Portrait of a Young Woman

by Susan Pogorzelski on December 21, 2010 · 13 comments

#Reverb10 is a blogging initiative that provides prompts every day for the month of December with the intent of reflecting on the past year and looking forward to what’s to come. While I can’t promise that I’ll be rising to the challenge of blogging every day, reflecting on the past for future growth is pretty much in this blog’s description, and so I’m glad to be a part of this movement.

Are you taking part? Let me know! I’d love to see your own reflections and words on how you’d like to manifest positive change in the coming year.

The Prompt

“Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now.
What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead?
(Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago.
What would you tell your younger self?)”

My Dearest Susan,

As you read this, it’s already December 21, 2000; you’re seventeen years old, in your junior year of high school, and looking forward to celebrating Christmas with your family. You don’t know yet that the world is about to change, though you can begin to feel yourself changing along with it.

You’re probably passing through the library on your way to Trigonometry, or sitting in English class with your high school best friend, passing notes and brainstorming ideas for a project and talking about double dating when your boyfriend comes down to visit. I know how you feel about friendships, how much they mean to you; I know how you’ve longed to find someone who is that lifetime friend, know you’ve been hurt when you realize you’ve grown apart with others you’ve called “best friend,” how confused you feel when they seem to leave you. I know that a deeper part of you is wondering if this friendship will last beyond high school…

It won’t. But don’t discount the time you spend together or what you learn from each other; enjoy this time without wondering if someone else will leave you, too — that’s a lesson you’re going to learn the hard way later on, a lesson in loss that is more permanent and lasting and will take years to understand and accept, but you will. No, you won’t keep in touch with her into adulthood, but her boyfriend will become one of your closest and dearest friends, whose marriage will bring another close friend into your life, prompting you to think that perhaps all things do happen for a reason, introducing you to people who will impact and matter in your life in the most surprising of ways.

Cherish this. Cherish them.

Perhaps you’re sitting there in class or in the cafeteria or standing by your locker; perhaps you’re in your room at home, the pink carpet and blue-starred wallpaper an easy juxtaposition of your childhood and young adulthood and the crossroads you’re standing at now, your dog — your sweet, sweet dog, Sammy — sleeping lightly at the edge of your bed. It doesn’t matter where you are when you read this, Susan — what matters is that you know I’m here, that we’re here, and that we’re doing just fine.

Susan, I have something to tell you. I have so very many things to tell you — that you’ll meet your best friends in college, that you’ll go back to France as you’ve always dreamed, that you’ll find your place, buy a house when you’re still single (bet you can’t see that one coming) — but this is the most important, the message I hope you keep tucked away in that special corner of your heart, that part that is reserved just for you and no one else, to draw from its strength when you need it, to remember when you feel lost and alone:

I’m proud of you.

I’m proud of you for the kind and compassionate person that you are now and the sensitive and loving woman you will turn out to be — you feel so deeply, a sensitive soul whose empathy helps you connect to and understand even perfect strangers. Embrace this part of yourself — you will use it to make the world a better place. No, don’t get those grand ideas…You may not change the world the way you want to, the way you expect to, but kindness matters more than you realize; everything has its meaning.

I’m proud of that sparkle in your eye and the fire burning brightly in your soul…Hold onto that, dear Susan. That sparkle will fade and that fire will be reduced to the smallest of flames, but you will keep it burning. Fear will overwhelm you and grief will overcome you for years; the losses of your grandma, your grandpa, and your beloved dogs in a short amount of time will be the greatest pain you’ve ever known, and each will leave a void in you that you doubt can ever be filled.

It can.

It will.

Remember that healing takes time, allow yourself those tears, and don’t denounce your aching heart — you love deeply and so you’ll inevitably miss deeply, and though you’ll lose your faith because of this, though you’ll question everything about your life, including your own self-worth, remember that love transcends everything — everything. Not even goodbye means a permanent parting.

You’re falling in love now, Susan — allow it to happen, it will change everything for you. And though you think it will last forever, forever has different ideas. It’s OK — you have to fly, and sometimes the people you love most can’t take that journey with you. Your anxiety will return in full-force in a barrage of tears and paralyzing fears — you’ll seek solace in the familiar, you’ll refuse to be away from your family for long, thinking that somehow you can protect them from any hurt, any pain, from life; you’re afraid of change, afraid of growing up, so afraid that growing up means leaving everything behind.


You are wonderfully naive, dear Susan, but you can’t control a life, can’t stop it from happening no matter how you want to. You know this now, deep in your heart, and you won’t let this fear hold you back from going away to college, from flying off to France, from leaving home for good. I’m proud of you for this, most of all.

No, life won’t be what you expect it to be, and maybe you won’t be who you expect to be.

But your life will turn into something you can look back on with a smile, and you will turn into that person you’ve always wanted to become, someone you can be proud of.

Trust me, Susan.

And love yourself.



PS: You’re going to begin bribing the Universe with tootsie rolls…Don’t ask, just go with it.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie Jordan Scott December 21, 2010

Oh, how I loved reading this. Made me smile and remember and think.

I am grateful I found you via Reverb10 today!


Susan Pogorzelski December 21, 2010

Julie: Thank you so much for the kind comment! It has led me to your blog — a wonderful creative surprise wherein I look forward to reading more of your posts! Wishing you the very best in this year and the next.


Sam Karol December 21, 2010

I bet you would make an excellent penpal! You are such a beautiful writer! I love this, you share some wise words with your 17-year-old self, but they’re things that our older selves can definitely take to heart. Hearts as always 🙂


Susan Pogorzelski December 21, 2010

Sam: I just want to respond to this comment, to you, with hugs and hearts all around. I wish my 17 year old self knew more, but some things — like reconciling loss and learning to let go — I’ve realized will take a lifetime to fully accept, and maybe that’s ok, maybe that’s what a lifetime is for. Looking back, I realize how Pollyanna-like I was, how those rose-colored glasses have come off a bit. And maybe that’s ok, too.

Thanks for such a sweet comment, Sam. XOXO!


Positively Present December 21, 2010

Excellent post, Susan! I’ve been enjoying reading a lot of your posts recently but this one was particularly moving. As Sam said, this is a very wise letter!


Susan Pogorzelski December 21, 2010

Dani! I’ve missed seeing you around here, but have loved reading your Christmas-themed posts over on your site. It can really be the hardest time of the year, but I love that you emphasize light and happiness, as it should be 🙂 Thanks so much for your words here, I’m glad it touched you, as it did me.


Sarah December 22, 2010

Can you imagine what your life would have been like if you’d had an opportunity, at 17, to read this letter from your 27 year old self? How much would your life have been different? Would the hurt have been less intense? Would the joy have been greater? Or do you think it would have all been exactly the same, exactly as it should have been?


Susan Pogorzelski December 30, 2010

Sarah: As you know, I could never have pictured any of this…We had plans — go to grad school, get a job in publishing. We had dreams and we had goals and we had every ambition to make those dreams and goals a reality. I wish I knew that life doesn’t always work out as you’ve planned back then, that sometimes it could be even better. At the same time, I wouldn’t change a thing — because all of the ups and downs have been a part of this journey, I just didn’t know it then.

I’ll never forget hanging out in the writing center, pouring over those grad books, making plans — that memory is ingrained in me, as I was a starry-eyed girl. You’re right — you said in a recent conversation that I had changed a bit, lost some of that. I haven’t quite figured out if I’ve lost something now or gained it.

Love you.


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