Emily P. Freeman has written a book that I wish I could have read 25 years ago. Graceful: Letting Go of Your Try-Hard Life is about the rule-following, perfection seeking, performance addicted girl who always tries to make the right decisions. She lives under the weight of keeping everyone around her happy while she desperately tries to conquer the world. But underneath it all, she is crying. Crying for the chance to just be herself. The only problem is that she believes “herself” will never be enough.
This book tells her that not only is she enough, she is more. She is loved just as she is, not for what she does. This book is my heart because I was just such a girl who grew into a women still facing the same challenges. So in honor of her book I’ve written a letter to my teenage self. Oh how I wish I knew then the things I know now. (Don’t we all.)
Dear Teenage Me,
It’s your 16th birthday today! There’s a surprise party tonight, but we both know you already know about it. So in honor of your birthday, I’m going to impart a few pieces of looking-back wisdom as my gift to you.
First some birthday party information. You’ll have a great time but don’t be too disappointed when the Porsche isn’t sitting in the driveway with a big red bow. (Not even sure why you’d think you’d get such an expensive car, but you always manage to have high hopes.) And try not to let the disappointment show on your face when you open the present from your boyfriend — it looks a little like something he stole from his mom’s bedroom. Seriously, it’s more a reflection of boy-cluelessness than how much he likes you. You’re gonna break up in the next few weeks anyway. On the bright side, your future husband moves to town tomorrow.
Secondly, stop performing for people’s approval. It’s not what gives you value. You’re valuable because God loves you and you have things to offer the world that only you can give. Spend more time singing, develop your talent for acting. Go out for a part in the school play; don’t just sit in the audience wishing you would have. There’s a joy you find in acting that never goes away.
Write more. Your fascination with good stories and powerful poetry will turn into a deep hunger later in life. Teachers and college professors will nudge you letting you know that you are a talented writer, but you don’t really know what to do with it. Find out early, don’t wait! I can only wonder what your life would be like now if you’d pursued your writing dreams earlier.
BREAK A RULE. I laugh now at your desperate need to follow the rules. Yes, I believe in their value, but I also know that you might create a few more fun memories with friends and family if you just let go a little. Honestly, it will be okay if don’t do your homework one night. The pressure you put on yourself is all you. The people in your life love you even when you aren’t perfect.
Also, every so often its a good idea to do something because you want to do it, not because someone expects it of you. There’s a streak of individuality in you that you let peak out every so often, but you shouldn’t hide it just because you fear being rejected. That individuality is what makes you you, and there will be people in your life who love you just as you are – all sass, brains, and crazy YOU!
The next ten years of your life will be some of the best and worst. You’ll suffer great loss, but live days that dreams are made of. That’s pretty much what all of life is, a giant canvas painted with deep blues of pain, brilliant yellows of joy, shimmering pinks of poignancy, tipped with the black moments of loss. One thing will always be true: each color is mixed perfectly for your life and “everything works together for your good.” When the brush strokes black smears of sadness, survival will seem impossible, but when you step back and look at the whole picture years later, those moments clearly marked the path to who you are today. And who you are today — and even right now — is a masterpiece just like God always said.