Letter to My Former School-Aged Self

When school started last week, I came to the striking realization:

This is my 20th year of school.

20

years.

That’s a looooonnnngggg freaking time. 

My high school diploma, my B.A., and 2 2/3 master’s degrees later (long story), I am faced with the reality that in 3 months, I will no longer be a student.

It seems surreal that after so many years of books sprawled across the floor, APA formatting, editing, and power points and Prezis, I will be able to work 9-5. And then I can go home and watch TV or take a walk or… I don’t know, conquer the world? What do normal people do after work?

School and I have had an interesting, bumpy, but generally symbiotic, relationship. As I tend towards uptight perfectionism, that for sure extended to school.

I was that person who started worrying about the SAT in 8th grade. Yes, I took an SAT prep class in 8th grade (ironically, the SAT changed significantly by the time I reached 11th grade, so the class was essentially meaningless). I obsessively studied flash cards for my AP French exam during my senior year spring break trip and Hawaii.

Yup, it was that bad. I needed to chill. And Xanax. Most definitely Xanax. 

Since the school year is beginning, marking a new season of school and also my last semester of graduate school, I decided to write a letter to my former student self, the uptight perfectionist student who couldn’t help but write papers on Friday nights. Because I have some advice for her. 

 

Dear Charlotte,

Hey what’s up? 

I see you’ve started school again this year. I’m just going to warn you right now, your school picture isn’t going to be great. But there are more important things in life. 

I come to you from the future. I want to give you some advice that will make your life way better. 

1. You are more than grades, scores, and fleeting praise from peers or teachers. You may have certain achievements but you are not these things. Consequently, if you don’t do well on something, you don’t suck at life. It’s okay. It’s really okay. Your academic performance isn’t your identity. 

2. You don’t have anything to prove. The sinister voice of shame whispers to you that you’re never enough, so you spend your life trying to prove that you are. But that’s a lie. You are enough, and you don’t need to prove yourself. 

3. You are not perfect. I know, shocker, because perfectionism is your daily motivator. I’m just gonna be real: you have strengths and weaknesses. These weaknesses are not sources of shame that should disgust you. They are what they are. You are good at some things and worse at others. You might have to work hard in physics, and you know what, whatever. You didn’t want to be a physicist anyway. 

4. It is okay to take a night (or weekend… gasp!!) off. You do not need to study 24/7, as if your life is in imminent danger, and the only way you can save it is by studying every. single. night. Go out with your friends. You will treasure this much more than studying later. 

5. The things you think matter don’t. That AP French test I was talking about earlier? Didn’t matter. Not one bit… because you ended up switching languages. The SAT? Also didn’t really matter. Because you ended up only using the ACT. Your grades? In the grand scheme of things, a B on a math test is a drop of water in a pond, an insignificant molecule in a long line of academic transcripts. Those hours you spent beating yourself up about these things were for nothing.

6. The things you don’t think matter do. Remember how much you hated AP Statistics? Well… that was actually one of the most useful things you ever took because you ended up studying psychology. You may think you know what you need right now, but you have no idea. Because you are a hormonal adolescent, and you will change so much. Keep your mind open. 

7. School will not fill the void that is in your heart. No grades, presentations, or awards will make you feel complete because there is something much deeper going on, an existential angst, that is within you. It will not be satiated through your hours of homework. There is so much more deep inside of you. You will find God, your passions, and you will experience connection and meaning. Not now, but someday. 

8. It will be okay. It will really be okay. Detentions are not the end of the world. Neither is a B. Your future success in life is not riding on that science test.