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Advice to My 17-Year-Old Self

There’s not a lot of dates in my life where I can tell you what I did on that day last year. Sure, I’ll remember the day of my brother’s wedding when the first anniversary rolls around or maybe the birthday party of a close friend. But in general, it’s hard to know what I did on any given day, any given number of years ago.


Except for one.


You see, I can tell you exactly where I was on November 9, 2011. It was a Wednesday. I was 17. The cross country season had ended and for perhaps the first time all year, I was leaving school right at the end of the day. It was an unseasonably warm day for Western Pennsylvania and as I drove down the back country roads I’d ridden on my entire life, I turned my radio up and rolled my windows down.


To put simply: it was bliss. I was a senior in high school and I was unstoppable. And all of this would have been the typical thought process. But then the most inexplicably beautiful thing happened. I had a very clear, very sudden, very structured thought: “Day 1: Happiness is.. those perfect car rides where the radio just plays all the right songs.”


And so, like any 17-year-old in 2011 who thinks they have an idea that’s going to change the world, I went home, logged into Facebook on a shared family computer and made that my status. Then, rather unceremoniously, I logged off, started my homework, and went about my evening. I had no idea what I had just started.


It’s November 8, 2021 now. I am 27-years-old and reflecting on that decision. Why post that? Why grab a blank notebook off the shelf to write it down? Why write on the inside cover “there is one every day.” Why start? Or rather, why keep going?


How do you begin to celebrate a day like tomorrow? How do I begin to reflect on what it means to me? How can I possibly express that this may be the thing I am most proud of in the world? How can I ever thank my teenage self enough?


My colleague and I often joke about “past Liz looking out for future Liz” when it relates to being able to find the document we need or having done something yesterday that will make our lives easier today. And I don’t think there’s a better example of “past Liz looking out” than this.


Let me be perfectly clear: I did not set out to start a nonprofit organization. I did not even set out to write more than 100 days… or more than a year… certainly not a decade. I wasn’t a poster child for joy. I was a moody teenager going through all the ups and downs of my age. I didn’t know how much this decision would change every corner of my life. But past Liz was looking out.


And I think about the prompt people often share: “What advice would you give your high school self?” I’ve thought a lot about that tonight, and while I do have some thoughts on my fashion decisions, I don’t know that I have much to say to 17-year-old Liz.


Other than that I am so remarkably proud of her.


She doesn’t need advice from me. She had everything she needed. A notebook and a spark. I’m proud of her carefree attitude to post until she ran out of ideas. I’m proud of her resilience in looking for good even in dark days. I’m proud of her naivety in deciding that, simply put, she could do anything she put her mind to and learn how to do everything for this nonprofit from the ground up.


No, 17-year-old Liz made some bad choices. That’s for sure. But I will always hold so much love and respect for this past version of me—the person that made a conscious decision to wake up each morning and look for something beautiful in the world. To try to make her corner of the world a little more cheerful.


And so as I sit here now, on the eve of our tenth birthday, I only wish I could give that 17-year-old a hug and tell her to believe in herself a little more… because things are going to turn out more beautiful than you could have ever dreamed.


Love always,

Liz


Picture: A photo from November 6, 2011. 3 days before the first "Happiness is." Past Liz was doing just fine.


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