A Letter to My Teenage 'Chonga' Self

There is no going back. However, sometimes looking back to see how far you’ve come is vital to your progression forward. 

We all feel it at some point when thinking about our past: “If I would’ve known then what I know now.” If I could communicate with my younger self, here’s what I would tell her. 


Dear Teenage Self,


I should tell you I am not writing this from my apartment in New York City. I know you envisioned us at nearly 25, confidently striding the streets like a model in a pantsuit on my way to my own production company meeting. Well, that’s not happening today. And that’s perfectly okay. Actually better than okay. You may think I’m crazy for saying that. I’m probably writing this in the same place you are reading this right now. No, life in our mid-twenties is not how we envisioned. As I said, that’s better than okay. 

I know dad often mentioned that one day Martin Scorsese will discover you and the rest will be history. I’m sorry to inform you that didn’t happen. At least not yet. Don’t worry, so much has occurred between 16 and 24. I’ve experienced absolutely incredible things. Both moments of unbelievable pain and moments that truly take your breath away.

There are so many events, situations, and choices I can tell you to handle differently than I did. Things I regret, I’m embarrassed about. But, instead I want to say I’m proud of you. It may sound odd coming from me. I say this because you are a fighter. Always will be. Despite not seeing yourself that way. I know it’s impossible for you to say you’re proud of yourself right now. But, after many years you will. Your dreams, your passion, your faith, and your kind heart drives you. That will continue on forever. 

However, there are a few things you need to know. 

Although we've been through more challenging circumstances, it’s still not easy going to three different high schools. This last one is the toughest transition. I know you much rather be back at Dillard HS where you were the only ‘white kid’ in your classes than with the rich kids that drive their Hummers to school. You can stop eating your lunch in the bathroom like Lindsey Lohan in Mean Girls though. No one is writing about you in a ‘Burn Book.’ At least not that I know of. Try just a tad bit harder to make friends. Yes, you’re right to avoid that clique. But, there are people who will see who you truly are within. Gravitate towards them. Putting up that tough-girl front is useless. Later on you will discover you see yourself quite differently than others do. Perhaps this letter will help you realize that. 

That English teacher is found of you because she sees something in you which you can’t. She sparked your passion for classic poetry. That Theater teacher who notices your talent and director’s eye; he encourages you to pursue film. He will write your recommendation letter to film school. Be extremely appreciative and learn all you can from them. 

You know how dad says “People are like anchors or balloons in your life.” He was actually completely right with that one. Stay away from the anchors. You know exactly what I’m talking about. Hold onto the balloons. They may be very few, but, don’t let them go. 

Hug your best friend as much as possible. Talk to her any chance you get. Even sacrifice things you may believe are more important in order to spend precious time with her. Always say how you feel. This is a friendship you don’t want to take for granted. Trust me. 

Stop waisting time on Myspace. Myspace is obsolete now. Social media websites like Facebook have taken over. There are things called apps, you’ll learn about later. Please don’t waste your time on those either. Instead you should read more literary fiction. A lot more. You will thank me when you’re in college english classes.

Speaking of college, watch and study more classic and indie films. You’ll be ahead of the game in the film classes. There’s a reason why you are drawn to classic cinema. Let it inspire you. Also, go rent them at Blockbuster. One day Blockbuster will be gone too.

Cherish your time in college as much as you can. Don’t rush through it to get to the ‘real world’. Actually be thankful for the assignments your given. I know it sounds crazy considering the busy work in high school seems torturous. Soak up all the knowledge you can. 

Never stop writing. You don’t currently share your writings with anyone because it’s essentially a stream of consciousness and deep seeded emotion put into stanzas. One day you will share it though. It will be honed and developed. It’s a strong part of your voice and your heart.   

While in college you may doubt yourself. Thinking we will never be able to produce, direct, screen-write, act, and teach. So you’ll hold yourself back. Do the opposite. Go for it with everything in you. You may not believe it now, but, we will be doing all those things we never believed we could. 

