All The Life-Changing Things I Wish I Could Have Told My Younger Self

Woman and dog sitting in front of canyon
Patrick Hendry

As I just recently turned 26 years old, it really makes me take a look at the last decade of my life and how different things are – how different I am.

It’s funny, on a day-to-day basis, you really do not realize subtle little changes, but looking back on an entire decade, it is incredible how you change and grow.

When I think about 16-year-old me, I can’t help but to laugh a little. Not at myself, but rather at how I thought I knew it all. Sometimes I wish I could go back, knowing what I know now, and do some things differently – but then again, I wouldn’t change anything at all, because it has shaped me into who I am today. I wouldn’t trade that for the world.

I am proud of myself and how I handle things. I am proud of the person I have become and how I have evolved.

I know age is just a number, but I have been feeling completely different this past little while. Perhaps it is because the prefrontal cortex (or the rational decision part of our brains) doesn’t quite fully develop until about 25 years of age. Or perhaps it is just because I have experienced a lot in my early twenties.

Either way, I feel different. I feel like I have strength and courage to take on life in all of its beauty and also all of its challenges. I feel strong and confident.

But there are a few things that I wish I could go back and say to my younger self, just as helpful reminders.

So, to my sixteen year old self:

You are loved. Don’t you ever forget that. I know your body is changing and hormones are going crazy, but don’t you ever forget that you have an entire supportive network of people – friends, family, teachers, coaches – that love you and care for you. You never have to feel alone.

You are amazing. Everything that you have to offer is unique in its own way. Don’t conform to everyone else. Don’t try to force yourself to “fit in.” People are always going to have good and bad things to say about you. I can almost guarantee that this will never change. You can’t control the actions of others, but what you can control is your reaction.

Don’t gossip. I know it is hard not to, but words are powerful and they are electric. Don’t put anything negative out there.

Don’t have a best friend. Be kind and gentle to everyone you meet. High school is tough, and even as a 26-year-old, I don’t think I would ever want to go back.

Boys – just stay away. Okay, that isn’t realistic, but please do not compromise your values, beliefs, goals – anything – for a boy. This is the time for you to focus on you.

And do not ever settle for a boy – you are worth all of the love that you have to give.

Keep your word – if you say you will do something, do it. Don’t break promises.

Trust. Even after people betray you – you still need to trust. You cannot hold someone else responsible for the actions of others.

Don’t ever lose your sparkle – look at the world like you do right now, with awe and wonder.

Don’t become jaded. The world is harsh, but if you are living from a beautiful place, your world will always be bright. This will also inspire others to live in a beautiful state.

Volunteer. Share. Give. If you have the ability to help others, it is your obligation to do so. You have been blessed to always feel safe, to feel loved, to be fed, and to be healthy. Send love to others.

There is SO much more in the world than the small town that you grew up in. Explore the world, travel, keep an open mind – but do not ever forget where you came from. That place is your home and it is quite beautiful. Go on adventures, say yes even if it seems scary – this is the place where growth happens. And always visit. This hometown of yours is the foundation that shaped you into the person you are today.

You do not know everything. Not even close. I know you think you do. But please, keep an open mind and listen to other people – they always have something that they can teach you whether you realize it or not.

As your dad said, you are not invincible. I know that right now it feels like you will live forever. Don’t ever think like that. As a good friend of mine said, “The beautiful life that we have been given is a long one, but also painfully short and absolute. So living each day as the proverbial last is important. Though, not so aggressively to the point where we are manic and create absolutely fantastical schedules to fit it all in. Still leave time to stop and smell those roses.” I love this. It holds so much truth.

Tell everyone that you love them. Don’t be afraid to sound silly. If you love someone, tell them. Friends, family, lovers. You never know when the last time you see someone will be.

Be nicer to your parents. They do a lot for you. And when you grow up you will feel bad that you weren’t more grateful during this time.

Smoking isn’t cool. Don’t even pretend it is.

Take advantage of ALL of this free education that is at your fingertips. Don’t take it for granted for a second. Study on your lunch break. Take as many classes as you can handle. Knowledge is power.

Read a book for “fun” every week.

You are beautiful. Don’t ever question that. And tell your friends that too. Don’t pay attention to the world around you that tries to tell you otherwise.

Don’t work so much. Save 50% of your income. You are not paying rent, so there is no excuse not to.

Don’t be afraid. Everything ALWAYS, always works out. Even in what seems like a chaotic mess, just breathe. Think about and really feel something in your life that you are grateful for. It will calm you.

Look for the good in people and in this world. It takes practice, but with time you will see the good in EVERY situation – whether it’s a mistake, a loss, a new beginning, an ending.

Be true to yourself and live from your heart. Don’t agree with others because you are scared to be different.

Exercise. Go to sleep early. Practice yoga – this will be one of your favorite activities as you age.

When you feel like the world is against you, know that it is actually quite the opposite. When you resist your truth and your path, you will get little nudges from the universe to redirect you. If you ignore these, I promise it will slap you right in the face and make you redirect yourself. So just listen.

Most of all, enjoy this time in your life and also be so excited for all that lies ahead of you. You are going to meet beautiful, amazing people. You will eventually find your tribe and they will welcome you with open arms as if they were waiting for you.

There is so much beauty in this world. Remember that.

I know I didn’t have to write this letter to you because I know that you have always trusted in your heart that things would work out for you. You have always known, and that my dear is the universe inside of you whispering that you will always be okay.

With love,

Your much older (and wiser) self. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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