When I was 16, I got braces, my driver's license, a first kiss, and acne (lots and lots of acne that formed constellation-like patterns on my cheeks). None of that, not even lip-locking my lifelong crush for the first time, was what defined that age for me. It's what I didn't get as a 16-year-old teen that I'll remember for the rest of my life, no matter what.
I was a sophomore in high school, a time when you'd join a handful of clubs that fed into your favorite hobbies, when you didn't have a yearning to head home when the final-period bell rang. The only club I wanted to join was the newspaper club.
At 16, I didn't know much about what I wanted from my future. There wasn't a college I was excited to attend. I didn't have big plans of one day leaving my small town and going someplace else. I couldn't even imagine how I would one day move out of my parents' house and fend for myself, doing weekly laundry and finding healthy options to feed myself three meals a day. What I did know was that when I grew up, I wanted to be a writer; the kind of writer whose stories made people feel things, whose words made people feel less alone. I wanted to change the world.
When it was time to apply for the newspaper club, a club that would allow me to explore my passions, I was prepared. I had spent months putting together a portfolio of articles that I had written for fun, and days figuring out what to write in my application letter. I handed in everything and waited two weeks to find out if I had made the newspaper club. And then I didn't. I didn't get in.
I didn't see my name on the list the day the acceptances were announced, so I went up to the teacher responsible for selecting the members. I said, "There must have been a mistake." I, Jen Glantz, didn't know much about a five-year plan, but I did know that writing was everything to me, and I wanted to be in this club. He lowered his glasses, looked me in the eyes, shimmied his lips, and said: "It's not a mistake, Jen. I didn't pick you because you're not a very good writer. I'd suggest giving up on that dream and instead joining another club."
There I was, eyeballing a teacher who told me to give up. Who told me that I wasn't good enough.
At that age, for the most part, you still believe you can do anything; not the crazy things, like thinking one day you'll own a unicorn or live on Mars, but certainly you believe in yourself and your dreams. But there I was, eyeballing a teacher who told me to give up. Who told me that I wasn't good enough.
I rushed home and cried for so long while my mom held me tightly and told me words I'll never forget and I wish I understood better at age 16: "Don't you dare listen to him. You are good enough and if you want to be a writer, write. Don't you ever let anyone stop you from your wildest dreams." She was right, but I didn't know it yet.
I had my doubts, so I stopped writing for a little bit until I saw a local newspaper was looking to hire high school students as writers. I almost didn't apply. I almost believed that teacher, but for some reason, I just . . . didn't. I got hired and got my stories published. When the first one made it to the newspaper, I found a copy, folded open the page that had my byline on it, and I slapped down the newspaper on that teacher's desk. I said to him words that I didn't fully believe then, but I do now: "Hey! I am good enough." And I walked away, feeling like I was bigger than myself, learning later that I can be it if I believe it.