I didn’t wear adolescence confidently. “Incompetent,” was my favorite self-descriptor. I was smart, obedient and altruistic, but those aren’t attractive traits in high school and I knew it. I saw myself only for what I was not, which led to a largely deficient sense of identity.
Looking back now, I love my teenage self. Without her unfashionable blend of kindness and spiritual conviction, I wouldn’t be who I am today—and I really like myself. It is from this happier self-view that I write to teenage Jenny.
I know you feel incompetent. Driving scares you, boys scare you, and you’re tetchy at home. Being ME, I can relate. But things get better, Jen. Sooo much better.
You’re an adult now, and I’ve seen visions fulfilled that you haven’t even begun to imagine. You’ve been to Jerusalem. You’ve served a mission. You’ve earned a Bachelor’s degree. You’ve earned a Master’s degree. You’ve been a writing fellow, a teacher’s assistant (over and over), a camp counselor (over and over), and a nanny.* You’ve lived in several states and made friends in every one of them. You’ve gone on a lot of dates and made a lot of good grades. You’re healthy and happy.
You’re married to a tall, smart, super affectionate guy. You have a little girl, and she’s as chubby-cheeked and bright as any child you’ve ever met.
Things turn out well. You make good choices, and God blesses you. But I know that you feel lost sometimes, so I’m dropping a few hints for the journey. I’ll pattern my advice after Luke 2:52. Mom will share this verse with you many times, and for good reason. Jesus is worth emulating (and Mom is worth listening to).
“And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.” – Luke 2:52
You can grow in like manner. Here’s how:
Increasing in Wisdom
- Keep reading, and strive for quality books. I know you love to cozy up with a bowl of cereal and 300 pages of fiction, but try reading for purposes greater than entertainment once in a while. I recommend historical fiction, old classics, and the New York Times best seller list.
- Learn for knowledge and not for grades. Take classes that interest you, even if they have nothing to do with your career path. There’s plenty of merit to following one’s heart.
- Please take AP English. I still regret not doing this (oh, and drop AP Stats. It’s detestable).
Increasing in Stature
- Keep exercising five times a week. It’s your best anti-depression and weight-loss tool.
- Don’t swear off any food groups. Fat is good for you; dairy is good for you; sugar is admittedly less good, so put a cap on it after a few cookies.
- Your acne WILL go away in a few years. Meanwhile, don’t use astringent and stop popping your zits. And use lotion!
- Embrace second-hand clothing. I know that you think NO ONE else goes to the D.I., but they do. Just trust me on this. Not. A. Big. Deal.
Increasing in Favor with God
- Ask the big questions; it’s one of your best spiritual gifts. Treat your doubts with scripture study, earnest conversation, and vocal prayer. Whatever you do, do it sincerely.
- Maintain your standards (huge round of applause for your strangely straight-laced ways!!). A world of happiness awaits you because of your obedient soul.
- Speak candidly with God, and make a habit of praying aloud whenever you find yourself in a private place. He answers, and you WILL learn to recognize and follow the Holy Ghost. Just keep practicing.
Increasing in Favor with Man
- You are better liked than you think you are. When the imaginary audience overwhelms you, put someone else on the stage. Ask questions. Be interested. Give compliments. Self-disclose a bit, and don’t be ashamed of who you are. You are someone worth knowing. The people around you are likewise worth knowing, so reach out to them in confidence and kindness.
- Love your family. It’s easy to find fault with the people that we live with, but they are the ones most deserving of your love. Practice forgiveness and gratitude, and don’t take teasing too seriously. They like you, I swear.
- Talk to boys.**
You’re enough, Jen. And then again, you’re not enough. Which is to say, be confident with who you are, but let God make something more of you. With Him, you will increase in wisdom, in stature, and in favor with God and man. Believe in yourself, and reach out to God and the people around you.
Blessings, you wonderful girl.
*You’ve also been a lawn mower, sprinkler-fixer, call-center operator, digital imager, and steamer. Less loved jobs, but they too were blessings. Remember that you can do hard things to achieve your dreams.
**I’m including this to make you sweat. Someday it will make you laugh.