An Open Letter To My 16 Year Old Self

This year brought us a great book, Dear Me, A Letter to My 16 Year Old Self — one of the least resistible titles I’ve ever seen.  The letters carry enthralling wisdom and some names you’ll recognize.  They’re funny, aching, addictive in their comfort. In an uncommonly beautiful way they cry out about the common realities we all share in being human.  They remind us we all walk much the same wilderness at that age, young and uncertain, and they’re bound to pull you back into the hallows of your 16 year old heart.  They have a way of causing the best of that young heart to beat within you again.

So, of course, I couldn’t resist.

Here’s my own letter to my 16 year old self, waving in all readers.  Feel free to tell me if your world and mine, at 16, shared some of the same emotional linens.

Dear Michael,


Stop worrying about the elephant haunting every room of your house.  The drinking your father does is his problem to fix, not yours.  Stop trying to talk him out of it.  Let him live with it.  If he chooses, he’ll die with it.  He is not your problem to solve.  Just move apart from him.  Forgive him, and don’t underestimate him.  He doesn’t have to live this way.  He won’t, always.

Those girls are beautiful.  Lovely, inside and out.  Have fun, but don’t settle up yet.  Love will look and feel different on you in a few years.  Be a gentleman.  A truly gentle man.   Take in the joys of a 16 year old heart.  You’ll have one for way too short a time.  You’ll long to have its full thumping madness back inside you someday.

People are underestimating you.  They’re trying to get you to underestimate yourself.  Don’t bend to their will.  Refuse to live down to them.  Celebrate the great teachers in your life.  Don’t let the bad ones get you down.  They can’t see what you’ll become.  You’ll shock devil dust off their hides.

Nothing is more embarrassing than ignorance.  Do your school work.  Yeah, the dull high school work, do it!!  Your college A’s will come easier if you do.  Do some foolery prevention.  Work toward cum laude now!

Speaking of that, assume you know little about the world.  With those who claim to know everything about life, God and living, politely disagree that they do, then move away from them.  Don’t give them permission to put you down.   And keep your own pedantic mouth closed as often as you can.  You’ll have fewer regrets that way. 

Quietly embrace Divine mystery.  It’s the road trip of your faith.  Take your faith trip with the top down, make it a joy.  Along its road, do things for people who need you to help them.  Love people. Listen to them.  Hear them. The face of young faith looks best with the wind of love in it.  You’re not dumb, no matter who says so.  You can understand that!

But don’t be quite so naive.   Recognize pure old meanness when it grins at you.  The people who haze and bully you — forgive them, but move apart from them.  Go from them, now, knowing their malice won’t matter for long.  It’ll disappear into your grown-up days.  Don’t get beaten down into believing what they say about you, or do to you. 

Boy — and you still are one — run headlong into teenage fun.  You drive too fast, play too hard, think and feel too little.  But that’s what 16 year old American boys do.  Be careful, but not to excess.

 Finally — well, almost — adore your friends out loud.  Love them with a loudness that rattles the windows.  Tell them out loud you love them, with your chin up, looking them in the eye.  Love them and your mighty well-meaning family.  Celebrate and adore your mentors.  Some of them won’t live as long as you want, or need.  Hug them, for what feels too long, while they’re here.  They are God’s men and women for your day.  They are doorways to your success.  To your legacy.

Gratitude looks good on everybody, kid.  Wear it, with some freshly laundered humility.  When you’re tempted to worry, as teenage boys do, throw that lying worry off yourself.  Cloak your stout heart in being thankful instead.  Worry, truly, is a waste of your imagination. 

Go.  Live.  With both throttled down, live, wide open!  Live the living daylights out of your life.  Live like you mean it. Have fun like they’re about to stop making it.  Do all this, but watch for that Tomfoolery.  Fun as he is, he can get you killed.  He nearly will.

Now, smile, out loud.

God loves you, boy.  Try to join God in that endeavor,



9 Responses to “An Open Letter To My 16 Year Old Self”

  1. Wonderful Michael. Thank you for sharing. Male or female most of us have had some of the same experiences and/or feelings, thoughts, emotions.

  2. Linda Copeland Says:

    Thank you for writing what I’d want to say to my two precious teenage Grand Girls and their Friends. Seems todays Youth are going in the wrong direction with male/female relationships. You say it well: “Those girls are beautiful. Have fun, but don’t settle up yet. Love will look and feel different on you in a few years. Be a gentleman. A truly gentle man. ” To Lauren & Ashley I say,”be a Lady. A true Lady.”

  3. Jane Hardin (Kennedy) Says:

    Memories. Those unforgotten years that weaved threads of uncertainties into a coherent whole. I was taken back immediately after reading about the elephant haunting every room in the house. At 16, I would have never understood the elephant in the room anaolgy, but taking a peek behind the curtain that shadows those years, tears rained down my face as I remembered that elephant that held me prisoner trapping me in my own mind because the means of expression was not an opportunity for me. Secrets I had to conceal in order to protect someone else’s reputation was always there, never avoidable, but always a cry, silent tears, and an unheard voice that only me and the elephant shared. Sweet 16! Ode to the pretence that life was indeed sweet. Now, how I value that curtain that has been pulled back just enough to lend a hint of primative remembrance reminding me how I learned to no longer avoid the unavoidable… The letter to my 16 year old self would be very similar to the words portrayed above. Michael, I enjoyed your well-written words, but applauded the seed of bravery you have planted insdie of each and everyone who reads your work.

  4. Brilliant as usual.
    Thank you for sharing Michael.
    Look forward to seeing you sometime in the near future my friend.
    Maybe a workout.

    Johnny D

  5. Michael, I stumbled onto this remarkable post via Facebook. How touching! It is interesting to recount some of my feelings from that age. I appreciate the insight & great future advice for my 6 and 8 year old sons. For a future post, what wisdom might your future 110 year-old self share with you in the present? 🙂 Be blessed

  6. Thanks for helping me remember my humanity and how to love. I wept reading this. Very healing. Bill Jordan

  7. Jim Dubovsky Says:

    Thank you Michael !
    I felt like I was back in 1970 all over again !!

    Jim Dubovsky

  8. Anne Smith Says:

    Thank you Michael! Wonderfully expressed…and I wonder what that 16 year old boy would have thought if he had been handed the letter to read and to send a reply.

    For me, at 16, I felt older than I do now. I think I would have given some pretty good advice to my older self if I had had any idea how drastically technology would change. That, I didn’t know, and didn’t know how many people will try to derail your dreams so that they can fulfill their own. It may happen more frequently to females than to males, maybe not now, but it did then. When I was 16, we (girls) were still schooled in how to put outselves second in relationships. As an adult, that did not serve me well.

    If I could go address my 16 year old self, I would tell her to embrace her Old Soul and listen to IT rather than to twist her talents and being into something that suited others and their purposes. We aren’t all meant to follow the same path or to fit into the traditional roles our familes have followed. Sometimes those elephants in the room are elephants because they just could not follow the role they felt pushed on them: could not be the soldier and return as normal, could not completely forget their dreams to be the musician/artist/doctor/archeologist to be a parent and offer up a stable life as easy as serving soup, or they just couldn’t be what the person they loved needed. Somehow, at 16, I turned my dream from what it was as MY DREAM to trying to fit a role that I still can’t play at 58.

    I think I just heard my 16 year old self yell through the years- stop trying! Run for your dream before it flatlines——

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