Sunday Homily: If You Wrote A Letter To Your 16-Year Old Self


Sharing Wisdom With Your Younger Self

What Would You Say?

All week I’ve heard about this letter that Dale Earnhardt Jr. professional Nascar driver, wrote to his 16 year old self. The letter was part of a CBS News project that aired September 12, 2012.

As reported by the media, other Nascar fans and friends who shared their thoughts on the letter, it’s a very moving insight from one of racing’s premier drivers. It reflects on relationships, worries, his career and it even has some humor tossed in for good measure.

It is indeed a very moving reflection from a man who is not comfortable with being in the limelight each and every time he steps through the door. And it made me wonder, if you wrote a letter to your 16 year old self, what would you say?

Today it seems everyone is talking about success, measuring up to their view of what being successful means. Getting angry over failure or angry because events that take a chance don’t work out the way everyone wants or demands them too. I don’t understand this anger. All we can do is try. And we should support each other for the effort of trying.

So many people put so much unnecessary pressure on themselves to succeed. Either because it’s what society, politicians, family or relationship partners hold up as examples of “success”. Some have so much anxiety over not being perfect or fulfilling an expected result that they make themselves physically sick or emotionally crazy, or both.

One of the most poignant lines in Jr.’s letter to himself that hit home for me was: “You’re there, worried about me here.”

It caused me to think about how much time we waste worrying about things that may never happen, scared to take the chance on that first step on our way to finding out what we can accomplish. One of my favorite things to tell people in my practices is: “We can’t go back and change the past, but we can change the way we allow the past to affect our present and our future.” That starts by living life in the now, to the fullest and without worrying about the failures that “might” cross your path. You will never grab the brass ring, if you don’t take the chance to reach for it in the first place.

No one on this planet is perfect, not even you. You will fail, you will falter and you will fall short from time to time. Success isn’t based on the final result or what you left behind when you’re no longer on this physical plane of existence. Success, the important measurement of success from a spiritual point of view, is what you do and how you react when you do fall short. How you treat those around you and maybe more importantly how you treat yourself as a result of not measuring up to your initial requirement.

If you allow failure to overtake your actions, you will only create that which you fear most. But if you take a moment to feel the emotions and disappointment, you can better control your reactions and keep them in perspective. There’s always a time of mourning that must be felt. It helps to release the inner disappointments and stress. But keeping them in perspective is the key to that mourning period. They are only short steps to bring you knowledge, experience and lessons that will help you when the next door is opened and you reach for the brass ring again. Failure is only a negative exercise if you learn nothing from it. 

We all have plans or projects that haven’t worked out the way we wanted at first. But when you look back on what you learned, you might say “Wow that came out better than I expected”. You’ll never know if you don’t try it first. And if it doesn’t turn out the way you wanted, you apply the new knowledge onto the next plan or project and watch the result exceed your expectations. Each time your experience grows, you bring yourself that much closer to the ultimate success you hold in the back of your mind.

And what if you do fail on that first or second try? Or even the third or fourth? Simply try your best”. Trying really is what’s important. It overcomes fear of failure, it keeps hope alive within your being and it keeps you moving forward to be all you can be. Reach for the brass ring, have fun while you’re doing it and you’ll find that you can grab it and hold it in your hand with respect for your self and all that you learned and achieved on your road to get here.

Dale Earnhardt Jr

Dale Earnhardt Jr. #88

Letter Transcript:
Here is a transcript of Jr’s letter to himself: 

“Now writing this letter to you is going to force me to think pretty deeply about my life, and you know thinking deeply was never one of your favorite activities. You always did and always will shoot for the C on your report card. Anything more than that is always going to be a surprise to you, right?

“You just got your driver’s license . . . your heart belongs to no one . . . and you’re going to spend a lot of nights in the bed of your S10 pickup truck out in the field staring up at the stars worrying about your future. Your father’s accomplishments on the race track already cast a pretty heavy shadow over your existence. He’s going to accomplish more in the years to come and your fear of living anonymously and forgotten — that’s going to grow.

“You don’t have much of a connection to your mother … your efforts in that regard are disappointing. In the future, she is going to become a consistent and prominent figure in your life . . . but you shouldn’t waste the years in between, because her love is the truly unconditional kind. You shouldn’t take it for granted.

“Living under your father’s roof doesn’t bridge the incredible gap between you guys. In due time, you will enjoy the most incredible relationship with him.

“One afternoon after an accident, you’re going to go home thinking your career is over. And then bustin’ in through the door comes your dad and he’s wondering what you’re doing sitting on your butt feeling sorry for yourself. And you are going to go out on the back porch and sit down and have a two-hour conversation that is the most influential conversation you’ll ever have with him. He is going to finally assure you of what lies ahead. It’s not the end of your career like you thought, it’s the just the beginning of a very, very long incredible journey.

“You’ll share laughs and triumphs at his side. It’ll be in your best interest that when these times come, you get everything out of them that you possibly can. I mean, when it is you and him, in that moment, you live it to the fullest.

“Now you want to be a race car driver, so let’s talk about the racing. As I look back on it as a whole, starting out from go-karts all the way to Cup today, it’s going to feel clunky and impromptu, and is going to be lacking in successes. But fortunately for you every weekend there will be another race.

“Now with that said, you’re going to be so deathly frightened of potential failure that you’re not going to realize just how much fun you’re having. You’re going to win a lot of races, and as painfully shy as you are you’ll overcome and accomplish in arenas not just limited to driving cars. You’re going to meet Presidents. You’re going to guest on late night shows. I mean, it’s incredible, but it’s true.

“That’s not too bad for an oil mechanic. Yes, you are going to change oil change for a few years — and it’s not as bad as it sounds.

“And I knew you’d want to know about your Redskins. Now your Redskins are goin’ to win another Super Bowl in ’91. But after that it’s a pretty rough road. But your support for them Redskins doesn’t waver one bit.

“Overall, you need to just be more sure of yourself. You’re going to do great things, man. You’re going to have an awesome life. You have a great heart and it’s going to stay with you throughout. So don’t be so timid and worrisome about the future so much so that you can’t enjoy the present. You’re there, worried about me here. You just need to have some fun, man. Jump in that S10, go down to Concord and cruise the strip. Because you’re going to be here … soon enough.”

 © 2012 Springwolf, D.D., Ph.D. Springwolf Reflections / Springs Haven, LLC. All Rights Reserved.

One thought on “Sunday Homily: If You Wrote A Letter To Your 16-Year Old Self

  1. Powerful homily. I’d like to tell myself to be causious of those who are overly friendly and want to be with you for what you can give them not for who you really are. Thank you for this post.

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