I wrote a post on my blog a while ago about some of the ways I was actually wiser at 18 than I was when I supposedly “grew up”. But don’t be fooled, there were plenty of things that I’d like to go back and tell that carefree 18-year-old. With the wisdom I’ve developed over the years, I could probably come up with 100, but since I’m not actually speaking to my 18-year-old self, I’ll hold myself to 10. That makes me only twice as foolish at 18 as I was wise and I’m comfortable with that.
- You are so beautiful. I was an awkward-looking pre-teen. I hit 5’7” at 11 and gained some puppy fat around the same time, making me feel like a lumbering bear next to my tiny, skinny cute friends. The self-image I formed then lingered long after the facts no longer supported it. At 18, I still honestly believed I was the ugly friend and now, looking back at pictures of myself with my friends, I see a young beautiful girl surrounded by young beautiful girls. We were all so young and pretty and I bet none of us knew it.
- 115 is not a realistic goal weight for a normal 5’8” girl. Models were shorter then, which actually wasn’t a good thing for me. If they had looked like 6’ Elle Macpherson, who came along just a few years later, I would have immediately considered that look unattainable and not even tried, but Christie Brinkley is 5’9” and so trying to look like her seemed, at the time, like a reasonable goal. I had pictures of her all over my wall and would regularly try to make “model” weight, but my body didn’t want to go that low. I have a pretty athletic body and that’s not a reasonable weight for me. I weighed 125 and thought my life would be perfect if I just lost 10 more pounds.
- Learn to cook and eat healthy. When it comes to guilt-free eating I wouldn’t change it for the world. But the truth is I ate like crap until well into my 40s. Raised by a traditional southern cook who believed a vegetable wasn’t cooked until it had been boiled so long it hung limp and submissive over your fork, I mistakenly believed most vegetables were bland and disgusting (and correctly believed fried chicken was invented by God to show us we were loved!). It took me years to retrain my taste buds and to learn how to cook things like roasted Brussels sprouts (also invented by the Lord, it turns out!). I would have loved to have gotten a jump on that process.
- Save 10% of your paycheck and don’t touch it. It’s easy to look back and remember the joys of being broke because you spent all your paycheck on that awesome concert. But I know the pain of the broken down car that you don’t have the money to fix. And the misery of the credit card debt that you can’t pay off. And the envy when your friends start buying houses and you still live in a shitty apartment. Moderation is a good thing, people.
- Don’t let others define you. I was my parents’ daughter, but I didn’t have to live my life according to their expectations. Or according to the expectations of the many people in my life back then who thought they knew what was best for me. I honestly did not know this. This is my biggest regret.
- Figure out what you want. Why would I bother thinking about what I want out of life when the vision of how it should be seemed so clear to the people around me? Maybe if I’d spent more time thinking about just what I wanted out of life without filtering it through the eyes of these people I would have had the strength to follow my own path.
- Stop caring so much about other people think about you, and start caring more about other people. Whenever I spoke with another person, all I thought about was what that person was thinking about me. Do they like my hair? Do they think I’m fat? Am I’m being witty? Do they like me? It wasn’t until I was much older that I took the time to really look at the person I was talking with and wonder if they were hurting or if they were having fun or how their day had been. The moment I started doing that my conversations became so much richer and more satisfying.
- You are never too old to try something new. In my senior year of high school, I took Beginning Ballet classes with my friend but quit because I thought it was “too late for me”. And I suppose it was too late for me to dream of becoming Misty Copeland. But, the truth is I quit ballet because it was uncomfortable and hard and I didn’t like feeling bad at something. Thank God I’ve gotten over that and I’m happily bad at many things now.
- Wear a bikini. In my lifetime, I’ve owned exactly two bikinis. Once when I actually hit 115 for about two weeks one summer and once in my 40s when I had a “I’m going to finally wear a bikini” moment. If I could do it over again, I would wear only bikinis. They are so much easier.
- Don’t perm your hair. Hair perms are the ultimate bad boyfriend. Every time you think it’s going to be different and this time things will work out, but it’s never true. Don’t believe the lie of the perm.
These are the tips I’d send back to my teenage self. What are some of yours?