Janet Petruck Fanaki circa 1984 in Toronto. A letter to my younger self.

Dear Janet,

Happy 16th birthday. You’re living your best life right now. High school friendships, dances and parties, a fun part-time job in retail, and boys. What could be better?

As your 51 year-old self, I’m here to give you a little advice. By this time, I’ve graduated from university, figured out a career, parented for nearly 22 years and suffered an unimaginable loss.

I believe that life is not about avoiding the pitfalls and heartache, never making mistakes, but leaning into them to learn the important lessons.

So here’s what I want you to know.

Lesson #1. Choose your friends wisely.

Remember that you are only as good as the people who surround you. Maintain those relationships, nurture them and show up for them. You will all go through things in life that will be uncomfortable. Embrace the hurt that someone is going through and hold their hand. If you pick the right friends, one day they will be there for you too.

Lesson #2. Make good choices in boyfriends.

Recognize that you have a “type” and that it may not be working for you. When you realize this, give time to the one who is a great listener, who will really look at you and be your friend. And don’t waste time on bad kissers.

Lesson #3. Don’t be so quick to get out of school.

I’ve learned from brilliant friends that they sometimes took 2-3 university degrees before they figured out who they wanted to be. Take the time to figure this out for yourself too.

Don’t be so quick to start working – this may be a short-term gain. Instead, invest more time in your schooling. It will never be a regret.

Lesson #4. Breathe.

Don’t talk all of your oxygen out. By taking deep breaths, you’ll be a calmer version of yourself.

Lesson #5. Never colour your own hair and don’t over-pluck your eyebrows.

I had to learn this one the hard way. If it weren’t for a stylist that was available on VERY short notice (on more than a few occasions), I would have been walking around with hair fails far too often.

Right now it’s 1984 for you and eyebrow shaping is not a thing. But it will be. Try to leave your eyebrows alone for as long as possible. You’ll thank me for it.

Lesson #6. The glass is half-full.

You’re going to have an amazing life and meet the best guy in the world. He’ll be your best friend, you’ll travel to amazing places together and meet fantastic people.

But he will be taken from you when you are still young.

Focus on the good times you shared and how much better your life had become because of him.

Keep this attitude through everything. Focusing on what you have versus what you don’t will make you a happier person.

Janet, I wish you all the best that life has to offer. It will be a bumpy ride but buckle up and enjoy the good, bad and ugly. It will all be worth it because you’ll learn who you are through it all.

Janet Fanaki is the founder of RESILIENT PEOPLE, a website that shares stories of EXTRAordinary people around the world who have overcome major challenges and now help and inspire others to be resilient too. She lost her husband Adam to glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in February 2020. She lives in Toronto with her two children and mini poodle.