Then & Now

by Jessica Hanson

The Then & Now series shares reflections of HATCH leaders on their own high school experience, and how their path as a teenager has influenced their adult life.

This photo takes me back to a particularly turbulent time in my life. I was in 7th grade and my mom had just remarried - in fact, this is a picture from her wedding to my step-father. To say it was a rocky transition would be an understatement! At 12, I was bookish and shy and angry - a mathlete who fancied herself either a future translator for the United Nations or a geneticist. School was both torturous and a safe haven, a place where I knew what was expected of me but also an arena where my sense of self felt externally constructed. So if tween me were willing to listen to 50+ year old me, this is what I’d tell her.

Jessica age 13.jpg

“It’s OK to be wrong sometimes, and even - gasp - to fail at things. You don’t need to know every answer, and you certainly don’t need to be perfect. Working hard is important, and school is important, but there is more to life than school, work, and schoolwork. Your worth as a person isn’t determined by your grades, your exam scores, or how much your teachers praise you. You can let your guard down and be silly sometimes, people won’t think less of you for it, and taking yourself a little less seriously - while scary - will be good for you.

You don’t need to have everything figured out. You don’t know it yet, but in your lifetime you’ll be a scientist, a teacher, a waitress, and a lot more. You’ll learn valuable things as you grow into each new version of yourself, and while it sounds cliché that the journey is at least as important as the destination, when it comes to growing up, that’s the honest truth! The detours and coincidences will lead you to the people who become most meaningful to you, and you won’t recognize the important lessons - resilience, flexibility, forgiveness - until the incidents that prompt them are in your rearview mirror.

And finally, it’s OK to be mad - at people and at the world. Anger is an emotion you shouldn’t be ashamed of, and too often girls are socialized to ignore or hide their rage and outrage. Anger will be a call to action, will save you from dangerous situations, and will even morph into compassion. So embrace the spiky, messy parts of yourself, they don’t make you less lovable to those who really matter.

Now, go ahead and step away from the typewriter, put away the white-out, maybe even skip a homework assignment once in a while! Praise should not take the place of self-acceptance. You can’t know all the answers to all the questions, and you don’t need to have your career trajectory mapped. You’ll survive a mistake or two or a hundred, and the strength and self-compassion you gain will be so much more important in the long run than the B on that English paper.”