The other night, I was at a little old music venue called ABC NoRio on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, hypnotized by some drum-heavy abstract jazz improvisation, beer in hand, after a day of preparing a course I’m teaching this Fall. Sitting there in the audience I felt calm, enthralled, sort of perfect, actually, and it occurred to me: I am more myself at this moment than I have been in a long time.
When I moved to New York permanently, I took a year off from teaching after nine years as a lecturer, and although I had been heavily involved in the live music scene in Australia, I rarely go to see a show these days. I had let two of my great passions slip away from me during the immigration process. Why? I have no idea.
Maybe I was stressed out and overwhelmed. Maybe my interests diversified. Maybe I was distracted. Maybe it was timing or sheer necessity. Whatever the reasons, in my moment of clarity, I remembered how important teaching was to my relationship with the world, and how much I was at home in a room full of incredible music.
I had a lot of weird jobs before I started my PhD and entered into the weird world of academia. At 15, I was a real estate receptionist and copywriter. At 16, I worked in a pharmacy where I administered the methadone program on weekends and trained as a cosmetics consultant. At 18, I started my own co-op independent theatre company. Over the years that followed, I did marketing for charities, I was head of publicity for a blues and roots record label, I did some freelance music management and promotion, and I even squeezed in a Master’s degree.
Although I knew I was a writer from a very young age, it took a lot of experimentation and experience over many years to realize my commitment to teaching and music, to break those commitments, and then to relocate them.
Do you remember what it was like to be 16? Before you went through everything you’ve been through now? You were working off rash reactions for the most part, taking care of your immediate needs in haze of uncertainty. We all are prone to returning to this state when things get real, especially in our professional lives.
In making decisions about your future self and your career trajectory, it can help to revisit the lessons you learned enroute to the present; to remember who you are and what you know about the world. This month’s exercise will help you do that. Numerous writers have published their own versions of this as a quick Google search will reveal.
Reflective Writing Exercise 2: Letter to My 16 Year Old Self
When To Do It:
When you have some time and space to yourself.
It’s easy to get lost in a haze of distractions from all the things we’ve learned in life. We make decisions out of necessity sometimes without taking into account what is most important to us. This exercise is about identifying the things we know about ourselves in order to remember what’s important and make better choices moving forward.
Write an alphabetized letter to your 16 year old self.
Find one keyword pertaining to your life for every letter of the alphabet, and write a sentence or two of advice to your 16 year old self about each one.
Bear in mind that you’re writing for your younger self. Be gentle and honest and, where possible, retain a sense of humor about the topics you’re exploring.
A is for Art. Just because you’re better at writing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t experiment and learn painting and sculpture.
B is for Bastards. The world is mostly populated with these. Some of them are quite charming and attractive -- beware.*
Try to get all the way through from A to Z.
Once you’re finished, hold onto your letter. We all revert to our 16 year old selves sometimes, especially when we’re feeling overwhelmed and vulnerable. So, the next time you feel in doubt about a career or life decision, pull this letter out and reread it to find clues on what to do next.
*Example from: Mokhtari, T. The Bloomsbury Introduction to Creative Writing. (London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015)
By Tara Mokhtari