published Friday, October 21st, 2011

Courter: What would you tell your 16-year-old self?

If you could get into your wayback machine and give yourself some advice at, say, age 16, what would you tell yourself?

"A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self" is a new book featuring letters written by famous people. It's a clever and intriguing idea. Letter writers in the book include actor Hugh Jackman, director John Waters, rocker Alice Cooper and writer Stephen King.

Some of the letters are funny, and some are poignant. Most are revealing and familiar to most of us.

B-52s lead singer Fred Schneider, for example, writes to his younger self, "It's junior year, and things are as bad as ever. The so-called clique is filled with people who have nothing going for them except rich parents." He concludes with, " Keep writing your humorous ideas down because eventually you'll take creative writing in journalism school and come up with poems that'll be the basis for your songs one day."

There are a lot of things I would share with my 16-year-old self. Some of them are:

* High school is only four years. I can't stress this enough. Your friends, career, future status in life and overall happiness will not solely be determined by these four years unless you let or want it to happen. In fact, it will take about three months after graduation to realize all of that is way in the past.

* Be nice to everybody, and I mean everybody. There is really no reason not to be.

* Learn to look for the things that make each person you meet different, in a good way. Stop looking for their flaws. Finding them doesn't make you any better. You will eventually learn this, but you wasted a lot of years and a lot of opportunities to enjoy a good story or a good laugh with a lot of interesting people.

* That guy or girl that you think is weird or odd is actually interesting, colorful and very worth getting to know. The weirder the better. These are the people you will work with in your future job, and you will laugh every day.

* Don't be shy about trying new things, and especially don't worry about embarrassing yourself. You will meet a couple of people in college who will amaze you with their ability to walk into any room and own it just because they didn't care what anybody else thought of them.

* In a few weeks you are going to tell your English teacher there is nothing she is teaching that you will need in any career you enter. While it has made for a funny story over the years, it was stupid. Don't say it. Grammar, spelling, punctuation and sentence structure will come up again. Pay attention in class.

* The key to college is going to class. It's really that simple.

* Start reading a newspaper every day. It's all in there.

* Save all of your concert tickets. You'll wish you had them later.

* Greens, okra and beets are good. Try them. Lay off the fast food, especially the french fries.

* Take a couple of basic money-management classes. Learn to start saving money TODAY.

* Credit cards are the devil's work. Stay away from them.

* Sell everything you own, and buy stock in Apple Inc. Trust me on that one.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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