When I was 19, I slumped onto my sophomore year bed, back against a drab cinderblock dormitory wall, and cried my eyes out as I scribbled this into my journal: “I am not anyone who I would be interested in talking to.” In the coming days, weeks, and months, I would scribble more notes to myself. Over time, they became encouraging. Looking back, I can see that I was not the uniquely sad, special snowflake that I thought I was. Age 19 can be a harsh introduction to the solitude of womanhood for a lot of us. Here are 19 things I wish I could tell my 19-year-old self.
1. YOU ARE NOT A MESS
Your bed is unmade, your best clothes are dirty, you haven’t written a word of that paper, and you feel like you haven’t talked to your parents in days. Everything feels out of place. Where are your keys? You feel like you never know. You’re constantly apologizing to people whenever you can’t do something fast enough, even if it’s something as trivial as hastily searching for your debit card at the register: “sorry, I’m such a mess.” No. You are not a mess. You are a human. Stop apologizing for being fallible. It’s okay not to have every single thing in the wrong place as long as your heart is in the right one.
2. YOU DON’T NEED TO BE BETTER
You want to improve: move up the ranks at your job, make more than $8.75 and hour, finally pick a major, exercise more, spend more time reading for pleasure, damn, you just want to be better. You don’t know why, but you never feel like you’ve mastered anything you practice, even though you do those things every day. This isn’t a sign of weakness; it is a sign of self-awareness. It’s like hearing the TV in the other room and feeling like you can almost see it play out in front of you– you know what’s going on, but you can’t get the picture exactly right. You don’t need to have the perfect picture yet. If you know what you want to do, keep doing it. If you don’t, let yourself find out.
3. YOU WILL GET BETTER
You know when you are doing something wrong. Do less of that and you will be fine. Don’t overthink the consequences of every move. You will misstep and it will help you memorize the right steps for later, when it’s time to really dance. Keep moving.
4. THE SOPHOMORE SLUMP IS BOTH AS REAL AND FAKE AS THE FRESHMAN 15
Did you really gain 15 lbs your freshman year? Probably more like 5 or 10, but honestly: who cares if you gained 15 lbs if you finished your first year of formal learning and an institution of higher education? The same goes for the sophomore slump: it is real, but it is not as bad as you think it will be. Your second year is more difficult because the word is harder and the rewards greater, but on a much less frequent timetable. That is adulthood, and you are beginning to understand how it feels.
5. IT’S OKAY TO LET GO
Freshman year friends will fall away. Exes will become people you don’t even get drunk texts from, they will just disappear. What is it that you lay in bed at night thinking about, blaming yourself for, wondering when the hell you’ll know better than to do again? Let it go. You’ve learned your lesson.
6. CLEAN UP YOUR SIDE OF THE STREET
If you feel like you really messed up and hurt someone else, then you probably did. It is (almost) never too late to be humble and apologize, or to do the thing that you’ve been neglecting to do. Having said that, you are too old to keep apologizing as a self-rewarding mechanism. Are you the only person who will benefit from this apology? If so, just learn and let go. Forgive yourself and maybe, someday, they will too.
7. YOU CAN LEARN HOW TO VENT WITHOUT COMPLAINING
I used to find myself getting annoyed with my own comments, infuriated by how aware I was of my own whining even though I couldn’t stop. It was addicting. You have to break the pattern of letting complaints be your release. What’s the difference? Complaints are negative comments about things you had all the power to change or ignore. Venting is talking about the frustrations of things you are uncertain about, or things that you can’t stop thinking about that you have no power over whatsoever. It’s okay to complain sometimes, but it is important to know that there is a difference.
8. SOME DAYS ARE UNREMARKABLE, THAT DOESN’T MEAN YOU ARE
There are days where you will not accomplish anything but being alive, and it will be hard to even feel like that is an accomplishment, let alone a good thing at all. You will want to sleep forever. It will rain and your favorite shoes will be ruined and you will be hungry and the only food place on the way home from work will be closed, and you will feel so stupid for crying in your car, but you will do it anyway. You aren’t stupid. Your life isn’t boring. You are remarkable even though some of your days will be completely unremarkable. The content of your day is not a reflection of the content of your character.
9. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE BEST OR THE WORST
The best sex ever. The worst boyfriend ever. The worst class ever. It feels like the value of everything dwells in its potential for hyperbole. Don’t let extremes control your feelings. You’ll come to see the best things as the most simple, indescribable feelings, like the moment when you can’t stop talking to someone even though you’re both exhausted, or the way unclasping your own bra after a long day feels. They are not the best or the worst, they transcend extremes. Some things are just good or decent or alright, and none of them need to be ranked.
10. YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR THEIR FEELINGS
Don’t let anyone make you feel miserable because they feel miserable. There is a fine line between being there for someone and being someone’s emotional punching bag. Draw boundaries and keep them. It doesn’t make you cold, it makes you responsible for your own happiness.
11. YOU ARE IN CONTROL OF YOUR OWN ACTIONS AND REACTIONS
No one can make you cry. No one can use you. You can cry and be justified, you can feel used and be justified, but you are not a tool that people can readily control. Embrace your emotions and own them. As a wise woman once wrote, “you cross the line from having needs into being needy the moment you start believing your needs are someone else’s responsibility.”
12. YOU WILL CHANGE AND BE DIFFERENT
Pushing yourself to excel is one thing, but forcing yourself to make drastic changes is another. Don’t force your own personal growth. Know that you will change as you make mistakes, learn, and have the chance to act again. You will be different someday, you don’t need to stunt that shift by overanalyzing what you need to change right now.
13. DOUBTING EVERYTHING MEANS YOU’RE PAYING ATTENTION
Being skeptical of authority– your parents, professors, and the systems that you’ve abided by ever since you were born– doesn’t make you a subversively cool intellectual. It just means you’re becoming aware of new information on old institutions. That is a good thing. Do not abuse this new open-mindedness by trying to win arguments or undermine everyone around you. Keep questioning things. You might never find the answers, but you can always find new ones.
14. DISAPPOINTMENT IS A RESULT OF KNOWING WHAT YOU WANT FOR YOURSELF
People will let you down. People will break your heart. You will be rejected. Sometimes, your experience will not be enough to qualify you to do a thing that you want to do more than anything else in the world. You will be let down, but you can get back up knowing that you are always one turn away from getting the thing you know you want.
15. HEARTACHE IS A RESULT OF KNOWING WHAT YOU WANT FROM SOMEONE ELSE
We project our expectations for affection onto the objects of our own affection. It’s natural. There will be perfectly lovely individuals who just cannot give you what you want. It neither a flaw in their character nor a problem with your brain. It’s just a mismatch. Sometimes it will be so uniquely painful and all-encompassing that you will wonder if any of it is worth the suffering at all. It is. Keep going.
16. EVERY RELATIONSHIP IS A PARTNERSHIP
Your friends, family, employers, significant others, hell, even the person teaching your yoga class: these are all people that you are working with on something that isn’t a given. They don’t need to show up and neither do you. Your job is to keep showing up and keep listening. That is the most basic component of how you keep your relationships alive. Don’t overcomplicate it.
17. YOU ARE NOT YOUR OWN EVERYTHING, AND NEITHER IS ANYONE ELSE
As much as I would’ve loved to be a completely independent cold bitch with no emotions at age 19, I wasn’t. The worst part? I thought I was. When I would let my emotions through the chain-link fence of my personality (that I saw as a brick wall), they would ooze all over another person and form a little cocoon of “you are so perfect please never leave me ever.” I made other people feel like they were the source of everything I needed, and that is neither cute nor healthy. Know that you really do need other people sometimes, but you will never be so simple that you only need just one person.
18. YOU CAN BECOME WHO YOU WANT TO BE
Set goals. Write things down on paper. Fuck up and fix it, or fuck up and know how not to fuck up next time. You are not going through a ‘phase,’ you are just you, and you are always growing into being you.
19. YOU ALREADY ARE EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO BE
You have the power to do what you want to do. Smile. Or cry it out… and then go fuckin’ get it.