“Just be Yourself” by Stephanie Pellegrin is a letter published in the “Dear Teen Me” anthology in 2012. The letter is addressed to the narrator’s teen self and is written in the first-person narrative.
Stephanie Pellegrin is an American author of young adult literature. She is a member of the Austin, Texas chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and has cofounded Literary Lonestars, a Facebook group featuring bloggers and authors from Texas.
Just Be Yourself | Summary
The letter begins with the narrator calling out to her younger self who is reading a book in the library. Her teenage self has an “awful perm”, and the narrator rhetorically asks why she thought it was a good idea at the time. She sits down to converse with her adolescent self, assuring her that the “no talking in the library rule” is not as bad as she thinks. Her younger self is in her junior year of high school, and feels lonely and alienated, spending hours in the library. Although she has some friends, she does not really feel like she belongs with them. In her desperation to fit in, she has joined eighteen extracurricular clubs, even ones that she has no interest in, just to be able to “find herself”. However, it is hectic and confusing, and the teen girl is losing herself more than she is finding herself.
The narrator reminds her that most people don’t have a single outstanding talent. Life is not about finding out the one thing that we are good at and not doing anything else for the rest of our lives. It is about exploring different options to find out what we enjoy and what we are good at, and being ourselves on our own terms.
The narrator assures her younger self that she will eventually find out who she is and what she is good at, through a long and painstaking process, but she will surely get there. One of the best things about life is spending time doing all the things that we love. As E.E. Cummings has said –
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are”.
The letter ends on a lighter note where the narrator urges her adolescent self to give the new Harry Potter books a try, as she knows that she will enjoy them.
Just Be Yourself | Analysis
As the title suggests, the letter encourages one to just be one’s own self and to explore and express our selfhood freely. Finding out who we really are isn’t about discovering our one great talent, it is rather the process of exploration to find out what we love and what we don’t, our strengths and weaknesses, that constitute who we truly are. As an adolescent, this pursuit of finding oneself, coupled with the struggle to fit in, can be exhausting and daunting. However, it is important to have faith in oneself and keep being whoever and whatever we feel like being in the meantime.
For a story that encourages self-love and self-exploration, the narrator takes a surprisingly condescending tone in the beginning when she terms her old permed hairstyle “awful” and mocks her own choice. While we often make regrettable choices in life, it is important to be kind to ourselves and forgive what mistakes we may have made. Since hairstyle is a physical expression of one’s own self, it is even more important to not be demeaning to our past choices and understand that it is all a part of finding out who we truly are.
Just Be Yourself | Themes
Self-Exploration – The letter essentially encourages one to enjoy the process of growing up and exploring what options lie in front of us. Our selfhood lies in this very process of exploration. Life is about everything that we may enjoy doing, not just discovering our one great talent.
Self-Love and Self-Expression – It is important to not forget who we really are in the urge to fit in, and keep expressing ourselves in the fullest and the truest possible manner.
Just Be Yourself | Charaters
The Adult Narrator – The adult narrator who writes the letter, is a bright, confident woman who is sure of herself and her abilities. She knows who she is and what she is good at, and also knows the importance of all the little things in life that makes her happy and makes her who she really is. She encourages her younger self to just live life to the fullest and not exhaust herself in her desperation to find out who she really is.
The Narrator’s Teenager Self – As an adolescent girl, the narrator is lonely and underconfident, desperate to find out what she is good at in order to fit in. In her desperation, she has made regrettable decisions like signing up for eighteen extra-curricular clubs and getting a bad perm. However, this exhaustion and anxiety about finding out who she truly is puts her at risk of losing herself.
Just Be Yourself | Title
The title of the letter, “Just Be Yourself” underlines the principal concern of the story, being our own selves in the truest possible manner, and freely exploring and expressing this self.