A friend whose sister recently started high school asked me, “What advice would you give your 14-year-old self? Academics, dating, whatever.” My short answer was, “I would say that when things just hurt too much, you were given this life because you are strong enough to live it.”
The long answer became this article.
As a 20-something, I hear so much advice along the lines of, “Travel widely. Be vulnerable. Love deeply. Learn forgiveness.” But for those just starting out on the path to adulthood, what would they need to hear? What would have helped me navigate those early years better?
1. High school is awkward for almost everyone.
I say almost because there seem to be those blessed few pre-ordained with an acne-free adolescence. They are a special group of unicorns you need not pay attention to. You will grow into or out of your awkwardness. You will love yourself for it.
2. You will crush on many people.
Most of them will not like you back. Tell them, anyway. Feelings like that sound better spoken.
3. You will meet your first boyfriend in freshmen year.
You will be friends for a year before you start to notice his intelligence and baseball fanaticism and impossible kindness. For the first time, you will fall. This is not the puppy dog love of middle school when you slipped notes into other people’s lockers. This is holding hands and marveling at how someone else’s skin on yours can feel so intoxicating. It will be magical. You won’t appreciate the novelty and innocence of a first relationship until it ends.
4. It will end. The first boy is the hardest to get over.
It’s just the way the world works. You will spend weeks that drag into years wondering how to say sorry. You never end up doing it. Learn how to apologize for your impact, regardless of intent. You will wish someone had done the same for you.
5. You will fall in love again.
The aftermath of the break-up will not hurt any less or any more, but it will hurt in different ways. You will be ok. It is hard to believe this, but the ones who leave are never a reflection of you or your faults.
6. Be gentle with yourself.
The things that you feel so intensely now will fade in importance. You will have bigger failures, but also bigger successes.
7. Be gentle with your mother.
It is never easy for a parent to think their child doesn’t need them anymore. As much as it seems like you are facing these scary teenage years alone, your mother is still part of that journey, no matter how much you pull away. You will never be strong enough to do without her.
8. Take challenging classes.
Apply for honors and Advanced Placement. As with so many other things, be brave enough to ask for what you want. The groundwork you lay now will be your tools throughout college and, subsequently, your professional life.
9. Not all friendships are meant to last forever.
The person who gets you most now will probably not be the person who gets you most in 3 years. The right people will find their way into your life and stay. So even though your heart will break when you stop talking to your best friend, never be anything but grateful for the friendship you had while you had it.
10. Keep a journal, whether it’s online or in a physical notebook.
Not one of those “dear diary” type affairs, but one where you chronicle the small and bad things. This will not only help hone your writing skills but also give you a marker to show how much you’ve grown every year. You will look back on these entries and realize how much your sense of humor has developed. Laughing at yourself will come naturally.
11. Loneliness is universal.
Even the popular kids at school go through this. You don’t need to fill up your time with movie and bowling outings. Sit with yourself. Be intentional about taking the time to reflect and heal. When you’re in touch with yourself, other people’s criticism won’t feel so personal.
12. Find your passions, whether it’s gymnastics, reading biographies, writing fanfiction, choir, etc.
Make time for them. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about what you like. Your passions will ground you and keep you sane.
13. You will come into your own.
Your body won’t always be all awkward limbs and growing parts. You won’t always wish you had bigger eyes and double eyelids. One day, someone will tell you they like the way your eyes light up when you get excited. Years of self-doubt make you skeptical of this, but you allow yourself to believe it holds some truth.
14. None of this will make sense to you right now.
And that’s ok. The lessons that stay with us deeply come from experience. They are also the hardest to learn, but you were given this life because you are strong enough to live it. Trust me.