Please, PLEASE, stop wearing bracelets from the Swap Shop and Brazilian jeans. I know you’re from Miami and half Puerto Rican, so it was almost inevitable for us to go through this phase. But it’s not necessary. Just like your goth phase when you shopped at Hot Topic and the preppy phase when you attempted to emulate Summer from The OC. Thankfully this one will end as well. It’s okay to express your love for vintage through your clothing choice. It may seem quirky or weird to wear fashions inspired by past decades. Believe it or not our quirky uniqueness will actually be admired. In my time they refer to people with such taste as ‘hispters.’ But, we both know we loved this style long before it was cool to dress like you’re from the 1920’s. Or uncool. I’m still trying to comprehend the hipster psychology.

Oh, we both know also you don’t really like reggaeton as much as you listen to it. It’s perfectly fine to turn off the Daddy Yankee and instead play those classics from Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra we're so found of. Basically yes, you are quite different from those currently around you. Embrace it. 

You don’t need a boyfriend. You don't need to date. Just do us a favor and don’t even look at guys at this point. For a long time actually. No, not even that guy that looks like an Abercrombie model. It will only last a month. I’m saving you. 

It’s perfectly fine that you go to homecoming and prom solo. At my age, people don’t even talk to their prom date anymore. Enjoy that moment. Stop trying to skip ahead to the future. Even though people say this is the best times of your life and that terrifies you. Don’t worry it gets far, far better. 

I know it seems like you’re waiting forever for someone who makes you feel like you’re not alone. For someone who will treat you like the amazing person you are deep down. Past all the brokenness and scars that will one day be restored. Well, I can tell you that I’m not waiting anymore. Not because I’m in a relationship or married. I know you assumed we’d be married by now. Possibly starting a family. Although, not long ago I did have a life planned out with someone I believed to complete me. I’m not going to give you any warning on that. It’s for you to decide, experience, grow, and learn from. 

Once again, our plans are not necessarily meant to happen. There is a better plan we could've never conceived with our own mind. No, I’m not waiting for an empty space in my life to be filled by a man. I’m already fulfilled. Life is so much more than finding completion in another person. I’m already complete. Complete in God and whole in myself. That’s the only way I can truly be with another person one day. You will be so much happier once you take hold of that revelation. 

Most importantly- You are never alone. It is not all your fault. Stop blaming yourself. You are valuable, beautiful, worthy, intelligent, talented and incredible. I know it may be hard to understand the things we’ve been through, but, you will have peace one day. Those experiences will be used for good, to help others. 

Never stop dreaming, ever. Keep practicing your Oscar acceptance speech with your hairbrush in the mirror. Even if it never happens. I reiterate; it’s okay. His plan is for us is far better than okay. Trust in that. But, when you dream, always remember; it’s not merely for us or our own fulfillment and accomplishment. It’s for others. 

Perhaps I’m writing you this letter in order to completely let go of the past. Maybe I’m writing in hopes you can look in the mirror and see who you truly are. Who you are becoming.  




Jennifer Joy O'Grady

Coming Home: why living with your parents after college isn't so terrible.

College graduation came with two extremes: the high of accomplishment and the low of great uncertainty. After living seemingly independently for four years, how could one return to the same dwelling of embarrassing adolescent years?

As graduation quickly approached, my optimal plans dwindled just as rapidly. There was disappointment from turned down internships in New York. Venturing out to LA to become an artist/waitress just wasn’t feasible. My personal plan including marriage, moving to Austin and pursing my masters to teach, shattered with it’s share of heartache. Moving back home to my humble beginnings in Miramar, Florida was not even plan Z in my mind. I failed to realize then how incredibly thankful I would be over two years later that my plans didn't come to pass, because a greater plan did. 

As quickly as we turned the tassel, I found myself nudging my belongings tightly into the garage of my parent’s home. With much resistance, I returned to my hometown; a city which never quite felt like home to me. I often scrutinized, focused on the ugly, loud, and harsh of the urban south Florida environment. Traveling the same roads which I once rode my bike and learned how to drive a car, seemed to bring back negative imagery of painful memories from my youth. However, returning forced me to seek out the beauty in the imperfections and eventually cherish it. The same can be applied when moving back in with your family. 

