A lot of time has passed since my teen years. They were decades & decades ago, and you would think the memories might have been washed away by the intervening events in my life. I’ve finished college, worked at all sorts of interesting jobs, met my now-husband, bought a house, got married, had two kids, moved from my birthplace in Southern California to Northern California, sold my first book, then many other books.
I’ve cried innumerable tears, have had many hours filled with laughter, had to say goodbye to a dog, several cats, a few horses, and most heartbreaking, my mother. I’ve seen my father decline until he no longer knows me.
So my teen years should have been washed away. How could those seven years have compared to the decades that followed?
And yet, I remember so much of that time. Some experiences seem as real and immediate to me today as they did then. I haven’t forgotten the turmoil and the triumphs (however few they seemed at the time), the heartache and the joy (however infrequent it was).
I started thinking about what I would tell that confused and often heartbroken young girl I once was. I came up with the following thoughts and advice:
1) Other people’s opinions of you have nothing to do with who you really are.
If they think you’re ugly, stupid, awkward, dorky, screw them. They know nothing, nothing about what’s really inside you. You might be just as klutzy as they say you are, but you have beautiful ideas. Maybe according to them you don’t wear the “right” clothes, maybe you don’t even like them yourself, but your Mom/Dad/financial situation made you wear them. But that can never change your heart, your soul, your dreams.
I was a frequent target of derision and torment by a certain group of girls back in junior high. It hurt terribly and made me feel worse about myself than I already did. But I was smarter than those girls. I had a wild imagination their worst bullying could never touch and I channeled that creativity into stories and later, books.
If it does, if it’s unrelenting, then you need some help outside yourself. If you can’t share that pain with your parents, find someone else you trust to talk to.
But if it’s heartache because the boy doesn’t like you back, or you’ve been made to feel like an idiot once again by that same cruel bully, the hurt will heal. It takes time, it seems impossible sometimes to get past. But your heart will let go of the pain eventually. It will find a new focus, whether it’s a new love or a new passion. The hurt will lose its grip on you, and you will look at the world with fresh eyes.
3) You won’t die from embarrassment, even though sometimes you’ll wish you had.
I was a pretty smart kid in school. Maybe not straight A’s, but I got a lot of good grades. Teachers liked to hold me up as an example.
But that meant nothing when I did some awkward, bonehead thing that made me feel like the biggest idiot in the world. It often had to do with me regularly blurting out something that should never have been said out loud. When I’d do something like that, I’d want to just crawl under a rock and disappear.
But I lived through the mortification. I came out on the other side, still me. I learned, one agonizing experience at a time, to count to ten, hold my tongue, and rethink my words. I’m not perfect (still planting my foot in my mouth upon occasion), but I’ve learned to live through the awkward moments. Teen self, you will too.
Not every dream is going to come true. Not everything you wish for can become reality. Some of your dreams might rely too much on what other people will do. You can’t make someone like you. You might never be one of the popular kids, because the gatekeepers might never want to let you in. Instead you have to walk right past their gate, and find your own meadow that isn’t confined by certain rules of what popular is.
You can’t wish your way into winning, because the ones judging are outside yourself. You can work your hardest and still fall short because that dream just wasn’t meant for you (sorry). And sometimes, you’ll let go of that dream to pursue another. Or you’ll put a dream aside for years, then when you take it up again, you’re ready for it, you have the skills you need, you know the right people who can help you, you have all the information at your fingertips. And everything will fall into place.
5) Love yourself. Love yourself. Love yourself.
Even if your nose is too big, or your hair always sticks out everywhere, or it seems like everyone is beautiful except for you. It is impossible to feel the love of others, to believe you’re worthy of that love if you don’t love yourself first. Yeah, this might sound phony and woo-woo, but it’s absolutely true. If you can’t bring yourself to do it, pretend. And hopefully, someday, you’ll really feel that love, you’ll really know it.
That’s it. That’s all I’ve got, teen self. I’m glad to have known you. And glad to have been you.