Who was 16-year-old Ilyanna? She was player on the soccer team, a member of student council, a runner on the cross country team, a member of the National Honor Society, a hostess at Applebee’s, the driver of an old Toyota Tundra, the girlfriend of a tall basketball player, practically a sister to my high school besties, and an epic failure in math class.
I can’t remember having any clue of what I wanted to do or what I wanted to make of my life. All that was on my mind was not dying in cross country races, making it to work on time, coming up with how my friends are I were going to match for school spirit days, and the next time I was going to see my boyfriend. I mean, at sixteen, is there really anything more important?
16-year-old Ily, let me give you a quick glimpse into the next couple years of your life and compare it to how it is now for you: after high school, you won’t really ever play soccer again; just remember it was a good 13 years. Even though you hate running (which explains why you’re on the cross country team right?), you’re going to end up a running an entire half marathon! Guess where? Walt Disney World! I know you haven’t even been there yet (or anywhere on the east coast for that matter), but Walt Disney World is actually going to be an extremely significant place in your future… just you wait. You’re going to end up quitting Applebee’s but about 4-5 years later, you’ll be working for one of the top companies in the entire world. Wow! Also, that Tundra sadly won’t make it to your future, but with the gas mileage of 30+ MPG in your new car, you wont even care! You’ll only breakdown a couple of times due to the car payments you doomed upon yourself. That one relationship with the tall basketball player… yeah, you picked a good one and it’ll last ya for about five years, but you’re not going to marry him- sorry. Lastly, you may be a complete and utter failure at math class now, but when college comes around, you’re going to get your first “A” in math class since middle school! How about that for something to look forward to?
Dear 16-year-old Ilyanna,
At your age, I know there’s a lot to worry about… school, sports, boys, friends! It gets harder, but you’ll comfort in knowing that it gets better too. From now until your graduation, life will remain about the same. Just beware: your stupid teenage attitude will result in the loss of your truck and consequently you will have half a decade’s worth of car payments to come due to that attitude. You read correctly- you’re going to start making car payments next year, so begin saving up now. Oh and also a year from now, you’re going to chop off all of your hair. A couple years later, you’ll do it again. It won’t go to waste though because you’ll mail that hair off to Locks of Love. Feel warm and fuzzy yet? Around 17 is when you’ll really start to become obsessed with tattoos and it won’t take too much begging to convince your mum to let you get one. Tattoo #1 will be permanently inked upon your ribs- I know it seems scary now and it only feels like a super sharp pencil being dragged across the worst of sun burned skin; however, it doesn’t hurt as bad as that sounds… usually. When college comes around, you won’t know what to major in. Even in your second year, you still won’t know. It won’t be until almost 3 years after high school ended that you finally pick a field of study: you’ll choose sociology and anthropology, so don’t even think about picking hospitality, then psychology, then business, possibly education, or global studies even though you think they might fit your interests. In your first semester of college, you’ll apply for the Disney College Program. It’s a chance to work at Walt Disney World, and because you basically grew up at Disneyland, you just NEED to work there. You’ll be rejected. Don’t take it too harshly because you’ll apply again about 5 months later and… be rejected again. But in the midst of all this rejection- this is where your life really begins. Someone will tell you about a volunteer program called International Language Programs and you will see that you can live in a foreign country for 4 months for only $2520. Talk about a deal, let’s sign up! *SPOILER* You end up choosing to live in China. I know that right now all that comes to mind when you think of China is the Great Wall, bamboo, and Panda Express, but it’s so much more than that! Your experience in China is going to completely change your life for the better. You’ll be bitten by the travel bug and the infection will spread so quickly and heavily that you will never be content with staying in one place again. Sorry to break that to you. I’ll share with you right now that you’re going to hate China at first and will think, “Did I just make the biggest mistake of my life?” while you’re walking around the night market trying not to vomit from the smell of stinky tofu, but you didn’t make the biggest mistake of your life; it gets better and China will forever hold the most special place in your heart after this experience. When you return from China, your life will go in a downward spiral and you’ll make mistakes you didn’t know it was possible for you to ever make. Don’t. Not. Fret. You’ll find yourself again. What’s cool is that you’ll start dating this new guy- he’s sweet, he likes traveling as you do, and you’ll really click. With him, you’ll visit Boston, New York City, the Grand Canyon, go to Shanghai, Hong Kong, and the Philippines together. You’ll visit Hong Kong Disneyland with him and even Shanghai Disneyland. You don’t know about that yet, but surprise! They’re building a Disneyland in Shanghai and you’re going to go to it. How sweet! During the time when you have your whole downward spiral phase, you will apply to go back to China; however, you also apply for the Disney College Program again just for shits and gigs and you’ll actually get accepted this time. Don’t get too excited now- working for the mouse won’t be what you thought it would be but you will still get to go to Disney World for free anytime you want, eat Mickey shaped pretzels and ice cream along with those famous churros, indulge in Epcot’s International Food and Wine festival, and be apart of the magic of Disney for a short time. This is all in about 4-5 years, so be patient young grasshopper. During the time you work for the Walt Disney Company, you’ll turn 21 and spend it in New York City! This new boy I’ve mentioned (he won’t really be new anymore by then), will have given you one of the best gifts you will have ever received. I don’t want to spoil it, but I gotta tell you- it’s a helicopter ride over Manhattan. It’s true. You won’t be dreaming. A couple months later, you’ll go sky diving with your mom in Florida and go hot air ballooning over the Arizona desert, so bring out your bucket list around this time so you can start checking those things off! China won’t be the only country you’ll live in, by the way. Around the time that you pick your major, you’ll be living in Mexico. No, you won’t become fluent in Spanish… sadly. However, you will fulfill an item on your bucket list again: “to get a tattoo in a foreign country” and that’ll be your sixth. See? They don’t hurt bad enough that you willingly go through the pain six times. After Mexico, you’ll go back to Arizona for your summer lifeguarding job and start your ASU Online classes. Did I just say ASU? I know you think you can only ever be a wildcat fan and that nana will disown you if you ever go to ASU, but she won’t. After that summer lifeguarding job is over, you’ll actually head back to Asia to live in Thailand for the semester. I’m telling you all of this because at sixteen, you don’t have the slightest clue that any single one of these things is going to happen to you. You think you have a plan right now but your life will not go according to that plan. You never planned to go to China, you never planned to break up with your “high school sweetheart”, you didn’t plan to go to Mexico, or Thailand or work for the Walt Disney Company. At 21-years-old, I still don’t know what I want to do with my life. I try to plan, I crave to know my future, and I long for answers about what to do. However, if the next five years are anything like the last five, I can only hope that all of this uncertainty is because of the great things that are yet to come for me that I haven’t even imagined yet- just like all the great things that were yet to come for my sixteen year old self.