Recently a friend asked me to write a letter to his daughter for her 14th birthday.
It was a daunting task.
What advice do I have to give? Half the time I feel as though I’m still an awkward adolescent trapped in a body with bad joints and graying hair. Still, the exercise of writing letter ended up being a good one – for me at least. I can only hope she got something out of it.
I’ve cut out parts of the letter that are personal, but decided to share the rest of it here. Perhaps it will inspire you to write just such a letter to a young person in your life.
I’m not sure what this letter will mean to you. Most of life’s lessons have to be learned through hard experience, not platitudes. But, if I could point out the better paths from my perspective down the trail from you, I would offer this:
- Take chances. Take the proverbial road less traveled. Do the thing that scares you. I don’t mean stupid dangerous things like drinking and driving, having unprotected sex, etc. I mean the things that scare you because they are just. so. awesome. The things you’re not sure you can do, but you want to so badly. Maybe it will be moving to a new city or standing by a friend. Maybe it will be saying “I love you” with no guarantee that you’ll hear it back. Take chances. They may not always work out the way you’d hoped, but you’ll spare yourself the regret of wondering “what if?”
- Avoid debt. I know it’s way early to think about this stuff as a 14 year old, but you’ll be in college before you know it. And lots of people will want to offer you 0% financing and your own shiny credit cards. Don’t take them up on it. Debt hobbles your dreams. Being financially secure gives you freedom. Give yourself that gift.
- Value yourself. Expect to be treated with honesty, respect and kindness. There’s nothing you can do that would ever make it right for someone to hit you or force you to do something you don’t want to do. Know that you are strong enough to walk away. Strong enough to ask for help. Strong enough to stand up for yourself. Know that you are worthy, just as you are.
- Be open to Spirit. “Give faith a fighting chance” as the song says. This journey may be one that winds back and forth throughout your life, feeling more and less relevant as the years pass. That’s OK. I don’t think there’s one perfect way to contemplate Higher Things and be in community with others. All I know is that a heart open to mystery will serve you well your whole life through.
14 is both a wonderful and difficult age. But you know what? Each year is like that. Life is like that. So take heart during the tough times and delight when things go well. I so look forward to watching you create your own wonderful life.