Background: I decided to throw in with Jeff Goins and take on the “Write 500 words a day throughout January” challenge. There’s more info here: http://goinswriter.com/my500words/ if you want to jump in on it.
Moving on—one of the writing prompts was to either write a letter to your children or to your younger self. I took younger self. I’ve got a birthday in 6 days, so I wrote to me at 17. The names have been abbreviated to protect the innocent.
Letter to 17-year-old Doug...
How to start this? My stars, I'm just a junior in high school when I read this. All the crazy stuff hasn't come anywhere near happening yet. Right now, I suppose you're getting ready to party hard for that big 17th birthday. Who are you partying with? Oh, that's right, A---.
Let's not talk too much about her. You want that to work out, I know. It's not going to, and I think you know that. She doesn't go back, though, she goes forward. At least there's that to remember. (Or look forward to, however you see it.)
Seventeen. Still planning on chemical engineering, I suppose. It's a great field. You should think even harder about pursuing it and alternatives to fossil fuels, because that is a good growth area. Or I could be honest and warn you that it's not going to happen. Chemical Engineering would be nice, but there are other fish to fry. And other nerds to handle that one.
The next twenty years will be intriguing, to say the least, and not at all what you are expecting right now. First of all, that's a great house in Jacksonville, isn't it? Enjoy it, because it doesn't stay in the family. In fact, not much does. The house in Arkansas. The land in Georgia. A lot of those anchor points that you don't even realize you're attached to? They are going to shift.
Sometime in the coming couple of years, your mentors will move on--the Pope to Virginia; Mr. T to Lonoke, permanently. Godzilla L to New Orleans. Life will change. College will come, and with it all sorts of new challenges.
This coming summer will be a lively one for you. Boys' State will continue a long losing streak of elections. AEGIS in the Summer Chemistry Institute will be amazing, but try not to lose the notes about Gilligan's Island Defense, ok? I wish we still had those. By the way, there's a girl there named C---. Don't skip that opportunity.
Oh, but you will. Because you're bizarrely faithful even to doomed possibilities right now. It's actually a better character flaw than the one that will rear its ugly head in the next 18 months. Stick with this one.
Now, I suppose I could try and reassure you about the future. I should. The path you are on leads to a fairly nice place. Certain parts of life work out far better than you have planned. Far better. You'll take a stab at marrying way too many people, and end up marrying someone you do not know yet--but you'll meet her in about six weeks. Then you'll forget all about her.
School is going to be fine, but you're going to need to be more imaginative in English. A lot more imaginative when it comes to William Faulkner. Stick with the saxophone, and maybe learn to listen a little bit better. And go to class.
Your world is going to shift in the next five years. The anchor points, like I said, are going to shift. The drifting times will hurt. The chaotic times will leave you confused. Find your feet. On your own two feet is where you will learn to stand. You don't even realize that you're not really there right now, but it'll happen.
The world at large will change on you, too. Next year during school, a nutcase will blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. All because he thinks it helps some cause or other. Then it gets worse a few years later, but you cannot change those things. That's beyond your skill level.
What is in your skill level is learning a little better how to be a friend. How to make friends. Because that time is fleeting.
You are not really as awesome as you think on your best days, but you're not near as bad you fear on your worst ones.
Oh, and to warn you, rappelling in the auditorium? That's a bad, bad plan. But you'll learn that soon enough.
Stay alive. It's nice down here at the tail end of 20 years.