This letter was addressed some time ago to the younger sister of a good friend, a very smart young lady who grew up without a lot of resources in a small town and who was struggling with the specter of college admissions and the general life questions raised by the process. I don't want to dive too deeply into the background, but it's a situation which puts one at a crossroads -- staying home and living a big life in a small town or throwing the dice and heading off to school elsewhere.
Note: Names and identifying references removed. Some points relate to previous conversations.
I don't often go out of my way to check up on people or give advice but I know you've got such great potential that I feel like I should make sure you get off on the right path and such. I've included some thoughts about various things (that got longer than I initially expected) and an invitation to call me for whatever reason anytime about whatever random BS is giving you grief and slowing you down.
Applying to college: The application process sucks and it has a lot of moving parts, but in the end of the day it's just a really big To-Do list of pretty easy things (you should actually make that to-do list). Stay organized and do it one step at a time and it'll be easy enough. Do study for the SAT, even if it's just taking practice tests. Think of it as an investment in your future... if a bunch of hours studying could be the tipping point to a better school or scholarship, it's absolutely worth putting them in. Don't get distracted. When we first talked in [Redacted] you were cocky and headstrong and I like that. You seemed a bit less sure of yourself when reality hit home. Bring back that kickass attitude, you'll need it to pull through when things seem too tough. Just temper it with a methodical approach and you'll make it just fine.
Being in college: Like I said before, applying and getting into college is tougher than actually being in college. You're smarter than at least 90% of the yahoos and jokers and drunks who go to college. It will probably be a struggle at first since you'll actually be challenged (at least at some point in your college career), but that initial panic that maybe you're not as hot shit as you thought will be replaced by a realization that other people just got a head start on stuff and you're going to pass them quickly enough once your head stops spinning. Trust me.
[Redacted sister stuff]
People: Normal is boring and smart is interesting. People are really anti-intellectual in a lot of ways and it's awful to have to dumb things down and not use big words or intelligent references or whatever. It's taken me a long time to realize exactly how important it is to surround yourself with the right people. Friends who are too unmotivated or boring or lame can really bring you down. Always try to be a small fish in a big pond instead of being a big fish in a small pond -- surrounding yourself with people who are smarter and more capable than you will force you to adapt and grow in ways that you never would otherwise have done. Find the people who appreciate the right things, and that may (likely) be outside of [Redacted]. Who cares? Find them. You in 10 years will thank you now.
Guys... and on a similar note, boys fall under the same rules as people. Don't ever feel like you've finally found the one guy who doesn't suck so you need to hold onto him. The world's a really big place and, trust me, it's full of all kinds of amazing people if you look past all the zeros. Explore it, don't ever settle. If you spend your life looking to surround yourself with great people, you'll also find yourself bumping into great guys. It's absolutely true that people will treat you as poorly as you allow yourself to be treated and they will respect you as much as you make them. When they both walk into a bar, the difference between the A-list celebrity and just a broken overused girl of the exact same age is little more than confidence and unwillingness to compromise one's personal value.
General thoughts: Don't benchmark yourself against the people around you because it'll just make you complacent with being "slightly above average." Find great people who have kicked ass at life or their profession or whatever and use them as your measuring stick. There are over 37,000 high school valedictorians in the US each year but only a handful of them will ever achieve something amazing and worthwhile. Beat the odds, because you can.
Call me anytime (after I fix my phone). [Phone number redacted]