I was listening to a podcast a couple years ago I still think about from time to time. I believe it was Kristin Bell who was talking about therapy. She mentioned a ‘common’ exercise therapists use, which is writing your younger self a letter.
I’ve been in and out of therapy for years and have never heard about this exercise, but I found the idea compelling, so I immediately started writing. As I wrote, I kept thinking about who I was then and wondering, ‘Would I even listen to me?”
Recently, I came across a journal of mine from high school. I cringed as I read the ramblings of a 17-year-old girl talk about boys and the things which frustrated her. This was a girl who put more energy into the things that didn’t matter, rather than the things that filled her. This girl was looking for an answer to a question she didn’t know how to ask. Who probably should have been a foreign exchange student-not because she was worldly, but because she wasn’t.
As I’m reading through her teenage drama, I’m rethinking the idea of a letter. If given the opportunity to go back, I don’t think it would be a letter I would give her. I would write a book list. Books I should have read during different periods of my life.
I wouldn’t discourage anything I did read then, but I would contribute to that voracious reader who didn’t know where to go for sustenance. Keep The Babysitters Club and all the Laura Ingalls Wilder that fed the country girl who enjoyed playing house at a young age, but add Jane Eyre and Little Women around the 6th grade. She didn’t have many friends then anyway, so read the books that will confirm her strong nature and confidence in self. In junior high, introduce 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and tell her she might not follow the whole thing, but look at the overarching concepts and Covey’s definition of integrity. And then reread Jane Eyre.
Develop humility with Jane Austin by reading how Elizabeth Bennet jumps to conclusions and Emma Woodhouse meddles. Show her the silliness in others so she can begin to recognize when it emerges within herself.
The Secret Garden, just so she gets something beautiful in the mix. I know I read it when I was younger, I just don’t remember when.
My book list wouldn’t be a punishment, but a love letter to that girl, the book lover. Remind them of their inner voice and how it conflicts with the rapid changes of that time in life. How when no one seems to be listening-there are people out there who have felt what she has felt. Let her know that the voice she will spend years trying to silence through useless distractions will find a sanctuary in bookstores. And tell her to ignore anyone who discourages her spending money on books. She’ll appreciate the encouragement to rebel through reading.
What would you say to your younger self? And the better question is, would they listen?