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Dear 17 year old me

Last week I finally picked up my new ID – some 4 years on. I have absolutely no attachment to my maiden surname. I can’t really trace it back in my family. It didn’t mean anything to me. At all.

People would often ask me what it meant. Um, nothing. So many people asked me if it was Italian. Say what?! Generally it just added confusion into the mix of what “box” people should put me in – I mean, my name was enough of a mouthful as it was. Over email, I was regularly addressed as “Mr”. In person I regularly got that “what are you?” look and sometimes the words actually came out of people’s mouths along with that confused look.

As I stood in the queue at Home Affairs with my old ID in hand to collect my new one I found myself staring down hard at that awkward, insecure 17 year old girl with perfect skin. I was in matric counting down the last days of high school & terrified/confused/excited about what was next.

I remember very clearly that day I had that ID picture taken. I got my hair relaxed especially for the occasion. I was wearing my best (read only) black Levis and black Converse sneakers (bought at LA Clothing, ha!) & a chocolate brown crushed silk shirt & I headed to Cavendish in high spirits. I didn’t really own much clothes at all not to mention the cool kind but this ensamble was really the very best of what I had. It only dawned on me when I was handed the photos back that this would only be a head & shoulders shot!


I’m just a few months away from 34, so almost exactly double the age I was then. If only I knew then what I know now. I wish I could have a coffee with this girl and save her so much anguish/self doubt/tears.

I’d tell her this and I’d make sure she really believed me:

  1. Everything is going to be ok-ish.
  2. Stop trying to fit in. You don’t. You won’t. Not ever.
  3. Stop stressing about your body. What it is now is the best it will ever be.
  4. Not knowing what you want to do with the rest of your life is exactly where you should be at 17.
  5. You being unsure of yourself isn’t licence to be mean to girls around you.
  6. Your parents don’t know everything & they are often not right… but they are doing what they truly believe to be best.
  7. You are not ugly.
  8. Keep being frugal & save even harder.
  9. Start wearing sunscreen.
  10. Eat to nourish your body.
  11. The rest of your life gets a whole lot better than high school.
  12. The opportunities you see around you are not just for other people. Really. If you want something go and try it out. You’re capable.
  13. You need fewer things than you think & they won’t compensate for the holes in your life. Stuff quickly becomes a burden.
  14. Let go of friendships that don’t work. Even the long standing ones. You can’t fix everything.
  15. Speak up. Say what you’re thinking. Everything you’re thinking/wondering is valid.
  16. Actively choose the people you have in your life – there’s no obligation to be nice to everyone.
  17. Accept a little help. You can do everything you need on your own but don’t forget to make room for people who care.
  18. Do some exercise . And not just because the matric dance/some or other event is coming up
  19. Right now, you’ve never left your Cape Town but in the next years you are going to see the world. It will be your best learning & reflection.
  20. Moving out of your hometown will change the trajectory of your life. For good. You need this.
  21. You probably won’t believe this but you will find love. It will be everything

Lastly, a word of caution about everything I’ve just said: no advice will ever substitute your own lived experience. Go try things. Go & get it wrong. Do whatever the heck you want. Go & learn/see/do for yourself.

Actually as a re read this  post now before I hit publish, I’m realising I’m still learning so many of these things.



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