A letter to my 9th grade self

One of my high school English teachers, Amy Voigt, kindly asked me to participate in an upcoming course lesson for her 9th grade class, with letters written to our younger selves. This was my submission.

Dear 9th grade Leah,

It gets better. I promise. The next four years will get worse before that happens, but it does get better — and I can say that with 100% confidence, even though I know you don’t believe me.

Today, you feel like a loner. Well, perhaps you are. That’s OK. Over time, you’ll learn the difference between being lonely and just simply physically being alone. I know it doesn’t feel like it, but these concepts are two different things; over time, your current loneliness will manifest itself into a calm comfort in the act of physically being alone. Adults call this introversion. Call it whatever the hell you want, but at 14 years old, I know it sucks. Like, really sucks.

Eventually, you’ll realize that the solace you take in being by yourself is an asset. It will allow you to make decisions for yourself, discover new things that you’re interested in, and see places through one set of lenses: your own. PS, those lenses are now contacts, instead of your currently-huge frames. People will say you look prettier. Learn to take a compliment. You’re still working on that, but try and internalize it when people say nice things.

One day, freshman year in your dorm’s dining hall at State, a nice girl sits down next to you and you’re wearing the same brand of denim. You click. She will be one of your best friends and 10 years later, you’ll have the honor of standing alongside her as she says, “I do.” Actually, you’ll meet all of your closest friends at MSU and you’ll cherish them. They’ll teach you the difference between being alone and being lonely: with them in your life, you’re never the latter, as they will instill in you a self-confidence you couldn’t grasp at 14.

Over the decade you’ve known them, you’ll be a cheerleader in their vast accomplishments, a shoulder to cry on in their sadness, a helping hand in their time of need, and a dance partner in all of their antics. Oh, there will be antics. Being a friend means giving of yourself — always, always, always give. Because the people in your life who receive your gifts always cherish them, and that matters. So whether it’s encouragement, time, advice, or that ill-advised raspberry-vodka shotski, be generous of yourself.

And along the way, these friends and your incredible family will be there for you, too. Because bad shit happens. It just does. Death, getting dumped, your parents’ divorce, no jobs after graduation, ending relationships — you’ll face all of it. Let me repeat: bad shit happens. However, you’ll grow during each seemingly insurmountable hurdle and will be better off for having experienced each and every occurrence. Growth happens during crash landings — your proverbial wings will get stronger for next time.

Speaking of wings, as cliche as it sounds, use them. Always, always, always take the risk. You applied for 152 jobs out of college (after having graduated with two bachelors degrees from the Honors College with nearly perfect grades) and got zero offers. So, when “the plan” didn’t pan out, you’ll start a company. Yep, right out of college. For two years, you’ll run a men’s lifestyle magazine, called Jack Detroit. People told you that you were nuts — and you were. People told you that you would lose money — and you did. But it was worth it. You put yourself out there, made a name for yourself, met a whole bunch of people, and started thinking of yourself like a leader. That’s reason enough to have done it.

There will be more risky moves since that time and they’ll all be worth it. At some point, you stumble upon a quote that will still be your favorite, because it always applies: “Monotony is the awful reward of the careful.” You’ll make this your mantra, and you’ll do your utmost to live up to it. Calculated risks are always worth the leap — as you continue to take them, those wings get stronger and somehow the view from higher and higher just gets better and better.

So Leah, right now you’re in Mrs. Voigt’s English class and after school, you’ll have practice for Varsity Poms. You’ll go home and do homework. You’ll go on to graduate from Wylie E. Groves High School in 2006, and then again from the Honors College at Michigan State University in 2010. You’ll start a business, work as an executive assistant to a high-profile CEO, flex your creative muscles, branch out, and start another business as a calligrapher.

I can’t promise you that life at nearly double your age, on the cusp of turning 28 years old, is any more exciting than at 14. Actually, the daily grind is kind of boring. However, I can promise that life at nearly-28 is so much better. You’ll be more confident in your own abilities, surrounded by an incredible circle of friends, living independently in a cute space for yourself, and figuring out whatever’s next. That question mark is a little scary, but it’s mostly exciting. I know you don’t believe me, because you’re a skeptic, but realize that the unknown is a gift. Why? Because, 9th grade Leah, you’ll experience and excel at whatever adventure comes next. And for that, it’s going to be great.