You are not alone. Roughly 45% of college grads move back in with mom and dad. Despite what your Facebook newsfeed tells you, you are not the only one. Relax in the reassurance that your situation is not unheard of, nor will it last forever. We’re going through this together. Stop comparing yourself to friends who are married, starting their own families or the ones who are ever too busy with their career advancements. Find friends who share the same priorities and are experiencing the same chapter in life. Read from their past experiences, like mine, I’m here to encourage you!

Time to accept. This does not mean become complacent in your current position. This is the time to pursue your dreams more than ever. Don’t be afraid to fail; you have a support system backing you. When you’re figuring out your future, what better place to do so than in the comfort of your family. In case you haven’t already realized- they want the best for you. The greatest joy in their life is to see you happy and fulfilled. Those habits or characteristics of your family which once irritated you to no end; its time to accept them. In fact, embrace it. I know we hear it often, but, I can’t stress enough: cherish the time you have with your family now. You will miss this time, during the periods when you only see loved ones by flying home for the holidays. We take for granted the time with our family during our teen years with it’s fair share of “I’m out of here when I turn eighteen!” moments. For the first time in our lives we can glean from our parents, as one adult to another. View dad and mom as your mentors, closest friends, and biggest supporters.

Time to prepare. Most likely, you don’t have to worry about rent. You now have the benefit of working to pay off student loans, or save up for your own place. Develop management skills for your finances and time before you enter into the responsibilities owning your own home. Learn from a pro. Nothing says ‘wife material’ like a woman who's cooking is just as good as her mother’s. I’ve learned to serve my family just as my mother has all my life. Learn to be a servant to your family, not a squatter, during your time of free home-cooked meals. Instead of longing for the past where my household duties consisted of cooking for myself and cleaning after myself, I’ve embraced this training for the day I have a family. What better way to say thank you to your parents for the lifetime they have cared for you, than to serve them?

Build & restore relationships. Living with my mom again caused misunderstandings to be mended and barriers were torn away. Our mother-daughter bond is stronger now than ever. I can proudly say she is my best friend. We recently took a road trip to Savannah, Georgia just the two of us. We wandered through the historic district and enjoyed the vintage/antique shopping. The unforgettable experiences we shared, and lessons I continue to learn from her, I will carry with me into the future. Share an activity or hobby with mom or dad. You never know, they may enjoy it as well. These are truly once in a life time opportunities with your family. I may have missed out on the opportunity to have such a close bond with my mother had I not returned home. I would’ve truly regretted that later in life. View dad and mom as your mentors, closest friends, and biggest supporters. 

A lifelong student. Although our schooling may have ended, we should never cease to be scholars. Create a summer reading list that you would enjoy. Perhaps reread books that were assigned to you in college. I guarantee you will discover something new this time around. You don’t have to go by a professors syllabus anymore, instead create deadlines for your own creative projects or writings. Continue to develop your gifts. Challenge yourself to read material daily that will further assist your growth in your chosen field.  Develop a plan for growth as found in Self Improvement 101 & Leadership Principles for Graduates by John C. Maxwell. Instead of sinking into post-grad sadness, I suggest reading one of those encouraging books. Keep a journal with inspirational quotes and helpful points to turn back to often. 

A new routine. The void of schedules can actually become stressful. For the many post grads in search of employment, it becomes an easy habit waking of up at 12 pm on a weekday and grabbing a bowl of cereal to watch a marathon of your favorite show on Netflix. Just as we once had class schedules, create a daily schedule for yourself. Set your alarm, and although tempting, don’t hit that snooze button. There are gifts in you longing to be poured out. Inventions in your mind in need of creating. You may be the next award winning writer, successful entrepreneur, or a leader of this nation. The world is earnestly awaiting people of this generation to rise up and take their place, using what God has placed within you to influence, impact and cause change. What you choose to do today, will determine that outcome.  

The constant in life. Sometimes life can change so rapidly, other times you're counting down the seconds in hopes the day on the calendar will change. Whichever season you're in, take a deep breath, and a mental (or physical) pictures of your current surroundings, environment, and situation because one day, sooner or later, this will all change. 

As a college graduate, filmmaker, writer, actor, artist, entrepreneur, teacher, leader, dreamer and doer, living at home with her parents, (and pet bunny), I am absolutely cherishing it. Change is quickly approaching. I don’t want to miss this moment. Neither should you.  

- Jennifer Joy O.