You are me, and I was you

October 6, 2021 — by Annie Liu
Photo by Annie Liu

Dear fifth grade me,


Hello! Your 15-year-old, sophomore-year self speaking here. You can carry on eating your sugary afterschool snacks. You’ll have no regrets about that. Just make the most of your time, OK?

I’m quite jealous of you — you don’t have many responsibilities to take on, and you don’t need to meet any expectations set for you yet. How I wish you would cherish that period of time just a little bit more! 

You don’t know me yet, but you will. Time will change everything. Time allows people to reinvent themselves and improve. It is a gift and a curse at the same time, leaving the dwellers in their memories, yet constantly changing every aspect of the world. Changes are hard to adapt to, but they always have a silver lining.

If you’re wondering, I ended up in a completely different place, somewhere far away from where you live now, Shanghai. I’m in Saratoga, California. No, it’s not New York — not every state in America is New York. Anyway, I’ve been here since middle school. It’s a brand new environment and a brand new group of people. Life will feel strange for quite some time after you move. 

When you move, you will feel silenced by your incoherent English. For that period of time, you will feel like you lost your ability to speak, and all you can do is silently agreeing, laughing, nodding and pointing. Having no clue what the people around you are talking about, you feel alone. Memes? What are memes? What are you supposed to say? 

You will miss Shanghai badly. I beg you to appreciate your surroundings more and look around more. The rustling willow trees, the bustling neighborhood, that one pool you catch tadpoles in, your friends and your school will forever be in your memories. When you leave, you’ll dream about going back.

I wish for you to try something new every day and go out a little bit more and spend more time with Michael, Ricky, and Cynthia around the neighborhood, instead of killing time on your iPad whenever you have the chance to. 

I know you think you never had anyone’s approval. That’s OK, you don’t have to seek other peoples’ approval — you don’t have to be the perfect student or meet the standards of a conventional girl. Your own self-acceptance is enough.  

You’ve always been told to reach for success, but everything gets complicated, and life becomes an obstacle course that only gets more difficult. The real challenge is to stay happy. Nothing matters more than happiness. Though often misunderstood as synonymous to wealth and reputation, happiness comes from doing what you like and living as the person you want to be — more and more I’ve found that to be the ultimate goal in life. 

But, you wonder, what about achievements? What about graduating from Harvard, becoming a CEO — succeeding in all of the conventional ways? Many people seek this kind of success in life. But success isn’t about having other people to look up to you. Real success occurs when you can take full responsibility for yourself, become self-sustaining, kind and appreciative. A successful person is someone with passion who in turn pursues their dreams. That’s hard to do, but it’s the only way to genuine happiness.

Sometimes, people feel the need to fit into a mold, but it never really works. Do you want to know why? Pretending to be someone that you are not will do you no good. What you need is to become your own character, a person who you design and someone you would like to be. 

I know this sounds like some My Little Pony moral-of-the-story, but it is a valuable thing to know. 

Try to remember the good times. For instance, you deserve to brag a little about how you were the fastest runner at your elementary school. Sprinting across the track with the wind blowing against your face, outrunning everyone running beside you — it felt like you were on top of the world. 

Oh, and do you remember that time you won the reading project award? The storytelling award for doing a little skit about “Harry the Dirty Dog” with Cynthia and Lynne? Everyone praised your dog mimicking skills. And that laughter you brought to your peers! You were so proud. I’m proud of you, too. 

It’s going to be hard for you to adapt to moving across the globe and becoming fluent in a new language. You will struggle, and you will feel loneliness. But do not fear. You’ll manage. There is nothing to fear, for change is inevitable and struggles will only make you stronger. I wish you well.




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