You know that feeling when you remember something embarrassing you did? That awful, full-body shudder when you recall that dumb comment or hopeless social interaction? I get a fun little taste of that feeling whenever I look back on myself between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four.
To be fair, I still feel like that about some things I did last week, but you get the point.
We all have a list of things we wish to go back in time and tell our younger selves. This is just mine.
Being Jaded Isn’t as Cool as You Think.
“I hate people.” “Romance is dumb.” “I’m over everything.”
Stop. Stop. Stop it.
How embarrassing is it to think that for some reason caring less makes you more? What a weird existence!
As little kids, we cared about everything. Why is the sky blue? What stars are made of.
If the Loch Ness Monster is real, and if so, would she be friends with me. Then we hit puberty and, for some reason, collectively decided to pretend that those endless questions and curiosities faded away along with the freckles and baby fat.
I think it’s a defensive reaction to feeling laughed at or judged for the things they find interesting, but all too often, teenagers take the opposite route and pretend that they’ve never cared about anything ever.
The thing is, caring is amazing! There’s nothing more fun under the sun than caring. Literally.
If I could go back in time, I’d sit high-school Jessica and all her adorable, obnoxious little friends down and remind them that there’s nothing wrong with admitting to the fact that you’re a human with interests. Occasionally pointless interests, but interests nonetheless.
Staying curious is a skill, and I wish I were more aware of that when I was young.
Learn to Express your Emotions.
Learning to properly feel and express your emotions in real-time should be easy, but the truth is, it’s not.
It took me a long time to realize the extent to which I ignored or rejected my own emotions. When I was young, I’d feel guilty when I should have been angry, sad when I should have been annoyed.
In times of high pressure, I wouldn’t realize that I was stressed until I noticed my jaw aching from gritting my teeth.
Just like it’s easiest to learn a foreign language at a younger age, it’s easier to learn the language of your own emotions as well. Focus on yourself, understand why you feel the way you do, and don’t be afraid to let others know if they’ve done something to upset you.
How did I make it all four years of high school without cracking open a water bottle?
Seriously, put down the energy drink. Take a nap. Drink a tall glass of water.
Eat food that isn’t made entirely of cheese and potatoes. Treat yourself the way you would treat a child that’s been entrusted to your care.
Seriously, you aren’t supposed to exist with a constant headache. There’s a fix for that.
Ignore dating. Spend All Your Time with Friends and Family.
You know how people always say that high school was either the best or the worst time of their life? What they really mean is that they did or didn’t take advantage of the unlimited time with friends that high school provides.
After graduation, it’s not inevitable that you’ll grow apart from your friends, but it is pretty likely. Schedules fail to match up, people get married and have kids, and jobs take people far enough away that your usual hangouts go from every weekend to maybe once a year.
Every day that you grow and develop into an adult you’re going to take you away from those relationships that once meant the whole world to you.
Relationships are about more than dating. Enjoy the only time in your life where you know exactly how to contact your friends at any given moment.
Figure Out What Really Makes You Happy.
When I was in my early twenties, I definitely fell into the trap of thinking that I liked doing certain things when, in all reality, I actually just liked the way those things made me look.
I never actually enjoyed rock music; I just liked the way I felt dressing up for the shows. Whiskey made me want to gag, but I ordered it anyway because that’s what my favorite character on a TV show drank.
When we’re young and figuring ourselves out, it’s natural to want to try on different personalities, especially those of friends or people we admire.
I’ll never regret the time I spent mentally imagining myself as Robin Sherbotsky or Margaret Atwood or Regina Spektor! Those were fun times, and I have embarrassing pictures to prove it.
I do, however, wish that I’d taken a little more time to meditate on whether or not different aspects of those personalities made me as happy as I wanted them to, though. In retrospect, I wasted a lot of time doing a lot of things that didn’t really add value to my life.
It’s OK to Pick your Family.
I’ll be completely honest and say that this isn’t advice I’d necessarily give my younger self. In the gamble of who ended up with what family, I rolled all sevens. Or twelves. Or whatever the best number is.
Nevertheless, I’d feel bad if I didn’t add this note to the list.
When you’re young, you’re surrounded by constant messaging that family is forever. In most cases, that’s true. Friends will fade away, relationships fall apart, and statistically, the people you’re closest to in high school and early college will change a half a dozen times over the course of a few years.
That doesn’t make those relationships any less valuable.
If you weren’t lucky enough to be born into a family that provides love and support, know that you deserve better. Make your family. Find the tribe you best fit into, and love them for all you’ve got. Even if these aren’t the people who are destined to be in your life forever, you won’t regret the memories.
If you ever think about who you were in your teens or early twenties and wish you could have a come-to-Jesus with that person, you aren’t alone. In my experience, the only people who look back with complete approval at who they were then are either hopelessly dull or never matured past the age of sixteen.
Be kind when remembering the mistakes you made as a high schooler. You were learning then, just as you’re learning now. Every mistake is a necessary part of becoming who you hope to be.