A Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self

Eliza Cross 1975

I’ll be 57 years old this week. As the years pass, I find that I’m more introspective on my birthday — so deeply grateful for another year and all of the experiences and blessings of this life.

I recently found a photo of myself taken about forty years ago. As I studied the pensive young girl in the picture, I longed to reassure and encourage her about the decades ahead.

If I could write myself a letter and send it back in time forty years, here’s what I’d say:

 

Dear, dear young Eliza,

First of all, your thighs are just perfect. I know that today you think your hips are too wide, but someday you will balance babies on those hips and be grateful for their strength.

You don’t yet trust your intuition, but that little voice inside wants to steer you toward goodness and save you from so many calamities. Try to listen.

Set up automatic savings withdrawals from your paychecks as soon as you can. You are going to need a lot of money.

Your Mama is wise, steadfast, faithful, and compassionate, and she loves you more than anyone. Learn everything you can from her, and call her first when you need solid advice. Hug your mom tight and tell her you love her, every chance you get.

Practice writing every day, and learn everything you can about the craft of writing. That urging you’ve felt since you were a young girl turns out to be important and prescient.

Always have the main sewer line inspected before making an offer on a house. This one tip will save you $7500 and a lot of unpleasantness. Also, before you buy that first fixer-upper home you might want to check and see if the master bedroom is heated.

Spend more time with your brother Jorma. Hug him every chance you get. Watch his skateboard tricks, listen to his music, and tell him you love him. He will be gone so, so soon.

You’ll be given a lot of work responsibility at a young age, and you’ll feel like an insider for the first time. Don’t abuse that bit of middle-manager power by making others feel like they’re on the outside. Profits matter, but people matter more. Be kind.

You have many gifts, but matchmaking is not among them. Do not set up your friends. If you do, there will be a felony record to prove your bad instincts.

Relish every moment you spend sharing a meal with people you love.

Listen carefully when your Dad gets in his teaching mode. Ask him more questions about his art. Save his letters. Be compassionate, and try to see beyond his addiction. Love him as well as you possibly can, and then it won’t be quite so hard when he’s gone.

Never get involved with a man who cheats or lies.

Your sister Catherine is in kindergarten right now, but in time she will become your closest friend and confidante. You’ll share incredible joy and sadness together, and help each other through things only you two can understand. Encourage her, support her, and try to be a good big sister.

Don’t “take a break” after two years of college. You will lose your momentum and get sucked into credit card debt and car payments, and you’ll never be as unencumbered again.

Write and call your grandparents more. Go to family reunions. Spend time with your aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and extended family, every chance you get.

Avoid suntanning beds at all costs. In the 1990s, tanning salons will be all the rage, with ads promoting their “safe UVA rays.” Later you will learn that artificial tanning is a leading cause of skin cancer.

Please slow down. Otherwise, you’ll lose your driver’s license when you’re 22 because of too many speeding tickets.

And don’t buy that Audi 5000. It’s a beautiful car, but it’s a lemon.

You can’t imagine the amazing girlfriends you’re going to have. You’ll share so much life together — weddings, births, illness, funerals, affairs, divorces, vacations, camping trips, picnics, parties, meals, and decades of laughter. Embrace these wonderful women, support their dreams, celebrate their successes, and find ways to let them know you appreciate them.

Recognize your frenemies sooner. A couple of people will seem like friends, but they will secretly cheer when you fail. You’ll sense it, even as you invest your heart and energy trying to win them over. You must let the mean girls go.

Try not to be so hard on your stepdad. Right now he’s the target of much of your teenage emotion, but you’ll eventually grow to love him and call him Pop. He’ll turn out to be a wonderful father and grandpa to your kids. Pop will love you, support you, and help you in so many ways.

Meditate, pray, and practice positive thinking. Spare yourself the unnecessary suffering produced by negative thoughts and worrying.

Your children will surprise you and fill your heart to overflowing. Enjoy the precious time you have with them, because the parenting years pass with breathtaking speed.

