Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Advice To My Teenage Self

Oh look at me being all original. Nobody has ever done something like this as a writing exercise. I'm so innovative.

Nah, it's something I've been thinking of a lot lately. If you think I'm a neurotic mess now (which you probably don't), you should've seen me as a teenager. Like pretty much every teenager, I was really insecure about a lot of things, like my weight, my acne (as mentioned previously), my grades (which weren't the best because I was a "smart kid" rather than a kid with any sort of work ethic, may write about that later), and even the things I found interesting. As said, these anxieties are hardly unique, and to be fair to a lot of the important adults in my life, it's not as if I didn't seek advice for these anxieties, but for whatever reason, their advice didn't stick, or if it did it took the passage of time for me to process it in a way that makes sense to me. So I wanted to jot down a couple things that, whether I actually heard them or not as a teenager, are the sort of thing I think I could have done well to remember, in no particular order.

1. It's okay to not know what you want to do when you grow up, but do pay some consideration towards it. This is something that you oddly enough should have already done because of the careers class you took in 8th grade (though your interests shifted a bit during the intervening years) but it's easy to take for granted the fact that, throughout school, if you attend/attended a small school (which I did) that there aren't a ton of options and you don't have a ton of say over what classes you take, but the sudden shift from having people tell you what to do 90% of the time to having to make your own decisions based on whatever knowledge you happen to have at the time is jarring. It's understandable to be overwhelmed by the sudden onslaught of choices. I mean, I was and still am. Analysis paralysis, that is, the inability to make a choice by virtue of overthinking/overanalysis is a thing. But eventually, you will have to make a decision, and if it turns out to be wrong, that's fine. It's not permanent. Related...

2. Most of adulthood seems to be just "figuring it out". The people in grades above you who seem to have it together? They just know a little more than you do by virtue of experience. Once you get there yourself, the view isn't as nice as you thought it must be from below. And that's okay. You'll always have someone better to learn from, but if you ever feel like you're just kinda scraping by, that's okay too. Most of us are.

3. Never feel ashamed for being interested in things. Seriously. Besides the fact that darn near everything can be made into a career if you're passionate enough and able to find/make opportunities, in general life is just better when you can comfortably like things. Not only that but people can tell if you're just doing something to "fit in", if your heart isn't completely in it, and that's okay too. You don't have to like the same things as everyone else, and not everyone has to like what you like, but as long as your interests aren't harmful and you're not a jerk to others (regardless of how they treat you), it doesn't matter. Besides, from the outsider's perspective, someone who enjoys and is interested in things is much more interesting than someone who isn't.

4. It's okay to ask questions. Holy crap, where did I ever get the idea that it wasn't? You won't be able to learn how to do everything on your own, and sometimes you'll have things that you need help understanding. So ask. Sometimes you'll have problems with other people and will need advice or intervention. So ask. Sometimes you'll just have something you're interested in and want to learn more about. So ask. Yes, sometimes people will react poorly to your questions. Sometimes you'll get wrong answers. Sometimes people will refuse to answer you. That's fine. You can ask other people.

5. Have compassion for others, but don't make excuses for their actions. It's true that bullies tend to be victims of bullying themselves, just passing a blob of negative energy from one person to the next, but understanding one's actions does not mean you have to just sit there and take it. It does not matter what people do to rationalize their behavior. There are fundamental right and wrong approaches to treating other people, and if someone is overstepping what could be considered reasonable boundaries in the way they treat you, that's not okay, and you're within your rights to stand up for yourself. Even more importantly, if you see that happening to someone else, you're within your rights to step in. It's scary. It takes confidence. It's...something I'm still not very good at. Definitely something I wish I was better at growing up. Related...

6. Love and respect yourself. This is something that I was really bad at for a very, very long time. I've had self-esteem issues for as long as I can remember, and there are many reasons for that. I was told by many people through words and actions from a very young age that I wasn't good enough, wasn't smart enough, wasn't a hard enough worker, was interested in the wrong things. I felt like I didn't fit in, that I was unwanted, and though some of that came from external sources, much of it was an internal monologue I cooked up for myself, that, if I was somehow better, that would make all the difference. This isn't to say I was a perfect, angelic child, because I totally wasn't. But I at least deserved to treat myself with some dignity, the same dignity and respect that other people deserved from me, I deserved from myself. While it is true that there is always someone who is going to be more skilled at something than you are, you possess a unique combination of skills, interests, and temperament that you'll always have something to offer. Don't get angry with yourself for trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

7. Be kind to everyone. Including yourself. There's enough negativity in the world. Don't add to it. Even if you have to do it alone for a while, be the one to uplift those around you. You never know what's going on beneath everyone else's masks (metaphorically, not literally in the case with the current COVID outbreak), and you never know just how hungry other people can be for a little kindness and positivity. And look around. There's probably someone in your life that is extremely good at this. I mean, I married the queen of kindness, but hey, whoever is the silver medalist in kindness prolly ain't that bad am I right?

I'm sure I could come up with some more if pressed, but I feel like these are some lessons I would have done well to remember growing up. I dunno, hopefully it helps someone who reads this.

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