Last night I watched 13 Going on 30, starring Jennifer Garner. I don’t often think about when I was a teenager, or reminisce about my high-school days. In fact, I’ve never been to any of my reunions. I’m just not the sentimental type. But this movie got me thinking. If I could go back to talk to my teenage self, what advice would I give me? I was surprised by how many things leapt to mind. I’m positive I heard most of this from my teachers or my parents, but what 15 or 16-year-old listens to them? So, if I could go back and convince myself to listen, this is what I would tell me:
Teenage Girls are the Worst
Don’t let mean girls, cliques, gossipy girls or boyfriend stealers get you down. Find true friends that genuinely like you and ignore the rest. Those girls will have no meaning to you in a few years. Remember, if they are mean it’s because they have bad home lives, or low self-esteem, or are insecure, and that is their problem to work out. Or maybe, they are just brats. Either way, I wish I had learned to build meaningful friendships when I was younger. That would have been a great skill to have in my adult toolbox.
Pay Attention to Your Grades
I’ll be honest, I only got grades good enough to graduate, and that was all I cared about. I was very busy in high-school - dating, and going to parties, and smoking too many joints, and thinking that my classes were a waste of time. I was able to legally drink in my senior year of high school (the drinking age was still 18 in the early 80s in NH) and going to clubs was on every weekend agenda. If I had paid more attention to my education, I might have had more options when it came to applying to colleges, and more financial help by way of scholarships. Instead, I went to the only one that accepted me, dropped out, and didn’t go back and get my degree until I was 34. A fact that seriously impacted my career trajectory.
Finish College the First Time Around
You Are Not Fat
I had a pretty enviable shape in my teenage years. I was slim, had an hourglass figure, and great legs (if I do say so myself), but I didn’t think so then. I spent every moment since I turned about 15 thinking I was fat; for perspective, I was 5’5” and 116 pounds or a 19.6 on the BMI scale. I can’t remember ever thinking that I was a satisfactory weight, the number on the scale was always too high. I truly wish I could go back in time and teach myself body acceptance. It would have made the rest of life so much easier and happier if I had learned to love myself more.
Although I wouldn’t give up my husband and three sons for anything, I do wish I could go back in time and tell myself not to be afraid to live an unexpected life. I wish I had spent some time traveling the country and the world after high-school, but I was too afraid. Afraid that I would “ruin my life” if I did anything other than what was expected. Become a teacher/nurse/secretary, marry, get a nice safe job, buy a house in a nice cul-de-sac, have some babies right away, and don’t do anything to rock the boat. Nowadays, when my kids and nieces & nephews share photos of their adventures, I’m often sad that I didn’t have more of those when I was young.
DO NOT, Under Any Circumstances, Start Smoking
It took me 37 years to quit and God only knows the damage I did to myself in those 37 years. Enough said.
Nurture your Passions
Even if they only ever remain a hobby, pursue the things that bring you joy. Whether that’s photography, macramé, restoring old photos, drawing, bowling or basket weaving. The internet is coming and you will be able to hone those skills in ways you can’t possibly image now. You’ll be able to learn from masters right from your own home, talk to thousands of other hobbyists around the world, and have the opportunity to turn that passion into business easier than you ever dreamed.
Your Parents Are Trying Their Best
Now that I have kids I totally understand the truth of parenthood. No matter what those hipster mommy-shamers tell you, parenting isn't always sunshine and fulfillment. It's stepping on legos in the dark, worrying about your kids until they are 70, not having enough money - ever, exhaustion and hair-pulling aggravation, just as often as it's wonderful. I wish I could tell my younger me to cut my folks some slack. They aren’t monsters, or idiots, or hateful, or hopelessly square like I thought they were. They were just trying to figure out how to survive each day, and have adult relationships, and advance their careers, and raise a family without a manual just like I've had to do. And it’s so much harder than I ever gave them credit for.
Don’t Wait to Start Therapy
I’ve learned so much about myself, my marriage, my future and my past from therapy and I truly wish I had not dismissed going when I was younger. When I was a teenager and young adult, I had this notion that only people that were truly disturbed went to therapy. Think Sybil, Three Faces of Eve, and Splendor in The Grass. I wish I had understood that therapy is a safe space that can help change your perspective, break you free of old ideas, teach you skills for self-awareness, and help you enrich your relationships. Starting the process of self-discovery earlier would have likely made all the hardships of life easier to manage, or at least would have given me to ability to deal with them without beating myself up.
It's Not The End of the World
All of those things that were so devastating to me when I was young; breaking up with boyfriends, first dates not calling for a second one, failing just one quiz, being mocked for my bushy eyebrows, denting my dad's car, not being able to afford the latest fad fashion etc. were important life lessons. We can learn from them all and we should. It's how we develop coping skills and learn to focus on the really important stuff, and how to pick ourselves up and carry on. But I would love to tell my younger self to keep it in perspective. Those people and things and incidents that seem so dramatically important in our youth will be inconsequential in just a few short years. Keep moving forward and don't sweat the small stuff.
I’m going to save this list and try to pass along some of this advice to my grandchildren. I only hope I can figure out a way to do it so they will not blow me off like I would have done had my grandmother tried to tell me the same things. Maybe I'll develop an app.