An open letter to all adolescents, pre-pubescents, teens and tweens;

The middle and high school years are tough.  In may ways they will be the best time of your life – oh what I would give to not have any bills, have meals provided for me, and near constant access to my friends.  It’s hard not to long for those simpler days when I knew what words meant, but I didn’t really understand them.  Words like loss, work, debt, hardship… love and joy.

In other ways, they are something you will merely survive.  We all have our scars.

This is a time of discovery, experimentation, self-consciousness, awkwardness, and knock-down-drag-out struggle.  It’s a time to explore new ideas, new passions, new people and, in the process, figure out who you are, who you want to be, and how to get from here to there.

So if you are reading this, I have just one piece of advice: Never be too cool.

Never be too cool to laugh.  Really laugh.  From your gut.  Laugh so hard your face gets red and twisted, your abs hurt, and tears come down your face.  There are few things in this world that connect people as deeply and wholly as shared laughter.

Never be too cool to get dirty.  Your Juicy couture will be fine.  That’s why we have laundry detergent.  Even if your clothes never get clean, the stains will be a constant reminder of the fun that you had.

Getting dirty circa 1997 (?)

Getting dirty circa 1997 (?)

Never be too cool to tell your parents you love them.  You can’t know now how much it means to them, but someday you will…  so say it today.  Say it every day.

Never be too cool to help someone who needs a hand, a hug, or a friend.  You have been, or will be, that someone at some point in your life, and you will be grateful to anyone who reaches out.  Be that person.  Reach out.

Never be too cool to try something new.  I understand self-consciousness.  I live it.  But take a chance.  Have faith in the people you’ve surrounded yourself with, be they family or friends, that they will support you.

Never be too cool to do what you love.  Do you love under-water basket weaving?  Do it!  Are you crazy for ultimate frisbee?  Do it!  Life is too short to spend it doing anything but what you love.  Don’t worry if none of your friends want to try out for the play.  You’ll make new friends who share your passion.

Never be too cool to give 100%.  It’s easier to say you weren’t trying when you fall on your face, but it’s also easier to fall on your face if you don’t try.  Always give 100%.

Never be too cool to shine.  Try out for the solo.  Apply for the internship.  Audition for the dance company.  Take a chance.  Shine.

Never be too cool to be impressed.  The world has some seriously cool stuff in it, not to mention some seriously talented people.  Go ahead and be impressed by them.  I don’t have any scientific data, but I believe that allowing yourself to be awed by someone or something encourages you to look for your own potential.

Never be too cool to ask for help.  We all need help at some point.  Whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual, we’re all in this together.

Never be too cool to be cool with who you are.  You are awesome.  Just you.  Whether you’re a book worm or diva, athlete or artist, red head or blonde, preppy or goth, cheerleader or gamer.  Life is so much easier when you are okay with just being you.

I wish I could say that self-acceptance gets easier, but it doesn’t.  For some people, myself included, it will always be a struggle.  I have to remind myself that everyone else is much more concerned with themselves than they are with me.  The only one who cares if I look ridiculous while dancing is me, just like I’m the only one who cares if I’m having a bad hair day or my clothes have boogers on them.

Also, I’m the only one who misses out while worrying about what everyone else is thinking.  Because when I say, “Never be too cool,” what I mean is never be too embarrassed, never be too shy, never be too worried about what others think of you that you give up parts of yourself to do what you think will please them.  Chances are, the people whose opinions mean so much to you right now will be gone before you know it, but the opportunities you miss are never coming again.

So I close with the words of the late, great Mark Twain, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

Amen, brother.