I was born in 1991 and the world seems completely different than when I was younger. Part of that is the fast-paced, technology-driven culture we live in. But I also cannot deny how different adulthood is in general from being a care-free, innocent kid. While I am grateful for my lessons learned and believe everything happens for a reason, I personally think learning by trial and error is extremely overrated. So here are things I wish I had learned for myself at an earlier age to make both the adolescent years and as the transition into adulthood easier.
1. You will doubt yourself, your identity, the meaning of your existence, and how you fit in the world at so many points during your journey. The world around you will make you think that this is easy to remedy, but the doubt will often creep in when you least expect it. Remember, all of us feel like that at times. There is so much healing when friends and family normalize these feelings.. Many of them have been through those periods of doubt and uncertainty and have great perspectives on how to navigate it.
2. You should not even bother trying to predict your career. I oscillated between lawyer, doctor, and teacher. I ended up on a journey to become a counselor and ultimately a counselor education professor. My love of people and helping won out over less-compelling reasons to pursue a career path, like prestige, competing with others, and ultimately staying busy and avoiding my problems. The path to finding a career is often similar to following a trail—with the right stepping stones, you get closer and closer to the end of the path. Even still, many people still change careers, even in their 60s! It’s never too late.
3. Stay close to the friends who give a shit when you’re feeling bad. They can process with you, let you complain, and give you an outside perspective that you did not think about yet. Those are the people that change your life and remind you why we’re put on this earth—to help each other out.
4. Finding ways to cope with your anger and sadness are invaluable. This is the counselor in me, but I wish I had figured out earlier on in my life that exercise, eating right, having strong support systems, and taking time every day to meditate, pray, or decompress really works wonders. There are a ton of other ways people cope with difficult emotions; it’s all about finding out what works for you!
5. You will likely not talk to many people who you are friends with when you’re younger. I used to think this meant friendships and connections were useless. I think a better way to reframe this reality is to realize that many people fill a role that you need at that time in your life. Trust that you are always being guided to the right friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and partners.
6. Speaking of partners, do not (and I repeat, do not) ever compromise who you are to make someone comfortable. They will not respect you, the relationship will not flourish, and you ultimately will feel resentful towards them.
7. There will be people that will likely suddenly pass away without rhyme or reason. Classmates, parents of people you know, and those even closer to you might one day be there and be gone the next. Have faith their memories are still there in spirit. Lean on those you trust during this time and give yourself days, weeks, months, and possibly years to grieve. Don’t focus too much on why the loss happened; stay grounded in figuring out what you need to help yourself in the present moment.
8. Comparison is the enemy of content. My PhD advisor says that all the time, and I know it to be 100% true. No person’s accomplishments, marriage, career aspirations, financial situation, or appearance is worth you losing sleep over. Wish them well and focus on your own self-actualization.
9. You will start to question things that you never did when you were younger—religion, politics, the motives of others, dynamics of family members and friends, and even whether or not you want to fit into the white picket fence lifestyle that many of us were expected to achieve. I truly believe that truth-seekers, trailblazers, and those who question things around them can be led to deeper truths about who they are and what their purpose is. Don’t surround yourself with people who stifle this part of you.
10. At the same time, even if you are trailblazing and figuring out who you are, be humble, give others the benefit of the doubt, and realize that if you constantly complain, critique, or carry negative energy, that same negativity will be given back to you in spades.
11. Literally no one cares about the clothes you wore in high school or college, the music you listened to, or the people you hung out with. If you were happy, healthy, or just figuring it out, let go of trying to fit in. I promise, you will sleep better at night. I have found it really awkward and uncomfortable when I am talking with someone who is pretending to be someone they are not because they think they are fulfilling a social expectation.
12. Forgive, forgive, and forgive again. This is my biggest lesson where I average like a D+ in my progress thus far, but I keep trying! Forgiveness lets you move through emotional pain, grief about relationships ending, and misunderstandings among friends and peers. It feels like a huge burden is lifted off of your shoulders. It also doesn’t happen overnight; give yourself patience and grace!
13. Don’t underestimate the power of a good laugh, a drink or dinner with loved ones, or a really good cry. These have been some of the most healing activities I’ve ever engaged in.
Above all, remember that at any given moment, most of us are doing the best we can.