What I Wish I Knew When I Was 17

While killing time between assignments this afternoon I read an article about what famous women would tell their seventeen-year-old selves. Nothing groundbreaking -- mostly "reach for your dreams" rhetoric -- but it started me thinking: What would I tell seventeen-year-old Katie if I had the chance? This is what I came up with.

Dear Katie,

So you are seventeen and of course, you know everything. It is an exciting time -- senior year, graduation, college, a lot of change. You have your life mapped out: you are going to be an attorney -- a plan that you devised in grade school (where all sound plans are formed), you have your first boyfriend and awash in young love, you think you are probably, more than likely going to marry him ... maybe. You might be clinging to familiarity right now because the rug was just pulled out from under you with your parents' divorce. That is okay, but it will have consequences later.

Katie? Throw away the plan. You haven't yet realized that you don't have to stay in the box. Because although you are a child of the nineties and consider yourself a feminist, there is still an expectation for your generation that girls choose a female-friendly degree, get married and have babies. And while you are beginning to peek outside the box -- law is not exactly baking cookies -- that is not for you either. When you do finally try to climb out, it will cause strife and heartbreak. Do it anyway.

Write your grandmother more. Your time together will end much sooner than you think. Don't cut off all of your hair. Short hair will never be a good look for you. Devote more time to studying for your history class. Avoid downtown Murfreesboro late at night -- that upcoming car accident takes a big bite out of your savings account. You could be more tidy, that really bothers Amy. Be confident.

I want to tell you to avoid certain upcoming mistakes but without those mistakes, you would not be me. I know how much it hurts when you wear your heart on your sleeve. Don't compare yourself to her because she has the boy you want. Don't listen to that other boy -- he's an idiot. But let's be honest, you could be a little choosier with the guys. After this all-encompassing, endless love you are in right now ... ends, you will date. Accepting some of those dates because you are bored or because you do not want to hurt anyone's feelings does no favors for anyone. You eventually figure that out.

Yes, the unknown is scary. But your life will take you in a direction that you can't yet imagine as you sit inside your new dorm room. Careers do not travel a straight path and yours will take some major detours in the next twenty years. Stay open-minded and don't be so hard on yourself when it does not happen the way you think it should.

Somewhere out there a twenty-three-year-old boy just started his first post-college job. One day your paths will cross but until then, you have some growing up to do. You will have you heart broken more than once. It won't feel good at the time but when that boy finally appears on your doorstep, you will understand.

Whatever you do, don't try to rush your life. Be patient for good things are coming.

Thirty-seven-year-old Katie


  1. Excellent! How did I miss the memo on 90's girls earning "family friendly degrees" and/or going to college for a Mrs. Degree?! I probably should have received that one because full time law practice and motherhood (to only 1 child) are kicking my rear end! Sigh. I was always taught to have a career in anything that I wanted. There was never discussion about marriage /motherhood or how that would intersect with my career. My parents just drilled into my head to pursue a professional career where I could earn sufficient money to support myself (and any kids that I had in the event that something happened with my marriage & I was the sole provider). Guess that's what happens when all the women in your family tree have always worked full time while managing a family and your parents get divorced when you're 2 years old. I also think that my ethnic background influenced that upbringing mindset as well because most (not all) of my friends who look like me had similar life lessons growing up. That being said, I do not regret becoming an attorney, wife and mother. I'm exploring self employment options to use my law degree outside of the traditional full-time law practice. I think it will provide much-needed work life balance and set a good example for M as she grows up and makes decisions about her career / life. I'm struggling with the decision because of my upbringing and my dad's recent purchase of Lean In for me. It's hard to change old mindsets. Oh well, I should probably write a letter to my 18 year old self -- seems like it would be cathartic. Happy Weekend!

    1. I think that the pressure I felt was more from environment than parental -- both of my parents were great about always letting us choose our own path. And I never want to speak in absolutes or talk down about traditionally female careers, let's face it, I know I do not have the fortitude for nursing or the patience and skill for teaching. I think that I always felt like I did not quite fit the mold of what was expected for a girl of our generation.

    2.  "I think that I always felt like I did not quite fit the mold of what was expected for a girl of our generation." -- Maybe sort of like a fish out of water? That is how I feel now at this crossroads of trying to decide how to balance career and family obligations. Yes, I completely agree that teaching, nursing, social work, etc ("traditional female careers") do not fit my personality or skill set in any meaningful way for me to have sustained a career in those fielslds for going on 14 years like I have in the legal profession. Those are very challenging careers and often filled with unrecognized personal sacrifices. I know from first hand experience because my mom was a full time registered nurse for 41 years, and my sister was a high school Spanish teacher for a couple of years before going back to school to earn her MBA because they're simply isn't enough money in teaching. It's a shame that such a valuable profession is so underpaid in our society!

    3. Teachers are criminally underpaid in our society, I agree. It is shameful.


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