Dear 16-year-old, 20-year-old, 40-year-old you

I came across a blog the other day, Chatting at the Sky, where a woman had posted a letter to her 16-year-old self, and she invited readers to share their own letters.

As I thought about what my life was like 9 years ago, I remembered a phrase that occasionally took my self-conscious teenage mind hostage: I’m not OK.

I never uttered these words aloud. They just snuck in sometimes, set up camp and made it hard to soak up the sunshine.

That’s not to say that I was perpetually unhappy or unsatisfied with life. I knew I was lucky to have a wonderful family and unique opportunities. But, when I neglected to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, my I’m-not-OK feelings spread like weeds:

I’m not talented.

I’m not comfortable in my own skin.

I’m not meeting the expectations people have of me.

I’m not enough.

Now, looking back, I feel sad for having wasted so much time attending my own pity parties. Yes, moving across the globe and leaving behind friends and all things American was difficult. But my teen years in Tokyo were filled with educational opportunities, loyal friends and faith-building experiences. I couldn’t see them then, but miracles were happening, and I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

So, if I were to run into that bleached-blonde version of me on the subway in Shinjuku (I’d be easy to spot amid the sea of black hair), I would give her a hug and declare, “You are OK!”

You are strong.

You are kind.

You are doing your best.

You are safe.

You are enough.

I recently had an empty night when I needed to give myself that pep talk again. I had curled up on the couch to watch “Tangled” and have a good cry because my I’m-not-OK monster was poking his head around the corner. I began to wonder if I’ve chosen the right career, if I have any talents, if someone will love me even though I can’t cook — if, in this moment, I am enough.

I wish I could slay that monster for good, but I think regardless of age and accomplishments, we will all have moments when we wonder.

So, to the 16-year-old you and me who wished she was a cheerleader or longed for a boyfriend, I say, “You are OK.”

To the 20-year-old you and me who prays for marriage, or children or skinnier thighs, I say, “You are OK.”

To the 40-year-old you and me who has dishes piled in the sink, young children screaming and teenagers shouting, I say, “You are OK.”

When you’re having a moment, remember the advice from Jeffrey R. Holland at the top of this post.

“Don’t you give up.”

You are OK.

  • Lindsay

    I’m quite sure you chose the right career, Emily — and I can’t cook, either (and hate doing it), but my husband still loves me. You’ll find a guy who values the talents you do have and doesn’t care about your perceived flaws. I know you really are OK, and sometimes it’s important to have those moments when you let yourself cry and doubt. Fortunately, they pass, and you remember that you can do everything you set your mind to. :)

    • Emily

      Thanks for the encouragement, Lindsay!

  • Sarah

    Emily, thank you for being so open and honest on your blog! Those are emotions I tend to fight frequently. In fact, the last time I read your blog I found myself admiring (borderline envying) your ability to write in such a witty, captivating, and engaging way! You’re able to communicate to so many people with raw emotion. I admire that. I’ll venture to say that you are more than enough. I hope your week is going well. Friday is almost here. :)

    • Emily

      You are so sweet, Sarah! I was beginning to wonder if I had been a bit too open in this post. Your comments always help me feel better.

  • Logan

    Emily, this post is wonderful and inspiring. Thanks for getting so personal. What is funny is that the times in our lives when we are progressing the most and developing the most talents are the times the “I’m-not-OK monster” comes out. Ironic isn’t it? Your post put into words how I have been feeling with my current changes, so thanks.

    • Emily

      Thanks, Logan. You’re doing amazing things. I’m so proud of you.

  • Hands Free Mama

    This lovely post brings me to tears.

    “You are OK.” Thank you. We all need to hear those words frequently.

  • Mindy Sutherland

    Love you Emily!!!!! You are more than “okay”!!!!!!!!

    • Emily

      Love you too, Mindy!

  • Nick

    I can cook! And I love to do it, so I actually wouldn’t mind to find someone who can’t. I’m sure there are guys out there more than just me who love to cook and cuddle up and watch movies like Tangled and How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days and 13 Going on 30. You are OK. And you have plenty of time.

    • Emily

      Thanks, Nick! I really appreciate that.

      • Nick

        Oh yeah…And I’m single. ;-)