“The third thing that I do now when my world caves in is I pause, I take a breath and bow, and I let the chapter end. I design my future bright, not by where my life has been. And I try, try, try, try, try again.” -Jason Mraz, “3 Things”
My co-teacher recently asked me to write a letter to my middle school (grades 7-9 in the US) students for the school newspaper. All I was told was to give them some advice and make it about a page, so I decided to write whatever I felt. We all know I’m not into the whole brevity thing, so the hardest part was keeping it one page with simple language.
While writing, I thought about the things I’ve noticed during my time in Korea. Koreans are often discouraged from being individuals or too creative. The group mentality is good in some ways, but it also makes people hesitant to break away from the pack. Their parents might not like me for it, but I used this letter to try to encourage them to be their own person and think for themselves.
The other thing I thought about while writing the letter was my own life. I have a relatively vague recollection of middle school, which we all know is such an awkward time for everyone. I’m still waiting to grow out of my awkward stage and have accepted that I probably never fully will. I thought about where I’ve been, what I’ve done, and what I’ve been through. I thought about all those beautifully complicated life lessons. Mostly, I thought about what I would have wanted someone to tell me when I was their age.
In some pathetic way, I think it ended up being more of a letter to my past self (or a reminder for my future self) than it is to my students, as most of them will probably never read it, anyway. I had a couple of requests to post it somewhere for friends/family to read, so here it is, unedited in all its cliché-ridden glory. Because of the constraints, it doesn’t flow as well as I’d like, either, but just remember that it’s for a bunch of teenagers who don’t speak English as their first language and love stuff like this. Warning: This letter is saturated in cheese. Read at your own risk.
It’s hard to believe the school year – and my time in Korea – is almost over. You’ve all grown so much, and you’ll continue to grow and learn more about yourselves in the next few years. You will see, do, and be so many things that you can’t even imagine right now. If someone had told me 5 years ago that I’d live in Korea, I wouldn’t have believed them. Life can take you unexpected places and make you do things you thought you’d never do. You’ll see this in the next few years. Some of you are starting high school soon. You won’t be the big kids in school anymore. You may feel nervous or unsure of yourselves and your place in life, but you will be okay. I have some advice that I hope will help you during this uncertain time in your lives. I gave you three rules on the first day of class that also apply to life: 1) Listen. 2) Be kind. 3) Try.
Listen. Always listen to your heart. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Do what you feel is right. Find what makes you happy and do it. Trust your feelings, and you’ll never go wrong. You don’t always have to follow what everyone else does or believes. Don’t change for anyone but yourself. Be yourself, and don’t be afraid to be different. People who are “different” are some of the most interesting people you can be and meet. Listen to other people to learn more about them and hear their stories, but always follow your own path. Listen to your own heart and chase after your own dreams. Question what you don’t know or trust, and make up your own mind. When you find something or someone you love, love it with all you have.
Be kind. A little kindness can make a big difference in someone’s life. You never know what problems someone else might have, and being kind can mean more to them than you know. You have nothing to lose by being kind. People will not always be nice to you, and they will not always like you. That’s fine. You can still be a good person and be kind to others. Treat others with the respect you want. Always inspire others and be inspired.
Try. This is the most important rule. Life does not always work out the way you want. Never stop trying. Live your life without regret. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and take risks. You are going to make so many mistakes in your life. If you spend too much time thinking about what you could have, should have, would have done, you will never grow. Appreciate the present and focus on your future. Learn from your mistakes and move on. This is the most important lesson I’ve learned in my own life. Don’t expect anything to be given to you. You have to work hard for what you want. If you do, you will appreciate it so much more when you get it. I say this from experience. There will be times when life will be hard. Be open to all that life has to offer, good and bad. Things will happen that you are not ready for or that seem bad at the time, but sometimes the most wonderful things can come from the bad. You never know how something will affect your life for years to come, but it’s up to you to let it change you for the good. One choice can lead you to a life you can’t imagine. You’ll know when it does. Accept change. Change will come whether you want it to or not, so stay positive when it does. Never stop trying to make your life and the world better, and no matter what happens, never give up.
I hope this advice helps you, and you remember it as you go through life. Thank you to everyone at [redacted] for helping to make this the best year of my life. I will remember everyone with love. I wish you all the best and know you will make me proud. Keep fighting!
THE PLACES YOU’LL GO!
You’ll be on your way up!
You’ll be seeing great sights!
You’ll join the high fliers
who soar to high heights.
-Dr. Seuss, “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!”