A few weeks ago, I was given the honor of being
asked to write a letter to a group of blind teens who were braving this new school year of online learning. I waited until near the end of this month to make sure they were among the firsts to read it before I released it to all students everywhere. I hope you all enjoy and that you share this with their kids. Remind them they’re not alone in this weird new era we’re living.
To the teenager reading this, you’ve got this.
To the nervous high school senior, take a breath.
To the nervous and anxious high school freshman, uncertain self-proclaimed nerd, to the kid who doesn’t know if they belong to any sort of label: it’ll be okay.
So many adults raise their kids with certain expectations in mind. They can’t help it; they want you to become the best you can possibly be. They want you to drive, to know how to file taxes, to not get your heart broken. They expect you to become doctors, police officers, or for the most unsure of them all, “a respectable member of society”. But you know what adults tend to forget? They tend to forget that ultimately, it is not their decision. It is completely and 100 percent yours. Hi everyone, this is Nat, being the devil on your shoulder.
When I was asked to write something for an advice package, I admit I was a little unsure. I thought of coming up with something inspirational; but when I sat down to write, writing things like, “reach for the stars”, “Put the pedal to the metal”, or even a, “you got this, champ” all sounded not like me. Inauthentic. Unrealistic. Giving you false hope. So instead, I decided to be honest. Honesty is what has gotten me this far in my academic and personal career. Honesty with myself, my feelings, with the others around me who also got to be classified as ‘adults’. Self-reflection, anxiety, and uncertainty has, in all fairness, also contributed to where I am today. But I’m here to tell you this simple fact: you will be scared. And it is okay.
When I started at the Braille Institute, I was a shy and quiet girl with glasses who felt scared and anxious at every turn. I participated in as many activities as I could, but I was filled with trepidation. What could I be? Who was I? And most importantly, what do you mean we get to meet Julie Andrews?! Yes, I was a wreck. But as I grew older, I came out of my shell. I met amazing friends, participated in musicals, and became, if anything, the over exuberant introvert who loved attending program every week.
What many did not know, is that I was also anxious. I went through a phase in high school of uncertainty. I didn’t know what I wanted to do career wise. I didn’t know who I was, who I loved, where I stood in society. So, I did the most logical thing. I moved 320 miles away to Santa Cruz, California, where I attended UC Santa Cruz for two quarters. Not only was it my dream school, but I had learned that I did my best learning when I was thrown into the thick of things. I learned how to be independent, do my laundry, how to get around campus, all of it because it was a necessity. As it turns out, I was a better person for it. I fought my anxieties and applied for a guide dog. I confronted my depression and anxiety headfirst. I got a boyfriend, lost a boyfriend, and continued onto a junior college, where, despite everyone’s wishes, I began studying communications and public relations. I moved from a UC, to a community college, to a Cal State. I sound like a traveling circus, I know. But it has brought some of the best times of my life.
For those wondering, I had amazing experiences while at university. You can read my blog post that I wrote a few months back. But the most important thing about that time of my life was, I discovered not only who I was, but who I was not. And I learned that it was okay to not be okay. So, I pass this on to you. People have such high expectations that puts sometimes unwarranted pressure on another to be a certain way. To be perfect, to get the best grades, to attend the best universities. I can assure you that the only reason your parents may do this is because they want the best for you in this crazy world. Give them some grace, then gently break the news to them that, you’re not studying psychology, you’re going to join the circus! In all seriousness, these years are scary. You will face new conflicts, challenges, and obstacles. But they’re all there to teach you something about yourself. You do not need to fit into anyone’s preconceived box of expectations. You can take a gap year, to go to an independence learning center, to attend junior college before taking the next leap. You are okay to be scared, excited, uncertain. All those feelings that comes with each new experience, is valid.
I am also here to tell you to be gentle with yourself. Through all these new transitions, you may find yourself full of doubt, regret, fear, and anxiety. Don’t worry about what your friends are doing and how you may not be measuring up—instead, focus on how you can improve yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. Giving yourself grace to feel your feelings and then getting back up again to try a different approach is always okay. In fact, it’s brave. It’s easy to say not to give up. But remember, you are surrounded by people who care and love you for you, not for your intelligence or your abilities. Focus on what works best for you and your independence. For example, I love having my guide dog. I feel more independent and less afraid. That may not be what the blind person next to me says. And as my mantra says, “That’s perfectly okay.” Independence, success… those magic keywords that get people’s wheels turning, all look different. There are no set goals. Go as far as you want to go in your education. Travel as far, move even farther, but the important thing is, don’t stop trying. It will always be okay.