I’ve often looked back at my past and thought about what I could do differently if I knew then what I know now, and have actually lived out what consequences our actions had. I think most of us do, and I’ll probably continue to do that forever.
Earlier today I was thinking about what I could tell my 17 year-old self (I’m now 32), or at least my self near that age, and I realized that part of the purpose of being at any point in our lives is to live out the journey of that moment, from the good parts to the mistakes and everything in between.
The 16-17-18 ages are hard, because we’re right smack in the middle of a transition period from being a child to developing into an independent adult. There are really a lot of struggles during this time that we may not even see as struggles, until we’re in our 30s like me and see the difference between then and now.
That being said, we are all here on Earth to live our own lessons and nothing can change that. But there are still some straight up practical things I wish I would have done differently. Every person’s journey is different, and so these things are very personal to me. But, I figured some people still may be able to relate.
- It’s funny that this is #1, but…brush and floss your damn teeth. Every day.
I’m really passionate about this one. BECAUSE if I had not been so lazy with my flossing and brushing, I could have maybe avoided THOUSANDS of dollars and multiple instances of the most excruciating pain of my life. Though this advice is for any age, of course, because eventually it will catch up to you if you don’t take care of it.
- DO NOT take antibiotics or strong drugs for your acne (unless you have cystic acne). Avoid drugs period, unless necessary.
I know it really sucks to have bad skin when you’re a teenager. I did, and I took Minocycline for a long time (at least it wasn’t Accutane). However, antibiotics or drugs like Accutane are very harsh on your body in ways we don’t understand at the time – or understand in general. But at that age we are more resilient and/or don’t really care. The trade-off for the effect these drugs can have on your body for clear skin is just not worth it unless absolutely necessary. Especially knowing now what I know about skin care, I know plenty of other things I would try first (good essential oils for one) before resorting to drugs. The difference is, back then I didn’t really care about my body. Now, I do, because when you’re older you cannot get away with the kind of abuse you give it when you’re younger. And just because you might get away with it doesn’t mean you should. I’ve taken antibiotics that screwed my digestive system up (which can cause a whole host of other problems), and there’s a lot we still don’t really understand regarding the effects of certain drugs and certainly about the gut.
- I’d show myself much more love and compassion.
Every phase of our lives has its own challenges, but trying to figure out life as a teenager (and with all those hormones involved) really isn’t easy. God, high school isn’t easy. For me it was pretty bad. And there’s so much competition, negativity, and petty crap you have to deal with. If you are of high school age and are reading this, take some time to appreciate yourself and all you are going through, because it is significant and we place so much unnecessary pressure and expectations on ourselves during this phase of our lives.
- I’d tell myself that my life doesn’t have to be figured out. And I don’t have to do what other people are doing.
You don’t have to go to college right away. The world does not have to be lived out the way you see everyone else living it. You don’t have to value what they value. You don’t have to figure out what you want to study. You don’t have to see a certain age as a marker for some sort of milestone you’re supposed to be achieving. Live your own world, even when the outside world might not take you seriously. Trust yourself. Which leads me to the next one…
- Listening to adults’ advice is good, but we also have to learn to listen to and trust ourselves
As a teenager, there is an emphasis that we are not wise and don’t know what’s best for ourselves. There certainly can be an element of truth to that, but it also teaches us not to listen to our own inner voice. At age 17 I was always getting advice from adults, or random comments about what I should or shouldn’t be doing. And many times I wasn’t taken seriously in general because of my age. There ARE some teenagers that have no good judgment at all and are always getting themselves in trouble (let’s be real, this isn’t restricted to young people). But for the average person, myself included — not trusting myself was detrimental. I actually didn’t see it at the time, but back then I didn’t value my own opinion that much because at that age there is such heavy influences from others around us, from our parents, from the schooling system, etc., that we are supposed to be following a specific path. There was also a heavy emphasis on needing to stay in school, to get good grades, to be able to go to a good college, and to make good money. While this is a straightforward way to go, it’s not the only way. Life does not have to consist of a linear path defined by someone or something else.You know what will get you a good job? Following your heart. Learning what makes you excited. Going after what you’re naturally curious about. Thinking about what you want to offer the world and what you want to become good at, and doing that, period. Then you will develop the necessary skills in whatever that is, and be able to make money.
Yes it can be more straightforward to finish high school the way most people do and get the diploma out of the way because you will need to make money later on and a diploma is a minimum requirement for most jobs. But do you HAVE to do it that way? No. Sorry, but you don’t. Especially when high school is producing a toxic environment for you and not actually helping you grow (might be likely if it’s public school). Especially when you already know what you love and want to do and have other means of learning it, and can maybe get your GED later. Especially when you aren’t just dropping out of high school so you can sit around and smoke weed all day, but because you actually want to do something more fulfilling with your life, or something that will have more of a positive impact in some way.
When applying for jobs, most don’t pay a crazy amount of attention on your high school experience. They look at your current job experience and skills. Not everyone does well sitting in a class 6-8 hours a day and listening to people talk. Some people learn differently. I know a couple of people who dropped out of high school and taught themselves programming and now are doing fantastically well.
That being said, I’m not encouraging dropping out of high school. It’s just that people assume that if you don’t follow the path that is laid out for you, that you’re a loser. Or that you won’t succeed in life. And it is just not true. Thinking that way is detrimental. There’s so much fear behind that, especially for parents, so I get it. But this is the thing: most people want to stay alive and live the best life they can. That notion does not have to be taught. And you do not have to simply follow what everyone else is doing to achieve that. You don’t have to be older to realize that you can be more creative and follow what you feel inside. You just have more obstacles in trying to do this when you’re younger.
Most parents or other adults are often naggy because they are worried and because they care — they don’t want you to make the same mistakes they did (even though they might not directly say this). The world is a dangerous place, especially for teenagers, because they are often at the age where they want to experience new things but are reckless at the same time since they have not yet lived long enough to actually experience the consequences of certain actions, and older adults have. Older adults have made mistakes, too, and would prefer not to see you walk their same path because they might have some regrets. As humans, we are exceptionally flawed.
- That whole love story you got goin’ on…take it seriously, but if it doesn’t work out, try to remember that everything happen for a good reason and things work out for the best in the end.
I fell deeply in love with someone when I was 14. NOBODY took that seriously either. Guess what. I am 32 and no I am not with them, but I still love and appreciate this person. Now, I’m probably not the best example because the depth of the feelings I had for this person was probably unusual for my age. Most younger relationships don’t last long and do have less depth. But in my case, the time this person and I started to drift apart was THE worst heartbreak I have ever experienced to date. It took me several years to fully get over it.
It also took me years to understand that things happen for a reason. The reason why younger relationships often don’t last is not always because they are just “puppy love” and insignificant, but because as we get older, our values change. What we look for in a person is continually being refined. Simple things like how we live our lives and how we perceive ourselves end up being a really significant factor in the kinds of partners that end up being compatible with us. As we age, we go through different “versions” of ourselves as we learn to discover who we really are. Once we’re older, our identities have been further established and this makes it much easier to find a partner that truly fits with this current version of ourselves. When we’re younger, there’s still so much up in the air that can change, so the person we are compatible with then may not be ten years later, despite how strong our feelings are.
If I could sum up all of this nicely, I would say it’s really about believing in yourself and your potential more and treat your body better because it will pay off. Learn to realize there is an important balance that ideally needs to happen at this age. The balance between having guidance from the older and wiser, and from the necessity of listening to ourselves and learning from our own mistakes.