Dear Sarah: a letter to 15-year-old me

Sarah Lee♪♫♪ And it echoes when I breathe / Til all you see is my ghost / Empty vessel, crooked teeth, wish you could see…

Dear Sarah (age 15),

In a couple of days, you’re turning 22. Incidentally, there are really great Taylor Swift songs for both of these ages, and trust me when I say you’ll only love her music more and more.

Fifteen is a catchy song, but you won’t relate to it as much as you feel now to 22. Because right now, you’re not thinking about music that much. You’re burying yourself away from the world, and some time down the road, you’ll think back to this time as when you were sleeping.

You went through the motions and ticked off the boxes of expectations, and while they praised you for it, your mind, heart and soul slept.

This is all very vague. But so are you. At the start of high school, you’re stumbling through school and friends feeling a little lost like everyone else, but the most emotion you feel is the fear that you’re not feeling anything at all. You memorize the stuff of textbooks, shuffle from one classroom to the next between two bells because you’re told, join a number of clubs and teams because you think you’ll find that “great passion” for something that was toted to come from “being involved.”

You’re applauded for your work ethic and grades, but you feel little pride in what you have done. Day after day, it’s the same, and you think you’re doing what you want, but truly you have not the slightest clue what you want beyond the four walls that are always around you.

For the next four years, you will just be killing time. There will be meaningful moments, of course, that you will look back upon and find to be defining of who you are and what you will be, but for the most part, you will not escape this desperate, choking feeling that something is missing.


What I wish you could change

Although it is always said to never dwell on the past, there are so many things I still wish you could change. I wish that you would be a better friend to your true friends, like Armita, instead of so often acting selfishly. She’s the best friend you’ll ever have and better to you than you will ever deserve, especially when you should be kinder.

I wish you gave more people a chance and tried to be a friend, rather than expecting friendship automatically.

I wish you would put more effort and heart into what you’re learning in classes instead of doing the minimum just for good grades. You know there’s more to learning than good grades, but you can’t seem to find the motivation for it; what you do know is that you could be doing more, but you’re not.

I wish you kept playing violin and piano. There was never a reason to stop, even if you tried to justify it with saying you needed more time to study; no, you were just lazy.

I wish you spent more time talking to Mom and Dad. Now is a time to forge a more solid relationship with them before you have to leave for college — which is a thought that you barely understand.

I wish you learned to cook from Mom, and I wish you still went to the bookstore every weekend with Dad. I wish you called your brother every day.

I wish you never joined anything you didn’t really care about. Speech Team, Math Team, Model UN, Youth and Government, Science Olympiad… the list stretches long on your resume. And you know, I think at the time you really did care about them. They are the reason you know what your strengths and weaknesses, and when I think about it, they were the reason that I ever tried at anything. Maybe right now I just feel that everything is tainted with cynicism because I wonder if I would do it again had I known where I am now.


What turned out OK

But then, there are things you are grateful for. Over four years, you’ll spend every spring season playing badminton, the only sport and exercise that you enjoy right now. (Would you believe me if I told you that you’ll be a runner and crave a good daily workout?)

You’re going to study abroad in Russia, not just once, but twice; and the things you see and the people you meet are going to completely change the course of your life. Over four years, you’ll spend over 250 hours volunteering at Edward Hospital, and that’s not something you’ll ever regret, because that propels you onto the path that I now believe is my purpose.

You’re driven but shy, motivated but bored, surrounded by people but always lonely. You think you know more than you do and that you’re smarter than you really are. You’re already thinking where you will be 10 or 20 years from now, and you’re constantly looking forward instead of living in the present.

You search for what is missing within the confines of your existence, but it can’t be found while you’re still bound to the half-mile distance between your quiet suburban home and your high school. It won’t be until you live on your own in college that you’ll know the happiness and actualization that comes from independence.


What I still wish I could change, maybe

Here’s what I wish you know right now, at age 15, and it’s the same thing I wish I remember now sometimes: you’re not responsible for the happiness and well-being of others. You’re easily manipulated by the requests of others and their emotions, and you feel some obligation to do all that you can for those you care about.

For the most part, that will not change in seven years’ time. You still feel a lot of responsibility and empathy to those around you, which is a good thing when it’s not making you forget about your own purpose and motivations. You have a lot that you want to change about yourself, but I promise that there will be a time where you are happy with who you are and proud of what you have accomplished.

There is so, so much that you do not know in this small world that you live in right now — the depths of love, friendship, pain, and sorrow that you will come to know will astound you. And it will awaken you, and make you live.

Take care of yourself, and be proud.



Sarah, age 22

And they call me under, and I’m shaking like a leaf / And they call me under, and I wither underneath … ♪♫♪

(I of the Storm – Of Monsters and Men)


Sarah Lee (F)Sarah Lee is a senior studying neuroscience and Russian in the GPPA Medicine program at UIC. She’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do, but some of  life goals include running a marathon, exploring Eastern Europe and becoming fluent in Russian. In her free time, she loves running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. A Naperville native, Sarah is a peer mentor in the Courtyard residence hall.

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