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Jackie Gingrich Cushman
Jackie Gingrich Cushman
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Letter to My 16-Year-Old Self


Last month, I wrote a column providing a midterm life update based on a question by David Brooks.

This week, I'm writing a letter to my 16-year-old self. The letter is inspired by the book, "Dear Me: A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self," edited by Joseph Galliano (Atria Books, 2011).

Be assured that 16 is a shaky time for everybody. Nothing seems to fit, nothing seems easy, and life's future is unknown. On the bright side, life seems to hold much promise and possibility. As you grow older, hang on to the idea that life is full of promise and possibility.

No, you are not normal, but neither is anyone else. Everyone has something that makes them "not normal." Your something might be more visible (yes, your dad did run for Congress and lose twice before you were 10; he won when you were 11; two years later, your parents divorced). But everyone has a family member who is crazy, in jail, estranged, sick or any combination of those and other abnormalities. NO ONE is normal.

We are just all trying to make it through this journey as best we can.

As an aside, rest assured that those who appear to be perfect are not; there is no such thing as perfection in people. So quit trying to be perfect. It won't happen. Instead, try to improve, be kind and forgive others when they are not perfect (including yourself).

Many people will laugh at your ideas or dampen you dreams; this is a reflection of where they stand in life and the experiences that they have had. NEVER believe people who tell you, "It can't be done," "You'll never be able to," or "You're just not that good." Instead of believing them, put your head down and work hard. As Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest football coaches of all times, said: "Dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Hard work is the price we must pay for success.

I think you can accomplish anything if you're willing to pay the price."

Your faith, which is so important to you now, will become even more so as you grow older, have a family and face life's trials. Spend more time cultivating your relationship with God; the more time you spend in that relationship, the better your relationships will be with others.

You are really smart, and you think really quickly, but your people skills are — well — lacking. Luckily for you, you will grow up and marry a man who is wonderful with people and will help you in that area.

The most important decision you will ever make will be whom to marry. Do not marry based on your age, or what your sister or others are doing at the time. You will know you have found the right man if you believe that he will be a great father to your yet-to-be born children. PICK WISELY.

Luckily, this is the one thing that you end up doing well, and for that you should say a prayer of thanks every night to God, who will have put your husband in your life several times to make sure you made the right choice.

Don't confuse attention for love. They are not the same. Love is when others want the best for you; attention is when they want you to give your best to them.

Understand that you will make mistakes, as you too are not perfect. Be as kind to yourself at those times as you would to a friend.

Spend time with your family. Your parents and your sister will continue to provide you with a stable foundation and love and support. Take advantage of this. When you have children, you will forgive your mother for being a bit crazy, as you will by then have become more than a bit crazy yourself.

Be thankful for and appreciative of your friends. Without friends, the world is a lonely place. Lift them up, encourage them, and listen to their woes, and they will do the same for you. Seek out people who share the same optimistic outlook on life.

Finally, remember that you can't do much about the destination we all share, so enjoy the journey.

To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit




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