Musician Sam Tsui On Why Everything That’s “Inconvenient” As A Teenager Will Make You Great

"The real world is not just a bigger version of the high school world."

This letter is part of our inaugural editorial series, “Letter to Myself,” in which we asked 40 remarkable queer people to write a note to their younger selves.

Dear Teenage Sam,

First of all, since I know how big a sci-fi/fantasy nerd you are (especially at this age), I’m sure receiving this letter from your future self is pretty exciting. However, I’m writing not just to indulge your love of all things time travel, but to provide some serious advice from someone who knows precisely what you’re going through and are about to go through.

Look, I know you’re different in ways that—as a teenager—seem to be pretty inconvenient. You’re gay, which right now definitely does not seem like a great thing to be—at least based on your idea of what the real world is life as extrapolated from your middle and high school bubbles. And as someone who likes to be in control, I know how much energy you’re spending daily trying to imagine how this affects or changes the life you want for yourself, and how terrified it makes you that you really have no idea what any of this means for your future. You’re different in other ways, too—as a huge nerd who loves musical theater and Lord of the Rings, as a chubby half-Chinese kid being pelted with images in the media saying you don’t look like a successful musician or actor.

But I, future Sam, am here to affirm you that all these things—being gay, being short, looking or thinking differently, and the myriad of other idiosyncrasies you currently perceive as deficiencies—won’t impede on your dreams. In fact, they’re the very struggles that will build you into exactly the person you’ll need to be in order to get what you want.

First of all, the real world is not just a bigger version of the high school world you’re familiar with now. You’ll come to see that much of the teasing, bullying, and social politics are just a result of other kids working through their own adolescent insecurities and issues. In the real world, you’ll find the people who love and accept you, who celebrate and cherish you for being exactly the person you are. You’ll discover that being gay doesn’t define or delineate you, that it’ll be just one facet of the strong and complex person you’ll become. In fact, all the time spent working through your own sense of identity at such a young ageœ now just means you’re laying the foundation early for a strong sense of self that will be hugely important as you start to face the challenges of adult life. And that strength will be what allows you to take on those societal expectations, and flourish in a music career that others might have said you don’t sound, or act, or look right for.

Even now, I don’t claim to have all the answers. I’m sure I’d have a lot to learn from a letter by 2037 Sam. But I’m simply here to remind you that what makes you unique makes you great, and though it may seem crazy now, those qualities will actually become the parts of you that you value most. So go sing, paint, dance, and play D&D. You’re amazing, and your future is bright.

(Oh, and if in college you have any doubts about starting to upload music to a site called YouTube—ignore them. Do it, trust me.)

Future Sam

Sam Tsui’s new single, “Cameo,” is out now.

Read more letters here.

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