A Letter to My 17-Year-Old Self: Jen Yih



How are you? I know, 17 wow! Lots of emotions, very moody, endless opportunity, planning for your future and so many questions such as who are you and what are you going to become? I'm going to try to help you out. Let me promise you one thing, everything is going to be alright, in fact, more than alright.

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You are beautiful, just as you are, like when you wake up after a good nights sleep on a Sunday morning kind of beauty. You don't need all that mascara, combed hair, perfect skin, and a thigh gap. Naturally, your genetics gave you an athletic build so just embrace it, you'll be thankful for those muscular arms later. Keep studying and questioning what you put into your body because it does matter and yes, it is hard to eat well but you will figure out what works for you. Do not starve or restrict, being malnourished isn't pretty or healthy. Don't worry about that birthmark on your face and scar on your left eye, it is a part of your signature. You'll learn that your idiosyncracies will make up who you are and it is good to have stories. 

All those things you do on your own such as dreams you have of Paris, cutting out words and photos from magazines, dancing in your bedroom, writing in your journal about love and complex emotions - keep doing all those things you like to do on your own. Don't feel alone, becoming best friends with yourself will keep you afloat on the darkest of days. All those far-off visions and things you write about will become your life, even if it doesn't seem like it. I know, you're wondering, "But how? What steps do I take?" There will never be an answer or steps or a path, and plenty of people will tell you how to live your life but all you can do is be yourself. Stay true and honest. Be kind to everyone, and kind to yourself. There will be plenty of people, even ones you love, that will challenge you and make you feel as if you don't fit in or should change or aren't good enough. It is not true. People you don't know will want to hurt you, especially when you're happy, some might even copy you - don't get mad or sad, just keep moving forward at your pace.

You're going to develop this thing in college called anxiety. It's going to feel like you can't breathe. You're not dying, you're not crazy, and you will figure it out. It comes because you will have many ambitions and realize that all good things take lots of time and patience. Practice being in the present moment, worry less about the future and let go of dwelling on the past. Who, what, and where is right in front of you is all that matters. Do whatever it is you're doing and do it well. Keep dreaming, but keep your feet on the ground. Also, exercise like running, dancing, surfing, and yoga will help ease your anxiousness. It's going to be ok. 


Your love life... You're a hopeless romantic, and that's okay, eventually, you'll use that to create a lot of art, poems, and other writing. It's a gift to be sensitive, but also a curse. You're going to fall in love with a lot of people, most of them will disappoint you because you're an idealist. Forgive. Don't expect someone to make you happy, only you can make you happy - and anyone else is a bonus to be grateful for. Don't derail your pursuits quite yet for love, as addicting and good as it may feel to be wanted and adored. You have many things to accomplish and you will realize soon enough that you can receive love from many places, people, and things - not just a boy or man. Also, don't ditch your friends for a new budding romance, you're going to need them later.

Be good to the strong women in your life. Bring each other up and be there for each other. It's never a competition and never should be. You'll figure out why soon enough.

Good news, you're going to travel a lot. You love it, and you're going to become even more curious and inspired than you are now. The ocean too will become a very happy, soothing place for you. You're going to see a lot and some of it will anger you, it'll make you think the world is a horrible, unfair, and disastrous place. You're not wrong, but the best thing you can do is live by example, practice patience, understanding, and compassion. You will find your niche to make a difference, you may not be able to save the entire world but you can make a change, even if it is small. As you travel and meet new people, desire new places, don't ever forget about the people who have been there for you. Be there for them too... Morocco or wherever can wait, it's not going anywhere. And that project you started, finish it. 


Stay focused. You have plenty of goals, and they are allowed to change and evolve over time as you learn new things but don't get frustrated - allow that change and growth to happen. You'll be able to feel it. As your ideas evolve, so will you so make sure you check-in, reflect and get centered every now and then. Your mental and emotional capacity is extremely important. Don't worry so much what other people think, they'll be as uncomfortable with your growth as you are. It's okay, keep moving forward. 

Be kind to your parents. They are awesome and have moved heaven and earth to make sure you turned out to be a decent human being. No one is perfect and don't try to make them be perfect. Accept what you cannot change and move on. Mom and Dad won't be around forever, appreciate everyone waking moment with them, call and tell them you love them. 

Becoming an adult is a pain in the ass. You're going to be very upset with your High School and educational systems for not teaching you the very basics of credit, taxes, insurance, and little things like that. Do your research, you'll figure it out. Don't live out of your means. Stay cash positive and don't get yourself into debt you can't climb out of. You're a cheap ass, so you'll probably be okay - pick up the bill for your friends every now and then. 

Keep writing, keep dancing, keep loving, keep questioning, and stay open to all people and things as long as you can. You will get to that "destination" you're seeking and money will have nothing to do with it. Don't worry about your title or lables or identity, you have everything and more that you'll ever need. 

You are loved.

Words: Jen Yih
Photos: Catherine Aeppel