letter #005 | dear younger me: this one's for toni.

this one's for toni.

Letter #005

February 6, 2023 | 11:59pm

on risk-taking and believing in your worth

This time last year, I was rounding the 12-month mark on a contract I had with a web design client. Our contract was set to be up for renewal and I had spent weeks preparing for the meeting about it.

To paint a brief picture, I was pretty much on-call 24/7. This included weekends, holidays, vacation, and when I was sick with COVID-19.

During all of those times, I was taking this client's calls, responding to emails, and working on their website and other matters pertaining to their business that extended far beyond the scope of our original agreement.

This work had an incredibly positive effect on their business, but my own health and businesses were suffering in the process.

I was tutoring just two online students at the time because I lacked both the time and the energy to take on any more.

I had been grossly undercharging for my services given the value I provided for this client and was preparing to ask for greater compensation for my work with them.

Although I still had thoughts of self-doubt surrounding my worth and my ask when entering that conversation, I knew even then that the value I was providing far exceeded my current compensation. I put trust in knowing that one day, I would fully believe in what I was asking for and leaned on that knowledge to get me through the conversation.

To date, it was one of the hardest I've ever had.

When it ended, I remember crying harder than I had in a really long time. I was going to pick up dinner for my family shortly after and someone went in my place because they didn't want me to drive being that upset.

To honor my former client's privacy, I will just say we did not renew the contract.

I was then left with a lot more time on my hands and wanted to put that time back into where my heart truly lied: with the kids and families I got to work with through Teach Me Ms. Amahni, my private tutoring company.

As hard as closing that chapter with my former client was, it created space for something much greater to come. And that it did!

I spent the last few weeks of February 2022 giving my own website a long-overdue update and got things in order to begin advertising for my private tutoring services again.

Things were picking back up and going well, but business remained mostly as usual for the few months. Then, in late April, Toni's mother reached out to me.

when I was your age...

The second story is about my 13th birthday.

It was difficult and there are only a couple people who know just how difficult it was.

I remember being incredibly sad and excusing myself to the restroom during the middle of my 8th-grade U.S. history class that day. My best friend Maya followed me.

Once in the restroom, I broke down crying and I remember telling my friend Maya that it was because I didn't want to be alive anymore.

I felt completely worthless as a person and more of a burden and annoyance than as someone who was loved and wanted and added value to people's lives.

I no longer remember what Maya—who is still one of my best friends—told me that day, but I know it helped because I never tried anything and am still here today.

Looking back, I was likely dealing with the onset of a major mental illness, the symptoms of which probably contributed to those feelings of despair, but it would be another eight years before I would receive a proper diagnosis for the illness (and then another few years after that before the medication regime was right).

a moment of hope

In a story I may detail later, there was a moment during my early teenage years in which I was feeling a lot of despair, and then seemingly out of nowhere, I heard a voice that told me I needed to keep going.

The verbatim message has been washed away with the years' time, but I remember hearing that I needed to stay because there would be someone who needed me later.

People who would need who I was and what I had to say.

So I stayed.

I was 14 years old when I made the decision to dedicate my life to being an educator, after being deeply affected by my 8th-grade history teacher, Mr. Dan Cassel, a great man who I am blessed to still be in touch with today.

Toni was born the year I was in 8th grade and 13 years later, I would meet and experience one of the first reasons why I needed to stick around.

lemons to lemonade

When I first began working with Toni, things were pretty similar to how they were with all of my kids. I'd come by her house, help her with her homework; we'd spend time strengthening her academic foundations across a couple subjects and all seemed fairly normal.

Then one day, I came over and she was crying. Hard. After speaking with her parents, Toni and I had a heart-to-heart conversation that changed the trajectory of our relationship.

It also changed the way I viewed the role I played in my kids' lives.

Over the next few months, we would continue having more meaningful conversations while she studied.

I believe there's a lot of beauty in vulnerability, and that sharing with others how you overcame your storms holds great power.

It is through this type of vulnerability that true connection roots itself in a pair's relationship and begins to grow.

As my relationship with Toni evolved, I started taking my kids on “Outings,” or trips outside of tutoring to paint, or get boba, play mini-golf, go bowling, or just get Starbucks.

It was an opportunity to show my kids that they were much more to me than their report card. They were whole people and I was proud and grateful to be able to support them as such.

Working with Toni allowed me to start seeing myself as more than just the girl who comes by to help with homework each week. For some kids, I was a mentor, a source of support and light, comfort/strength and encouragement, and someone who still believed in them when they thought no one else did.

It's one thing to be that person to a developing kid, but it's a whole 'nother for that kid to be that person for you, too.

Enter Toni.

thank you, ton ton.

Toni, you have, beyond a shadow of a doubt, changed me and my life in positive and meaningful ways.

I am so thankful every day that I get to know you, teach you, and learn from you.

You are triumphant.

You have a strong, yet gentle spirit.

You are beautiful.

You are intelligent and hard-working, hilarious, and quick-witted.

You are forgiving.

Not only do you wish the best for people, you choose to see the best in them as well.

You are thoughtful, caring, and acutely attuned to others' emotions.

You are appreciative of people's efforts and choose to focus on their intentions over their actions.

Even though I am your “teacher,” I learn from you each day.

Your joy, care, and kindness for others make me want to be a better person.

You are a gift to this world and I treasure you and our relationship each day.

Thank you for all the nights of laughter and SpongeBob marathons after your sessions.

Thank you for all the spontaneous dinner parties with ramen and boba and sushi.

Thank you for reading all my newsletters and telling me what you think about them.

You have helped me become a better person, a better teacher, and a better friend.

I find it remarkable how every student has a teacher who they remember by name even years later.

You are that person for me.

A true teacher on how to live meaningfully, be a good person, and love others well and without conditions.

Thank you for everything you've taught me, Toni.

It is an honor and a joy to be your teacher.

I hope you had a wonderful 14th birthday and I'll see you soon.

happy birthday, ton ton. 🧁

To so many more.

What a gift it is to exist at the same time as you.

With lots of love,

Ms. Amahni

I’d love to hear from you.

Have any thoughts about this letter? Did anything resonate with you? Got an idea for something you’d like to see in a future letter?

Just reply to this email to let me know. I’m happy to hear from you and respond to every message.

I hope you have a happy week, Reader. Thanks for reading and I'll see you Monday.

With love,

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