therapy to do it, but it was one of the best experiences of my life.

You have a lot to look forward to, in ways you can’t even imagine. Enjoy the ride. Good luck!


  1. Great letter, Matt! I hope that kid listened.

    You always were cooler than you thought.


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