A letter to my 8-year-old self

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Dear 8-year-old Sacha,

You might not believe me, but your interest in computers will lead to making lots of good friends. So go ahead, enjoy it, and don’t mind the people who tease you about being a geek. When you grow up, this will be a very good thing.

I don’t know which experiences I’d want to steer you towards or away from. Even the tough decisions and seeming mistakes turn out to be all right. The boy whose heart you’ll break in second year high school will turn out to be a good friend later on. The writer you’ll have a crush on (although you’ll eventually find conversation awkward because you aren’t immersed enough in fiction) will end up telling you about a scholarship that will take you halfway around the world. The big fight you have with a friend at school will make it easier to leave for Japan, where you’ll meet the research supervisor who’ll convince the department to accept your application. Things work out.

There are a few minor things you might do differently, but don’t worry, life works out to be pretty awesome anyway. These suggestions will probably make life better without messing up the space-time continuum too much:

  • People will tease you for reading your pocket dictionary and for using unusual words. That’s okay. Later in life, you will meet someone who browsed through dictionaries too, and you will get to make all sorts of obscure puns.
  • Get into open source earlier. Not only will you learn a lot and meet many interesting people, you’ll get nudged into writing and presenting.
  • If you go to a high school where everyone’s talented, don’t let people’s skills in drawing, writing, acting, or other things intimidate you from trying.
  • Remember that people are human and have to sort out their own issues. Get better at figuring out what’s really you and what are issues other people are projecting onto you, what you want and whether that’s different from what other people want you to want, and who you are versus who other people think you are.
  • People pass in and out of your life. You pass in and out of people’s lives. This is okay.
  • In university, convince your teachers to put you in the regular English class instead of the merit English class. All the other computer science students will be in the regular classes. They’ll be bonding on food trips while you and a dozen other people sit in a circle in a classroom, discussing the irony in the Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
  • If you end up in that English class anyway, try to enjoy it, and don’t let it convince you that writing is boring. School essays and book reports may be a pain, but you can write for fun. Keep your writing on your computer, though. It’s easier to organize (and protect), and you’ll thank me in university. (Say hi to your teachers for me – they were great, even if you weren’t the best of students at the time.)
  • People like your sisters will try to convince you that you’re boring. You’re not. You’re just different. Take a notebook along on those family trips, and write or draw while they surf.
  • Get into the university dorm earlier. Yes, you live in Metro Manila and there’s a long waiting list, but the network team will bump you up in priority thanks to your tech skills. You will learn a lot, and you’ll have lots of fun.
  • Future paperwork will require a list of trips you’ve made. It may help to keep good records when you travel, although they’ll let you submit a partial list anyway.
  • You will have to memorize things at some point, and developing that skill early will help you in calculus and chemistry. Make it more fun by turning it into a game. Flashcards are good.
  • Practice being organized. Fold-back clips can help you keep those endless photocopies tidy. Multi-colour ballpens are handy.
  • Go ahead and wear your glasses during presentations. (Yes, you will end up giving lots of presentations.) Contact lenses are a pain, and you can make a connection even with glasses on.
  • Pay more attention in sewing and shop class. While most of your classmates may never own a sewing machine or pick up a drill again, you will. And you’ll enjoy it, so don’t be embarrassed about starting. Ask or save up for your own sewing machine if you need to. You might as well start early so that you can learn how to make cool things. And while you’re at it, build on that interest in gardening and take advantage of the space and the sun that you have.

Stick up for yourself, learn and share as much as you can, and enjoy. Life is going to be awesome.

26-year-old Sacha

May 8, 2012

P.S. Draw and doodle more. Ignore the frustration of not being able to draw as well as you want. You’ll appreciate having practised. – 28-year-old Sacha

You can comment with Disqus or you can e-mail me at sacha@sachachua.com.