A letter to my 17-year-old self

Tomorrow you will turn 35 years old. I know that sounds old to you, but trust me, you won’t feel that old. In fact, in the last week you have climbed a 5.12c rock climb, ridden your KTM 250 XC on 50 miles of technical single track and taken two friends to the top of Pingora Peak, one of “America’s 50 Classic Alpine Climbing Routes.” You may not know what some of those things mean, but don’t panic about feeling old.

To be honest, the theme of this entire letter is, “Don’t worry, it will all work out just fine.”

I’m not going to tell you the details of the next 17 years or which choice to make at each fork in the road ( I have no idea if I made the right choices, so just do your best). And, I am most certainly not going to tell you about the state of affairs in 2020. Trust me on that one.

I will share a few of the lessons that were slow to sink in, yet immeasurably valuable.

Start practicing failure. Weird advice for a multi-sport athlete and high-achieving student, I know, But life doesn’t give grades on papers or scores for balance beam performances.

In life, perfection can get in the way of progress and realizing your full capacity. If you’re not failing, you’re probably not trying hard enough. And when (not if) you fail, you need to be able to get up and try again with even more gusto than the last attempt. Being able to fail is a life skill.

At every stage of life, have at least one thing that you are terrible at or scares you to death. It’s the best way to realize that the fear of failing is often worse than actually failing. In this ironic way, being willing to fail will be the key that opens many doors to success. 

You can be a victim or a superhero, but you can’t be both. Remember when your brothers got new dirt bike outfits and you were mad that you still had to wear their hand-me-down torn and smelly jerseys? Your reaction was to put on a pouty face, point a finger and say, “Heyyyy, that’s not fair!” Like always, your parents responded, “Well, life’s not fair.” They were right.

Sometimes it seems like life circumstances just aren’t fair. Sometimes it will seem like an individual person is holding you back. You can choose to be a victim of the circumstances — which usually looks like a pouty face, finger pointing and complaining (even among grown ups) — or you chalk it up to “life’s not fair” and find a way around it. Learn to circumnavigate obstacles with creativity, grace and unquestionable integrity. That’s how you become a superhero.

Fun fact you’ll learn when you’re my age: In championship poker, the best hand only wins 12% of the time. The other 88% of the time the winner simply played the cards and the circumstances more effectively.

Luck is going to be on your side for some pretty cool moments in your life. But you still need to play every hand with intention. You’ll be surprised how many times you win with mediocre cards and a great plan.

First find yourself, then look for your people. Right now you don’t really fit into any tight friend groups or high school cliques. You’re probably wondering: Am I ever going to find friends who I can just be myself around? How am I ever going to find a husband if I can’t even get a boyfriend?

This is one of those “you’ll be thankful later” lessons, which I know sounds lame right now. Hear me out. Currently you are developing a strong sense of who you are, without the need for it to be deemed popular or cool. You can move comfortably between groups precisely because you’re not looking for them to define you or approve of your choices.

This will prove more valuable to you than any other character trait (at least at this point.I’m leaving a little wiggle room in case the 70-year-old version of us wants to weigh in later).

I promise you will find plenty of your own type down the road, even the kind who like sunshine, laughter and ice cream more than gossip, movies and mascara.

There is no right way. Your hopes and aspirations will guide you, but don’t let them shackle you. Your path to love, your career and your lifestyle should look more like a scatter plot than a linear progression. Every single one of those dots is worth putting on the paper, even the painful ones and outliers.

Chase the people and experiences who make you the best version of yourself. The less you predetermine the specifics of what that should look like, the more amazed you will be at what is possible.

Bottom line: It’s all going to work out. Try hard. Fail often. Be kind. Laugh a lot. And tell Mrs. Kuglar in AP English that you can still be a published author while using the phrase “a lot.”

P.S. No, your family will not become any less embarrassing, but it does start to get a little more endearing in another decade or so. The one and only specific piece of advice I’ll give you is this: When you go away to college, make your first stop a meeting with the Facilities and Maintenance Department. Subtly suggest a policy where the parents of students cannot live on campus in their fifth-wheel camper trailer for one month at a time. On second thought, never mind. That dot was still worth it.

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