I know you are disillusioned with the church right now. Just remember that religious denominations and churches are fallible human institutions. Don’t confuse them with God, who loves you and will wait patiently as you find your way back.

You will take a couple of major relationship swan dives, and experience loss and heartache. Don’t get jaded or cynical. Let your heart be open, and don’t let fear keep you from loving again.

Finally, try to be present. Enjoy the small, sparkling moments. Take it all in…

…because I promise you, your life is going to be amazing.

Love,

The signature for Eliza Cross

P.S. How about you? If you could share some thoughts with your teenage self, what would you say?

About Eliza Cross

Eliza Cross is a full-time writer and the author of a dozen books about food and home design. She has been blogging about simplicity and sustainable living since 2006.

32 comments to A Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self

  • Laurie Olson

    I would tell myself that even though I was a sci-fi geek and you were a cheerleader we had a lot more in common than either of us would have believed back then.

  • I read with interest. I’ve always been kinda poor financially, but my biggest mistakes were not about money, they were behavioral, and about relationships. My advice… Be spiritual, live a Christ centered life. Putting God first doesn’t mean you have to be a fuddy duddy, have all the fun you can jam in, just be way careful how you treat others. Don’t be the judge, or self righteous. Love yourself too, don’t abuse yourself. Feel free to make mistakes, and remember them, but don’t relive them. Demonstrate your love for others by your actions, not just with lip service. I was such a show off and always worried what others thought about me, what a huge handicap that was, don’t be like that. Loving others allows a person to love themselves. Before the better half of your time on this earth slips away, try the love formula. Try it before any other experiment, before any other risk, or plunge. If love doesn’t work for you, try again. Thanks Liza, that was fun, I’ll be thinking about that for a while.

  • Linda Flesher

    Beautifully written, Eliza! You brought a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. It was about this time that I first met you, when my brother married your mother, and Jorma became brother to you and Catherine. Although I never lived close enough to know all the details of your life, I have watched you grow from a pretty girl to a smart, kind and lovely woman. Have a wonderful celebration of the life you have lived!

    • Linda, I am so glad our families blended together, and feel really fortunate to have you and my other Crosslen aunts, and so many dear cousins, too. Thank you for your kind words. I love you bunches and bunches! xoxo

      • Linda Flesher

        I’m glad, too, and love you, your Mom, sis and all the kids! (I’m still trying to learn life’s lessons, and looking forward to reading what you learn in the coming years.)

  • Great look back. I’m definitely in the middle of the parenting one right now. Our kids are 6 and 4 and now that I look how quickly those years have passed, and do the math until they’re pretty much independent, I know that I have to take more time to stop and enjoy them.

    • Those early years with young kids are so challenging and happy and rowdy and fun and exhausting, and yet time seems to pass at warped speed. Have fun with your little ones, and thanks so much for your kind words.

  • Mom

    Beautiful, like you. Love, Mom

  • Janis

    What a wonderful post. I can really relate to a lot of them. In my case I would substitute sewer lines with fireplace. lol. Have a wonderful birthday (57 on my next as well).

  • Awwww… you made me laugh and cry. Hope you have a fabulous birthday!

  • Pam Kramer

    Absolutely beautiful letter, Eliza. Just like you. I miss you and always enjoyed the time we spent in the Colorado Author’s League together. Best wishes for the next 50 years! ❤️

    • Pam, you’re a wonderful writer and your kind words mean so much — thank you! I always enjoy the (too rare) times when we get to see each other and visit, and I’ll look for you at the next CAL event. Hugs and best wishes to you!

  • Tara Vargas

    I think your letter to yourself is perfect! I am so glad that you and Catherine became cousins of ours. I can not imagine our family without you two and your mom. Have a fabulous Birthday! Love you Cousin!

    • Tara, I feel the same about you and your siblings and mom and aunts. From the moment our families came together you made us feel welcome and loved. I realize now how truly remarkable and special that is. Love you back, Cousin! <3

  • Laura Christopher

    This is such a wonderful letter, Eliza. It made me both tear up and smile. Happy birthday!

