Today I’m sharing a letter that I wrote to the sixteen year old version of myself. The sweet teenage soul with her worries, insecurities, and fears. The girl who grew up to believe that she truly could make an impact and help others to do the same. And if even one person out there reads this letter and finds comfort in my words… I will know that it has been worth it! Because building a business is tough, friends, but with others by our side and the opportunity to share in successes (and the tough stuff), we can do this together.
You don’t have to build a business alone!
So here’s a peek at what I would share to the girl with a dream 10 years ago:
You don’t need to be perfect. I know that you feel pressured to look a certain way, to fit into a mold that you believe will equate to happiness, but I’m here to tell you that it won’t. Happiness isn’t another ten pounds or hundred dollars away. Happiness doesn’t exist in material objects, money, accolades, or praise. It doesn’t arise from being successful, it doesn’t multiply with the number of friends you have, or even accumulate with the number of zeros on your paycheck.
Happiness comes from truly and unapologetically loving yourself.
It arises from embracing your gifts, accepting your faults, and most importantly – from finding ways to serve others.
One day, very soon, you will leave your familiar streets behind you for the great big world outside. And the people you will meet along your travels will teach you more than textbooks ever could.
Those experiences will give you courage. Seize it and spread it to others. Find ways to give your enthusiasm back to the community. Make other people smile. Hold the door open for strangers. Volunteer. Never cease in your efforts to make this world a better place.
I can hear you saying: What if I try and I fail? What if I reach for the unknown and come crashing to the ground? Oh, Natalie, but what if you succeed? What if taking that leap is exactly what you were meant to do?
STOP WORRYING ABOUT FAILURE.
You are going to fail. It’s an inevitable part of life and will teach you more than any number of your successes. Failure makes us more resilient, it teaches us how to improve, it gives us the experience we need to succeed. Hear me in this: there is no shame in failing. (Hold up… go and read that sentence again because I really want it to sink in for you!)
You won’t always be the best at something, but you have the choice of being the one who works the hardest. Don’t take shortcuts, don’t choose the easy way out, learn your craft, and pour your soul into building a career you can be proud of. Your perseverance will lay the foundation for lasting impact.
WORK HARD, BE HONEST, AND STAY HUMBLE.
When you falter, remember to look for the faces that are standing around you. Those friends who would rather spend a dozen tearful nights by your side than a lifetime without you… they are the ones you will cherish the most.
Never forget how amazing your family is. Hold them close. There will come a time when your phone won’t ring everyday after school to hear Mom-Mom’s voice on the other end. So hug her tight. Tell her you love her every second that you get. And when you have to choose between the comforts of college and weekends by her bedside, I can promise you that you will never regret making those train rides back from Philadelphia.
Sweet girl, you are so much stronger than you think you are.
Be brave. Stand up for what is right, even when it makes you weak in the knees and knotted up inside. Have the audacity to believe that your actions, and your words can make a difference.
Yes, I am telling you that what you do matters and if your voice has the power to improve just one person’s life… it’s worth speaking up. There will be those who tell you that you’re naive. They will try to diminish your positive spirit and I beg of you – fight back. Your open heart and wide-eyed wonder is a rarity in this world. At sixteen, you see the realities of this life and choose to focus on the silver lining.
That positive outlook will pull you through some of the darkest times. Hold on to it. Even when the waves roar higher, have faith that the wind will guide your sails to safe harbor.
And you know how that camera makes you feel alive? You know the way that your hand seems to melt into the rubber grip of its body and your fingertips love to dance around the lens? That little machine holds much more than the potential to translate three dimensional space into a single frame. That camera is your way to communicate with the world.
When your words lose their meaning, when sentences – strung together with even the most eloquent of phrases – fail to express your emotion… your photographs will. Your images will give you the ability to share exactly how you see the world… for all its beauty and its grace. That camera will enable your mind to reach into the souls of your subjects and convey what it means to love and how it feels to be loved.
That camera will introduce you to the world of entrepreneurship and open doors for you to meet the sweetest human beings on the planet. It will inspire you to make waves and lose sight of the shore. You will travel to San Francisco and fall in love with this foggy city by the bay. It’s rolling hills will capture your heart and one day you might just be brave enough to trade the east coast for the west. That adventure is going to bring far more than you ever could have planned for; more than you ever could have dreamed of. But keep dreaming, sweet girl. Your dreams are so needed.
You may not know it yet… but you were born to be a creative. You have entrepreneurship running through your bloodstream and big dreams filling every tiny space in your heart. And as much as your passion will define you, I promise that it will never confine you. Your desire to serve other people, your vision for the way this world could be… it is going to set you free.
Your Much Older, Slightly Wiser 26-Year-Old-Self