16 Things I Want My 16 year-old to Know on Her 16th Birthday


Today my fourth daughter, my baby, Mataya, turns 16. And my oldest daughter has her 21st in just a few months.

Both huge milestones in a person’s life. Milestones I remember so vividly that it terrifies me that humans to which I gave birth are now on the cusp of making their own memories about these big birthdays.

And while I know that it is cliche to say: time just is going so fast.

Not because I don’t think my daughters aren’t ready to be independent people. In many ways, they already are. It’s more that I feel a rising panic that there are so many things I want to make sure they know as they make their own way in the world.

So, in honor of Mataya’s sweet 16, indulge me as I list 16 things I want her to know.

1. This is your life to live. Not mine. Not your dad’s. Not your siblings’. Not your partner’s.

2. You are valuable simply because you are you. Your awards, accomplishments and your accolades are only sprinkles on the top of an already richly designed sundae. Never confuse what you do with who you are. You are enough.

3. Your happiness is your responsibility. That might seem like it’s harsh. And it is a huge responsibility. The good news is that it is not your job to keep the people you love happy. Which is also good news since it’s impossible to do so.

4. Speaking of happy: don’t panic if you aren’t happy all of the time. No one is. No one is supposed to be. Life is full of ups and downs. That is what is normal. Persistent happiness is not. Instead, seek contentment in your life. Keep faith that you will get through the lows. You will. And enjoy the times that are joyful.

5. Assume good faith until proven otherwise. Don’t think that the world is out to get you or that people exist to irritate you (though it will feel that way at times). Assume the best in others until they prove to you that they don’t deserve that. Then be suspicious. When people show you who they are, believe them.

6. Always buckle up, because I love you. From the time you were little, we would say “buckle up, I love you” every time we got in the car. Now as you drive off on you own, remember that: literally and figuratively. Take care of yourself.  (remember: yourself is my precious baby).

7. Keep learning. Always. Read. Write. Listen to podcasts. Talk to people where ever you go. Ask a million questions. Just don’t stop learning. Ever.

8. A true best friend is worth their weight in gold. It might take you awhile to find her or him, but when you do, cherish that friendship. And you all have the benefit of the built in best friends of each other. Hold on to that as well, because while you will bicker about clothes, cars and even think that you hate each other, in the end you will be there for each other.

9. Take care of your body, not your jean size. A number on the scale is not you. Nor is society’s perception of your beauty. What is important is that you tend to your health and wellness so you can be the best version of you.

10. Don’t waste your time on people who make you feel worse after you spend time with them. Just don’t.

11. You can have everything, just not all at the same time. Learn patience and persistence. You will find your way. Be ambitious and gentle with yourself at the same time.

12. Don’t take things too seriously. Remember to laugh, have fun, take time away from the day to day drill and occasionally “waste” the day doing things that make you happy.  When you fail, it’s not the end of the world.  When you succeed, it’s not the pinnacle of life either.

13.While feelings will pass through you, you have the power to choose how you ultimately think about something. Once you understand this, you will have a much better shot at feeling happy. You are in control of your thoughts. While I don’t know that I can tell you “everything happens for a reason,” I do know I can tell you that once something has happened, you do get to choose how to think about it and how to respond to it. And always respond—not react.

14. Show up. On time. Listen more than you talk. And work hard. Remember: all that separates successful people from those who are not, is that successful people do what unsuccessful people won’t do.

15. Be bold in your business dealings. You matter. Your needs matter. Your ideas matter. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t be afraid of money. But don’t be a slave either.  Money is an instrument to freedom, nothing more. Learn about managing it, investing it, and saving it. Don’t be uncomfortable talking about it.  Or shy asking for it.

16. You have everything you need inside of you. You’ve all seen The Wizard of Oz more times that any of us can count. Just as Glinda told Dorothy: you’ve always had the power. And, just as Glinda told the Scarecrow when he asked why Glinda didn’t tell Dorothy that in the first place: I know that me telling you these things won’t make you believe me. You will have to learn them yourself. And that’s okay, because refer to #1: This is your life to live. And I am so proud to watch you go and take on the world.

There are at least 1600 more things I want to tell you. But I need to get myself to the bakery to pick up a certain 16 year old’s cake.

Happy birthday, Mataya!