Dear 17 year old Sahaj,
Congratulations! You just graduated from high school at the top of your class, VP of the student body, captain of the Varsity soccer team, President of the French National Honor Society, and second team all regional/first team all district field hockey player. I know you’re feeling really good and accomplished and as though there is nothing you can’t conquer. Well, I hate to break it to you but the conquering won’t happen until later down the road. Don’t worry. Don’t be frightened. The experiences and trials you will face over the next few years will solidify your strength and your individuality- both of which you are currently lacking.
Don’t be offended when your father jokes at your high school graduation party that the real celebration is going to be when (or if) you graduate college. You won’t graduate college in four years….or five years. At some point, you will even compare yourself to Steve Jobs to convince yourself that you don’t need to finish college altogether. Don’t be stupid. You’ll learn very quickly how much you need a college degree both for your dignity and for your future.
You will use “I care about other people more than myself” as an excuse for not facing your own demons or taking care of yourself. Family will navigate your path and you’ll blindly submit to them. Friends and society will dictate your pace and you’ll lose any sense of control trying to keep up. Significant others will be used to distract you from how quickly your life is falling apart.
You will disappoint yourself and worse, your family. You will feel ashamed for far too long and then you will discover the importance of carving your own path. It won’t be easy, but you’ll learn as you go. I know from experience.
Read on. It becomes worse only to get so much better.
Sahaj, everything will fall apart. You will fall extremely hard over and over again. You’ll experience something so traumatic – something people only hear about because a friend of a friend knew somebody who experienced the same thing. It will break your spirit. You’ll shut out anyone who cares about you and will allow yourself to drown. You will question the meaning of life on the deepest level where the only two answers to choose from are either a) it’s worth it or b) it’s not worth it. When you are convinced that you’ve hit rock bottom, you’ll sink even lower. Funny how that happens.
I’ll spare you details of the months to follow and say this: though you’ve left me with the scars, you also emerged out of this living Hell a new person. You started creating yourself as the person you wanted to be. You wanted to be strong, so you became strong. You wanted to focus on the love in this world, so despite feeling defeated you kept on loving life. You wanted to be fearless and, well, you’re still working on that, but you’ve definitely come a long way.
Sahaj, you don’t know how to do this yet, but one day you will stop letting everyone else tell you who to be. After balancing the inauthenticity that came from all of the above, you will demand more from yourself, family, society, and men. You won’t let anybody dictate your path or make you feel inferior or force you into submission. You will teach yourself how to be who you want to be. Somewhere in the next six years, you will be your greatest enemy but you will learn to become your best friend.
I’m sure you think you are happy now but truth is you’re only pleased because of how smoothly you’ve been coasting through life. In six years you will truly be happy. You will love yourself in a way that you’ve only known to love other people. You will be at peace with how hard life is because you will know how equally, if not more, rewarding it can be. Most importantly, you will stop seeking validation for your path or your life from anyone else.
So, today on your high school graduation day, I want to leave you with this – Trust your instincts. Follow your vision. Know that it doesn’t matter if your parents try to protect you or your friends try to save you, you need to believe in yourself.
You’ve had it easy and soon you will have it hard. Mostly because those around you have always spoiled you but partly because bad things happen that you can’t control. The real question, though, is when you take everyone and everything else away, who do you have left?
I know you don’t know the answer to this yet. But I do. Character doesn’t waver no matter who or what you encounter. You will be strong, persevering, humble and kind because that’s your character. You will break, but you will understand that only you can mend yourself. You will fall but you will learn that you have to have the will to get back up. You will fail but you will not stop trying. You won’t let your struggles or your past define who you are going to be. And for that, I’m so proud of you.
23 year old Sahaj