A Letter To My 16-Year-Old Self

Note: I wrote this a year and some months ago. Recently, I've been reminded of why things like this need to be shared and put into the faces of young people, so I'm reposing it today. Along with the "That's Why You Don't Have Any Friends" post, I hope that it serves as fuel for thought for young people facing the challenges of being ostracized, picked on, singled out and generally feeling like they're alone. Because they're not -- we're here. But they need to know that. 

Dear Joe:

Hey. It's me. You. Whatever. Only, I'm from THE FUTURETM.  2012, in fact. So, to answer your first question, no, the world doesn't end in the year 2000. Also, the whole Y2K bug you're going to hear about in about 3 years? Totally overplayed. You're going to make a TON of money helping fix it though. Learning COBOL will be boring, but trust me, it's worth wasting the year of your life to do it.

Listen -- I know that right now, things seem bleak. High school sucks. You're going to be saying that for quite a while after you leave it, because it really does suck that much. No, it doesn't get any easier as you become a Junior and a Senior. In fact, what's going to happen is you're going to become more and more aware of just how little you're getting from the experience. It's a waste of time. Except for the bits involving Mike and the student teacher you're going to have in English class your Senior year. Those are worth sticking around for.

But don't mistake your hyper awareness of just how futile high school is for some superior intelligence. You're not really smarter than everyone else, anymore than someone who knows it's going to rain is smarter than the guy who failed to pack an umbrella. It seems that way, because you're better prepared. But you're not smarter. You just picked up on something quicker than the others. The only difference is that you won't regret being rained on. You're not smarter, you're just ready to go. Drop the attitude. You'll enjoy the next few years a little more.

You feel trapped right now, I know. But you're going to travel the world. In fact, I'm writing this from LaGuardia airport in New York. Yes, you get to go to New York, finally. You spend a few weeks there when you're 19, and you're going to be scared to death to leave your hotel room for almost a week. In fact, being scared to leave your hotel room will be a motif for the first few travel experiences you have. But that's because you do them alone. 

It's going to be amazing, trust me. You'll have some great experiences. You're going to love figuring out new cities. It's going to be an addiction for a while. 

You're going to move out of mom and dad's place in a few years. This will make your relationship with them ten times better. Try to respect them. It's tough. Mom's going crazy as you get older, because she's feeling like her job as a mother is coming to an end. It's hard to stop being something you've been for 18 years, you know?

No, of course you don't know. Duh. You're a 16 year old asshole. I mean that in the nicest possible sense, of course.

When you leave mom and dad's, you're going to spend about 6 months in college. Yes, you drop out. You already know you will, but you go through the exercise anyway. Don't skip that -- go ahead with it. You end up getting some pretty great opportunities from working in the computer lab. Oh, and as you may have guessed from my mention of COBOL earlier, that internet thing you play on at night? That's going to be a career for you. One of three, in fact. It rocks. You're going to get paid gobs of money to invent cool shit.

I know, right? But don't rush it. Take your time. The really cool stuff doesn't start showing up until 2000, and by then, you're going to be pretty sick of it. In fact, you take a break from it in 2005. And get this -- when you take your break, you become an author! A real life, no kidding book writer. It's nuts. As of the time I'm writing this, you have written two books. One of them, you put out yourself (yep, just like Henry Rollins does), and the other is published by Penguin Books. You're writing a third. But you've been sidetracked by -- and this is really the point of this letter -- your comic.

You finally start drawing a comic. I know you're drawing them now, but in a few years, you're going to hear something horribly hurtful from someone you care deeply about. It's going to sting worse than all the shit everyone says right now, and it's going to cause you to back away from the drawing table for years and years. I'm not going to tell you who, or what happens, because even though it's the most hurtful thing you go through in the next few years, it's also the path you take to truly becoming your own person. It sucks, but it's important. Know that I wouldn't hold this information from you if I didn't think it was absolutely vital you go through it.

And that's what I wrote this to tell you. Everything you are hearing from everyone right now is wrong. They're small minded backwoods redneck assholes who are jealous of what they know you will eventually become. They call you "fag" and "pussy" because you draw and love comics, because they themselves have been held back from truly loving what they want to love and are jealous that you still get to.

They are wrong. You are alright. It's okay to be a football playing comic book fan. It's alright to play Dungeons and Dragons in the lunch room with your "geek" friends. It's just fine to be both athletic and a fan of stuff that isn't supposed to be a jock's chosen interest.

You won't go to college to play football. You won't be a pro football player (you actually do get signed to a team when you're 32, but the league folds before you can play your first game. But it turns out, it's actually a good thing, because some really fucking awesome shit happens that year with your Akira collection. Trust me, football sucks compared to touring the world showing people your anime cel collection).

So go out there and make dad proud. Light fools up on the football field and revel in the fact that you legally get to pop assholes in the mouth full-speed. Just know that it DOES end, thank God. I know it sucks going out there everyday... Just make the best of it. You'll be done with it before you know it. And when you finally do hang up your helmet and focus on living life for yourself instead of your father, know that the road is tough and worth every single step.

There are a few things I wish you would do different, though. Don't stop working out. You become a 375 lb. fat ass for a few years. Life is much easier if you don't. You learn nothing of any particular use from the experience, aside from just how expensive Big and Tall clothing can get. Really, you can do without this experience. Work out. Don't stop. Keep your fitness.

Also, don't trust anyone until they've proven they can be trusted. That gets you into trouble in life a few times. You're going to fall victim to trusting the wrong family members; the wrong "friends" and business associates are going to bleed you dry. You're going to lose some money -- a lot of it in fact -- to these people. It's alright though. Again, it's one of those experiences that actually make you a better guy.

You're going to marry your dream girl. You haven't met her yet, but when you do at age 21, you're going to fall head over heels in love. And you're going to have to wait for her, too. It's going to suck. You have to be her best friend while she dates a total fucking loser for about two years. There will be a few girls in your life during that time.

You don't realize it now, but you're actually going to be a total dick to a girl and it's going to feel awful. You won't want to, but you're going to. And it's going to be one of the few regrets you actually carry with you. But it'll make you a better husband to your dream girl. She's an athlete. She's gorgeous. And she's so amazing in every way. You're going to wonder every single day why the hell she chose you. But don't discount yourself. You treat her well. You deserve her, and she deserves you. It's the best relationship you'll ever have in your life.

The bottom line: it's all going to be alright. Don't waste another second wondering if it will. You have an awesome life so far. It's hard, and there's some insane crap that's coming in your very near future (enough to write both of those books I told you about). And even though it feels like you're going through hell at the time, each and every one of those experiences is going to make you into who you are right now, which is pretty damn great if I do say so myself.

Take a few deep breaths. Realize that what you're feeling right now is very temporary. You will escape it, and not via the desperate method you're contemplating right now. Of course, if we're honest with ourselves, it's just a test to see if you have the balls to do it. You don't.

But eventually, you'll actually face a situation in your life where you seriously do consider doing what you're thinking about doing right now. And it'll be the darkest, most lonely moment you'll face in your life. You will actually taste the gunpowder residue on the barrel of the gun. It'll taste salty and dirty. And it's because no one has ever told you what I'm trying to tell you right now: YOU ARE ALRIGHT. The shit you've gone through, it's awful. It's terrible. And you will bury it deep inside of yourself until you have no choice but to face it.

And you win. By facing yourself down; by not pulling that trigger, you win. You beat them all.

Know that.


Yourself at Age 35