  • Jem Mabalay

    Hi Eliza! I am a 37-yr old mother of two girls, 9 and 5. I must mention I live in another side of the world, in a small country in Asia. I hope not to confuse you with my not-so-eloquent English but I will try. First of all, it’s my first time ever to write online esp a response to a post. I can relate to most of your thoughts about your issues growing up as a teenager and they brought me to tears. Sadly, I have not outgrown some of them. I have always admired strong yet kind hearted women like you. I am a full time mom as I have given up my job a few years ago to relish the time with my fast growing kids. I honestly miss working but no regrets because my kids are growing up nicely. I have been interested in making my own blog because I greatly know it will be an outlet of my mental and emotional challenges (I hope I used the right expressions). Anyway, I want to be inspired more. I want to start but I am unsure how and where to start. I am thinking maybe I should read all your posts or blogs to have a clearer understanding of myself. Again, I salute your character esp your attitude towards life. I must not forget I also aim to inspire others by writing. More power to your advocacies!!!!

    • Dear Jem,

      I’m honored to hear from you, and I think your English is great! What a noble job you have right now, caring for your dear girls. I hope you will listen to that little voice that is suggesting you start a blog. Your perspective could be just what someone else needs to hear, and perhaps writing on a regular basis would fill that little void you’re feeling since you’ve stopped working to be a full-time mom.

      The Minimalists recently posted a really helpful article about starting a blog, which you can read here:
      http://www.theminimalists.com/blog/

      In my case, I just started blogging one day back in 2006 and have been learning and finding my way ever since.

      Please stay in touch and let me know if you take that first step, okay? I’m pulling for you.
      xo,
      Eliza

  • Appreciate Your Blog Posts, The Site. Simple Living Is Easier, Less Stressful In The Long Run.

  • Katie Wolitarsky

    Beautiful, Eliza. I loved reading this and sure do share a lot of these sentiments with you. In fact, I am going to call my Nana right now. XO!

    • Hi, Katie! It’s lovely to hear from you, and I bet your Nana was so glad to hear your voice. You are such a smart, talented, professional, positive young woman — wise beyond your years. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and stopping by. xoxo

  • Happy birthday, Eliza. I would never want to return to a younger age to do it all over again. I would find completely new mistakes to make. I had to laugh at your speeding and losing your license. I too have a heavy foot when behind a wheel and music doesn’t help- a song with a good beat will have that foot hitting the floor. 🙂

  • Betsy Kominsky

    Dear Eliza. I loved your letter to your teenage self. And even though I’m 50 and not a teenager, I found a lot good advice here. I think we must have had a lot in common way back in those younger days. It’s too bad we did not meet earlier in life.

    Eliza, you are such an amazing friend, mother, writer, mentor, daughter….the list goes on. I have a small number of people I look to, and think, I want to be more like her/him. You are one of those special people – someone I admire and aspire to learn from, be more like.

    And the fact that you’re one of the most fun people I know (flashing back to several nights of hi-jinks, laughter and naughtiness) makes our friendship all the sweeter.

    I hope you had a wonderful birthday. Please come visit. Montana is beautiful and it would be fun to share/explore it with you.

    Love,

    Betsy

    • Dear Betsy,

      Do you think maybe God was protecting us, by not letting us meet until we were a little older? Not that we’ve matured, but think about the shenanigans we’ve managed to get into in the years we’ve known each other.

      Thank you, thank you for your kind words, which choked me up. I admire you on every one of those levels — and in addition, I salute your adventurous, confident spirit to move to a beautiful new city and seize wonderful opportunities. Yeah! So proud of you.

      I can’t wait to come see you and your family, and catch up in person. Until then, sending you love,

      Eliza

  • This is so beautiful! So far, I have only written letters to my future self, for example before spending a year abroad (to read after my return) or love letters on Valentine’s Day. Whenever i reread them, I’m full of compassion for my younger self. Maybe I should finally take the time to write a reply…

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